Cause-Related Marketing Throws Pet Charity a (Milk) Bone

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Branding strategies go beyond product promises to appeal to different audiences in a variety of ways. Some consumers only buy American. Others check the label for artificial ingredients. Still others are swayed by a brand’s Fair Trade status.

Del Monte Foods is approaching dog biscuit-buyers with a cause-related sales tactic: Every purchase of Milk-Bone dog treats helps the charity Canine Assistants, which provides service dogs for the disabled and others in need.

Pet charities are savvy at branding. A current tear-jerking SPCA campaign stars singer Sarah McLachlan. But there have been few “buy this, help that” campaigns targeting dogs or dog products, the notorious 1973 National Lampoon cover (“If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog”) notwithstanding.[more]

Cause-related marketing is a low-risk branding tactic — unless your brand has broader appeal than the charity it supports. (Associating Winchester rifle purchases with the National Rifle Association is a good idea, while pairing Cheerios and the NRA is probably not.) Consumers can comfort their consciences by buying something they were going to buy anyway, pleased that the brand is interested in more than the bottom line, no matter how vaguely “a portion of sales” is defined.

Not everyone loves cause-related marketing. Gawker mockingly describes these brands as “assuring you that simply by purchasing their crap you are not just purchasing crap – you are actually doing good.” But many of their readers see nothing wrong with supporting a good cause via the supermarket – unless, of course, the brand committed some mortal sins that a charitable donation can’t absolve.

So it’s lucky Milk-Bone never used Michael Vick as a spokesman.

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