The motivations that consumers attribute to a company that runs a cause marketing program can exert an influence on a campaign’s impact, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Chun-Tuan Chang (National Sun Yat-Sen University), Xing-Yu (Marcos) Chu (Nanjing University Business School), and I-Ting Tsai (National Sun Yat-Sen University) discussed this topic in their paper, entitled How cause marketing campaign factors affect attitudes and purchase intention: Choosing the right mix of product and cause types with time duration.

And the scholars found that “the attributed company motives provide a direct, process-level explanation as to why people favor certain combinations of time duration, product type, and cause type”.

“When a company is perceived as altruistic,” for example, “its cause-related marketing campaigns are more persuasive, because consumers can see that what the company does is congruent with its motives.

“When consumers perceive the company’s motives as altruistic, they form a more positive attitude toward the brand and a stronger purchase intention. Their actual purchase behavior also reflects similar patterns.”

The study looked at “hedonic” products, like ice cream, which are purchased based on factors such as enjoyment and sensory gratification, and utilitarian products, like toilet paper, where rationality and functionality win out.

Specifically, it assessed how these products could be connect with primary causes, which are life-saving, urgent and important (e.g. disaster relief or tackling hunger), and secondary causes, which are life-enhancing and less important and less urgent (such as initiatives related to the arts).

In all, there were three stages to the research. The first was a survey of 265 adults, followed by a second survey of 321 adults, and a final phase involving 304 participants.

And the subsequent analysis revealed that campaigns of a long-time duration were preferable to shorter programs when utilitarian products are promoted with a primary cause, and hedonic products are promoted with a secondary cause.

“Consumers expect a utilitarian product to have down-to-earth benefits. Because a cause that addresses primary needs is rated highly … its importance echoes consumer notions regarding utilitarian consumption,” the authors wrote.

Promoting hedonic products with a secondary cause could be impactful in the long term, as both are linked with life enhancement, and “a long-time duration may convince consumers that the concept of ‘more is better’ can be integrated”.

Another finding was that short-time durations can work for promoting a hedonic product with a primary cause, partly as “cause-related marketing helps eliminate the guilty feelings consumers associate with a hedonic purchase”.

By contrast, “a secondary cause is not so important”, meaning the “guilt reduction that results” may be “less than the guilt reduction experienced when supporting a primary cause”.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff