Since the baby boom generation, more significant numbers of women have been college-educated and financially independent (Kraft and Weber, 2021). Most women today are the primary breadwinners for their families, accounting for 85% of consumer purchases in the U.S. (Kraft and Weber, 2021). Worldwide, women spend $20 trillion annually (Alsever, 2014).
One way to attract women to a product is through cause marketing, which promotes a company's efforts to better another cause or community. In other words, "cause marketing occurs when a company does well by doing good" (Organ, 2017). This tactic has proven successful; when a company takes on social responsibility within the world or local communities, women tend to want to support it (Holmes Report, 2011). But it also has flaws – whether intentionally or not, brands have been known to use cause marketing to gain consumers instead of genuinely supporting the cause.
As a positive example, Target created the Target Foundation, a "learning lab" that gives back to every community Target stores reside in (Target Corporate, n.d.). They invest in leaders, organizations, coalitions, and networks to help elevate historically silenced communities' voices, stories, and leadership (Target Corporate, n.d.). When shopping with the Target app, customers can vote on where Target will donate funds or resources within their communities. This individualized method tailors to each community's needs and gives consumers power over which organization is supported.
Dove's Project #ShowUs takes a more pointed approach – they build off the concept of self-esteem issues and try to teach self-love. They've curated a library of 10,000+ images of unstaged, unfiltered feminine beauty that Dove users submit themselves (Project #ShowUs, 2021). Dove also compiled the "Dove Self-Esteem Project," intending to help "¼ billion build their positive body image" by 2030 (Dove self-esteem project, 2020). Dove sells itself as loving everyone for their true beauty. It uses this platform to teach parents, mentors, teachers, educators, and youth leaders how to help young people handle and overcome self-image issues (Dove self-esteem project, 2020).
Companies needs to be conscious of what their messages means for the cause they’re supporting. And unfortunately, Dove's progressive take on body image is inherently hypocritical. In an article for The University of Chicago Press Journals, J. Johnston and J.Taylor wrote of Dove's 2008 Real Beauty Campaign,
"Dove's approach, which we term feminist consumerism, encourages women to channel dissent and practice self-care by engaging with corporate marketing campaigns and purchasing beauty products. Although broadly accessible, Dove's critique of beauty ideology is diluted by its contradictory imperative to promote self-acceptance and at the same time increase sales by promoting women's consumption of products that encourage conformity to feminine beauty ideology. The Dove campaign does not decenter the role of beauty in women's lives but rather suggests that beauty and self-acceptance can be accessed through the purchase of Dove products" (2008).
While Dove's current campaign focuses more on resources for self-love than just using Dove products to achieve self-love, Johnston and Taylor's argument still stands – they're using feminism and self-love to promote their product. Alyssa Baxter studied two companies that employed ad-her-tising as marketing tactics. She found that both brands used female-empowerment to turn a profit while not actually supporting the feminist cause (2015). This isn't unique to feminist campaigns; companies have used social justice movements, breast cancer awareness, and more to gain consumer trust.
Take Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example. They decided to campaign "Buckets for a Cure," which donated $0.50 for every bucket of chicken sold to breast cancer research (D'Inzillo, 2020). While they contributed $4.2 million to cancer research, the resulting public opinion didn't fare well – fried chicken, when overeaten, causes obesity, and obesity, not shockingly, is a massive risk factor for breast cancer (D'Inzillo, 2020). People found KFC's approach to be distasteful and ingenuine.
Starbucks had a similar mishap – to show their allyship on race relations, they had their employees write "Race Together" on their coffee cups (Peterson, 2015). This unorthodox approach failed almost as quickly as it started, mainly because people found it inappropriate that a Fortune 500 company with only 19 Black executives felt it necessary to weigh in on race at all (Peterson, 2015).
With all that said, cause marketing is a statistically proven way to draw women in. 46% of women have purchased something because the purchase helps a cause (PortMA, 2021) – I know that I own a specific travel mug because its proceeds went to a dog rescue foundation that I support.
Cause marketing works: it makes us feel like our money is working alongside us – but it is tricky territory and balances a fine line. And as a women-owned and women-led company, we firmly believe that women are the future, especially in our deeply interconnected economy. It is, however, so important that, as women, we support brands that actually support their chosen causes. And perhaps in a perfect world, brands would stop using notable causes to generate money and start using their power and influence to truly help the communities around them.
If you are looking to create a genuine and authentic marketing strategy or campaign, BlueTickSocial, is here to help. Contact us today for a consultation that will help your brand grow its digital presence.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-couple-looking-at-their-smart-phones-6255975/