Consumers are getting wise to superficial attempts at cause marketing, and agencies need to understand the risk this poses not only to brand perceptions but to their own future as well, an industry figure believes.

Toshihiko Tanabe, Dentsu creative director, addressed this topic at the recent Spikes Asia conference in Singapore where he offered up some disastrous examples he has observed.

These included a 20% women’s discount on a beer brand “because we know you don’t earn as much as men”, a soda brand that offered to donate $1 to a juvenile diabetes foundation for every mega-jug of soda sold, and a restaurant franchise dubiously tackling “hunger in Africa”.

“For each dessert you eat at this franchise, they donate something to Africa,” he said. “But when I got my dessert, it was the size of a bucket.

“If you are trying to combat hunger in Africa, it’s a bit of a contradiction.” (For more, read WARC’s report: How to get brand purpose marketing right and not ruin the industry.)

“We can’t just take any purpose, hack that into our campaigns, and say that’s what we believe in,” he said. “When we smell something fishy about a purpose campaign, we know it’s bullshit.”

At best, superficial purpose campaigns are ignored by consumers, he added, but they also run the risk of being harmful to the brand.

Tanabe cautioned fellow advertising practitioners that if these kinds of campaigns were to continue, it will cost agencies the faith and trust built over the years with clients.

“They’re going to say, ‘Okay, we tried the purpose campaigns and they’re not working. We’re going to go back to the hard-selling discount stuff that we’ve been doing.’” he said.

“Eventually it’s going to rob us of the chance of doing something meaningful, and a true purpose-driven campaign for the brand. Potentially, this could ruin our industry in the future.”

Sourced from WARC