Bloggers and marketers are a-twitter over the question of whether Bono's RED campaign is some kind of hustle. And beneath this specific controversy lies a more fundamental charge that most cause marketing is suspect, because it leverages that evil-of-all-evils –consumption — and puts the good guys in bed with villainous corporations.

A number of our colleagues — bloggers at Selfish Giving, Don't Tell the Donor, and a slew of marketers at MarketingProfs — have come ably to the defense of RED (you can read the “Buy(Less) Give More” POV at these locations too). They, variously, have pointed out that …

  • A “mere” $18 million (in less than a year) for the global fight against AIDS ain't chump change … and the amount will continue to grow.
  • The marketing money behind this is not “overhead” coming out of the pocket of some “spend $5 to raise $1 sham charity” … it's an expense of the corporate partners.
  • The marketing expenditure is yielding far more than a direct cash return to RED by providing steady public confirmation — in a world with notoriously short attention span — of the enormity, urgency and humanity of fighting AIDS.
  • Most people are busy, distracted and pre-occupied with everyday personal priorities. Engaging them on a global public health issue requires starting where they are, not where you'd like them to be — for most of us, we're consumers first and donors somewhere like fifty-first.
  • Corporations have far more resources, including ability to communicate, than nonprofits. Indeed, some have more resources than governments. We can piss on them for returning profits to shareholders. Should we piss on them when they divert some profits to pro-social purposes too?

Not only are we with them, we think the RED campaign should be studied as a prime example of how to do cause marketing right.

But let's just stick with the last point.

Poll after poll confirms that the general public, by sizable margins — and despite all the Enron's — actually believes that corporations can use their clout and know-how to do good. They see and respect corporations as powerful can-doers. That's the very reason the public has increasing higher expectations that corporations should play pro-social roles. For most Americans, it's not “us versus them.” That's the stance of a diminishing group of liberal activists.

Sure, corporations can be bad actors. And the wary public appreciates that corporations must be bird-dogged and held accountable. But they are not the enemy.

Smart nonprofit marketers have moved beyond any anti-corporate angst and are figuring out how to leverage corporate resources in win/win partnerships. As in the rest of life, in cause marketing there are mutually beneficial relationships and poor;y conceived or exploitive ones. Joe Waters at Selfish Giving has sound advice in this regard.

Cause marketing can bring significant income to nonprofits … and as RED demonstrates, even more significant visibility and outreach capability. We admire RED. We'll learn a lot from this campaign.

And we say: If you're the CEO or marketing chief at your nonprofit, and you're not studying RED and exploring cause marketing opportunities, you oughta be fired.

Roger & Tom

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