Consumers can be a soft-hearted bunch. In fact, 80% of consumers say that, price and quality being equal, they would switch from one brand to another if the second brand supported a cause that was dear to their hearts, according to the Cone Evolution Study.

That’s why we see so many product labels adorned with logos of pink ribbons (for breast cancer research)…or blue lightbulbs (supporting autism awareness)…or red dresses (for women’s heart health). The idea is that the manufacturer will donate a portion of the purchase price, total sales or profits to the deserving nonprofit organization with which it is partnering. In 2013, US companies are expected to spend nearly $1.8 billion on such “cause-marketing” campaigns.

But do these campaigns really make good use of your money…and raise significant funds for health-related research and other worthy causes?

Many do—but some don’t, said David Hessekiel, founder and president of the Cause Marketing Forum, a company that helps businesses and nonprofit organizations learn how best to work together.

Take the ubiquitous pink ribbon, for example. “If there’s simply a pink ribbon on the package and no explanation of how the company is supporting a breast cancer charity, you may have a firm that’s trying to take unfair advantage of your concern for the breast cancer cause,” Hessekiel said. “To be sure that this truly is a product that gives back, you should be able find an explanation of the charity tie-in on the packaging.”


Before you buy, check to see that the packaging spells out…

  • The name of the specific organization that will benefit—not just a vague promise to “support heart disease research,” for instance.
  • The portion of the purchase price or total sales that will be donated to charity. What would represent a generous contribution? “This varries tremendously based on the type of product,” Hessekiel said. But you can use your common sense. For instance, you may not be pleased to be lured into buying, say, a $500 piece of sports equipment or jewelry that you otherwise wouldn’t buy had you realized that the manufacturer’s donation to charity would be just a few bucks. (Of course, if you’re planning to buy a particular product anyway, the charitable contribution may represent just an added feel-good bonus to you—in which case the amount of the company’s contribution needn’t affect your purchasing decision.)
  • What the consumer must do to trigger the donation. Some campaigns require only that you buy the product. For others, you have to mail in lids, labels, UPC codes or some other proof of purchase. These mail-in campaigns can be perfectly legit—but before you let such a charitable appeal sway your buying decision, consider whether you actually will go to the trouble of mailing in that proof of purchase.
  • The campaign’s expiration date, if any—since the campaign may close long before all of the product is off the store shelves.

Still have questions? Go to the Web site of the charity or the company in question, Hessekiel suggested. If it’s a legitimate relationship between the business and the nonprofit, the details of the partnership should be spelled out.


The Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization took a lot of heat in 2010 when it undertook a campaign with Kentucky Fried Chicken. The campaign, known as Buckets for the Cure, used pink buckets to raise breast cancer awareness and research funds. But: The ensuing brouhaha centered around the fact that fried foods have negative health consequences, thus making KFC a poor partnership choice for Komen.

The same kinds of criticisms arise when manufacturers use potentially carcinogenic ingredients (for instance, in toiletries or cosmetics) and then try to “cleanse” their reputations by publicizing partnerships with charities that support cancer awareness. If this strikes you as hypocritical, you’ll probably prefer to spend your hard-earned money elsewhere.

Good do-good buys: Hessekiel’s organization sponsors the Cause Marketing Halo Awards, given to outstanding partnerships. Past winners have included Hyundai’s “Hope on Wheels,” fighting pediatric cancer…Lee’s “National Denim Day,” combating breast cancer…and Subway’s support of the American Heart Association. If you want to be sure that your dollars are doing good through the products you purchase, consider supporting Halo winners. And for updates on the latest cause-marketing campaigns, visit

Related Articles