Brands can’t rest on their laurels. Just look at Oldsmobile, Woolworth, and Blockbuster. They all had their heyday, but they eventually grew old and died.
From new products and updated stores to social media and mobile apps, brands have tried everything to stay young and relevant. The ones with true staying power, however, have also embraced cause marketing--win-win partnerships with nonprofits that raise money for good causes and build consumer loyalty.
Cause marketing is the key to two demographics: moms and Millennials. Both of these consumer groups are insistent that brands balance profit with purpose.
But to prove old can absolutely mean savvy, here are three centenarian brands that have put cause marketing on the menu, given it a special sash and tagged it as a “Blue Light Special,” and turned back the clock.
White Castle is a 94-year-old restaurant chain best-known for its iconic “castle stores” and tasty burgers on a signature square bun. Another area of renown for White Castle is cause marketing. I first wrote about White Castle in 2010 when the company launched a specialty candle to benefit Autism Speaks.
But this just wasn’t any candle. It was an onion- and hamburger-scented candle that “Cravers”--fans of White Castle--loved almost as much as the burgers. The big winner was Autism Speaks, which has received $100,000 from sales of the candles.
In addition, White Castle has hosted an annual register fundraiser that asks consumers to donate $1, $3, or $5 to Autism Speaks. In 2015, the fundraiser raised $909,000, a 48% increase over the previous year. In total, White Castle has raised $3 million for Autism Speaks since 2010.
“The credit goes to our employees and customers,” said Jamie Richardson, vice president for White Castle, when I interviewed him in August. “Our customers are very generous, and our employees are always finding new and interesting ways to support the campaign.”
Miss America Organization
Traditionally, cause marketing is a partnership between a nonprofit and a for-profit. It’s uncommon for two nonprofits to engage in cause marketing; they’re typically too focused on raising money for themselves to help another nonprofit raise theirs.
A noteworthy exception is the Miss America Organization (MAO). During its 94-year history, the MAO has dedicated itself to giving back to others, including to other nonprofits. In addition to raising millions of dollars for the scholarships they award to young women each
year, since 2007 the MAO has raised $12 million for Children’s Miracle Network (CMN).
This past April 18, the two also organizations launched Miss America Serves, a national day of volunteering that combined service projects with peer-to-peer fundraising.
Through the corresponding Miss America Serves portal, contestants chose a service project and recruited a team, whose members solicited 10 people to donate $1 for every hour they served. The inaugural event had nearly 1,700 participants and raised $105,000.
MAO included a social-media component, as well, offering 10 $1,000 scholarships to the top 10 states on social media leading up to and during Miss America Serves. This offering helped generate more than 5,200 specific posts using the #MissAmericaServes hashtag to promote @CMNHospitals, reaching a social-media audience of more than 10.3 million people.
MOA’s spirit of giving back also is reflected in the individual fundraising efforts of Miss America contestants. Miss Michigan Emily Kieliszewski, for example, is raising money by selling T-shirts for the Miss Stateline Scholarship Program, which offers scholarships to young women in Michigan. To date, she has sold 155 shirts and raised $1,510.
Discount retailer Kmart has been around since 1899. But rather that its blue-light specials--I remember going to Kmart as a kid and watching my mother rushing around with other shoppers--these days the chain is best-known for losing money and closing stores. That said, Kmart doesn’t get enough credit for its very successful annual cause marketing program for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Kmart’s cause marketing first caught my attention in early 2014 when the retailer raised a whopping $22 million with its annual register fundraiser for the Memphis-based hospital. This spring, Kmart raised $17 million for St. Jude. All told, since 2006, the retailer has raised $59 million for St. Jude. Impressive, until you compare it to the $134 million Kmart has also raised for March of Dimes during its 30-year partnership.
“We can tell you that St. Jude is a cause that clearly resonates with Kmart customers … and millions of them embraced the campaign like never before,” Sears Holdings' PR director wrote me last year. “In addition, Kmart associates were as dedicated as ever … This year we upgraded our check-out technology to make it even easier and faster for customers to make a donation at the register.”
Kmart is the real deal.