3 Stories Of Advancing Causes–And Profits

Linking a brand with a cause isn’t just nice for the planet, it’s also nice for the bottom line. Chipotle, PetSmart, and Yoplait show you how to do well and do good.

3 Stories Of Advancing Causes–And Profits


The first wave of marketing social initiatives in the 1980s was dominated by programs that linked donations to consumer actions. In the past 20 years, cause promotion has grown increasingly popular as a strategy for achieving marketing and social goals.

Cause promotion leverages corporate funds, in-kind contributions, or other resources to increase awareness and concern about a social cause or to support fundraising, participation, or volunteer recruitment for a cause. Well-conceived and executed cause promotions can improve attitudes toward a company; generate consumer traffic, sales, and increased loyalty; and motivate employees and trade partners.

Case #1: Chipotle Mexican Grill–Strengthening Brand Positioning

Steve Ells, founder, chairman, and co-CEO started Chipotle Mexican Grill in 1993 with the idea that food served fast did not have to be a typical fast food experience. Over time, the company developed the slogan “Food with Integrity” to describe its commitment to using fresh ingredients that, where possible, are “sustainably grown and naturally raised with respect for the animals, the land, and the farmers who produce the food.”

The fresh Mexican food chain, which, by 2011, operated more than 1,100 restaurants, has made effective use of cause promotion to strengthen awareness of its Food with Integrity positioning. In October 2010, for example, the company “exposed the horrors of processed food” by encouraging people to visit Chipotle on Halloween night dressed as the worst kind of junk food they could imagine.


“We have a long-standing tradition of rewarding our customers who dress up as their favorite Chipotle menu item with a free burrito on Halloween,” Ells explained in a press release. “It’s always been a fun promotion, but we wanted to do more with it this year and use the opportunity to reinforce with our customers our belief in the importance of eating wholesome, unprocessed foods.”

In addition to cause promotion, the company employed a cause-related marketing tactic: Costumed customers were invited to purchase a burrito for the discounted price of $2 with Chipotle contributing that money (up to a $1 million cap) to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, a campaign run by the celebrity chef’s foundation to encourage people to eat healthier foods at home, at school, or when dining out.

To document and extend the in-restaurant program’s reach, Chipotle ran an online costume contest. Customers could compete for prizes by posting photos capturing how they looked in junk food costumes on the Chipotle website.

Evidence of the program’s success? The company fulfilled its promise to donate $1,000,000 to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

Case #2: PetSmart–Building Traffic and Customer Loyalty


With nearly 1,200 stores in the United States and Canada, PetSmart is North America’s largest specialty retailer of pet products and services. Many of its consumers and employees are passionate about dogs and cats and the company invests heavily in cause promotions that appeal to them.

Early on, PetSmart decided not to sell cats and dogs, but rather to donate space for in-store adoption centers for homeless pets. Local animal welfare organizations maintain the highly visible in-store centers in coordination with PetSmart employees and keep 100 percent of their adoption fees.

The adoption centers generate store traffic on a daily basis from consumers looking for a pet to add to their families. Publicity around national and community adoption events in individual stores, often supported by corporate sponsors, drives traffic even higher. In 2010, more than 403,000 pets were adopted in PetSmart Stores.

The real estate value of the floor space PetSmart provides is approximately $13 million per year, according to Susana Della Maddalena, executive director of PetSmart Charities, a nonprofit the company helped establish to support “programs that save the lives of homeless pets, raise awareness of companion animal welfare issues and promote healthy relationships between people and pets.”

It’s a big job. Between 1994 and 2010, PetSmart Charities provided more than $134 million in support to animal welfare organizations and helped save the lives of more than 4.5 million pets.


Case #3: General Mills Yoplait Yogurt–Building Equity, Loyalty, and Passion

The inspiration for what has become one of the world’s best-known cause promotion programs started with a 1998 request from employees at Yoplait’s California production plant: “Could we sponsor a local breast cancer race?”

Management approved and went on to explore the breast cancer cause further. Time and testing revealed that they had hit upon “an ownable connection,” according to Promotion Marketing Manager Berit Morse. It turned out that supporting the fight against breast cancer powerfully appealed to Yoplait’s target consumers and to retail partners.

After a short initial partnership with one breast cancer group, General Mills allied itself with the Dallas-based group now called Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The world’s largest network of breast cancer survivors and activists, Komen has invested more than $685 million in breast cancer research and $1.3 billion in community health and education programs since its founding in 1982.

Over the years, Yoplait marketers have expanded upon the Komen relationship. It took just three years for Yoplait to become the national presenting sponsor of Komen’s Race for the Cure series, the top sponsorship position. Yoplait consistently supports its Komen sponsorship by investing in television, print, and online advertising, sampling at races, and fielding public relations programs.


Being a part of the more than 100-race series–and directing contributions to local Komen chapters–provides numerous opportunities for Yoplait to collaborate with the merchants who carry its products, a key element in securing retail merchandising that drives sales.

A cause-related marketing centerpiece of those efforts is the Save Lids to Save Lives program, launched in 1998. Each September and October, Yoplait puts pink lids on its products and offers to contribute 10 cents for every lid consumers send in up to a predetermined number. In 2011, Yoplait promised to contribute up to $2 million through Save Lids to Save Lives.

Over 13 years, Yoplait has donated more than $30 million in financial support for Komen through all of its donations programs. For the business, the positive impacts of this program are clear. Race for the Cure tie-ins and Save Lids to Save Lives consistently create a significant increase in sales during September and October. Consumer passion for the program is evidenced by the growth of the Race for the Cure series (1.6 million people participated in 2010) and the tens of millions of lids that are sent in each year.

Promotion Marketing Manager Berit Morse offered businesspeople the following lessons learned from General Mills’ Yoplait experience:

  • Connect to a partner who shares your brand’s or company’s values.
  • Unite with a partner who is willing to work with you to develop your own angle on the cause.
  • Commit to a consistent long-term relationship.
  • Bring your sponsorship to life. Plan to spend two times your sponsorship fee activating.
  • Break through. Never underestimate the impact of great design.
  • Reach and remind. Make the effort to ensure you have created strong awareness.
  • Be where your consumer is– don’t expect them to find you.
  • Leverage your champions–consumers, customers, partners, and employees.
  • Introduce yourself. Find new consumer targets and expand your program in relevant ways (versus creating something completely different).

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. from Good Works!: Marketing and Corporate Initiatives that Build a Better World…and the Bottom Line by Philip Kotler, David Hessekiel, and Nancy R. Lee. Copyright (c) 2012 by Philip Kotler, David Hessekiel, and Nancy R. Lee. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.


[Image: Flickr user Jesse Freeman]