There has been quite a debate raging among marketers in general and cause marketers specifically about the KFC pink bucket of chicken program to fight breast cancer and the White Castle hamburger scented candle program to fight autism.
Just trying to say all that with a straight face is difficult. Pink buckets of chicken and hamburger scented candles. Sounds crazy doesn't it? What a great country.
The fact is that I have always maintained that if a company is raising money for a good cause and that money is being truly used to help that cause, then it is a good thing. We are very involved in the breast cancer fight through a number of different programs at Barkley and we can tell everyone with great specificity where those dollars are going in that fight. So two important keys to good cause marketing are that enough money is being raised to really help the cause and we all know specifically what that money is going to do.
There is another side of cause marketing that the KFC/White Castle programs shine a light on and that is creating cause programs that make strategic sense to the brand and to the cause. This is where these programs miss the mark. Simply put, should restaurant chains that have some offerings not always considered to be among the healthiest choices and health related causes become partners? To paraphrase a new ad campaign, probably not.
There is an argument I have heard during this debate which is interesting. If certain food options are known to be less healthy, then at least those companies offering them can offset the problems caused by supporting a health related cause. Strategically, I think this is defensive marketing and does not create the foundation for a long term cause program that builds both the corporate and nonprofit brands. It might be fine for a one off cause promotion, but not for the long haul.
Obviously,restaurant chains are in the business of selling food. It is natural to assume that their food would play a part in a cause program. (Or in White Castle's case, the scent of their food.) But many of them also have very distinct brand cores and values that could lead them in many different directions for cause programs, not just health related ones. And there are so many non health causes that need support, it would not be difficult to find one that is the right fit for a company.
Sometimes, these debates are what I call "inside baseball." Those of us closest to the firing lines get worked up while consumers at large could care less about strategic cause marketing. I experienced some of that this weekend when I had a handful of friends and family ask me if I had seen that KFC was doing a big promotion supporting breast cancer. Their initial reactions had nothing to do with whether or not it is a strategic fit or even wondering how the money was going to be used.
All they know is that KFC is trying to raise more money than has ever been raised before in one program to fight breast cancer. They will leave the strategic and ethical debate to us. Could be a lesson there somewhere.