“Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.” — Fast Company magazine (July/August 2011)

Recently, I was reading a cover story in Fast Company magazine. It was entitled Can This Man Save This Girl?”  The man was international film star and Academy Award winner, Matt Damon. The girl was a 14-year-old Zambian youth who regularly walked an hour to collect water for her family. Fast Company Senior Writer Ellen McGirt wrote the piece to show how a celebrity was using his star power to help alleviate one of the globe’s most pressing problems.

Initially, I decided to read the story simply to learn more about the global water crisis. After all, according to McGirt, nearly 1 billion people lack access to clean water; three times that number lack access to proper sanitation. However, weeks later, I find myself thinking about the article’s content from a professional perspective. Specifically, did this article offer some interesting insights on cause-related marketing?

The American Marketing Association defines cause-related marketing as, “Promotional strategy that links a company’s sales campaign directly to a nonprofit organization, and generally includes an offer by the sponsor to make a donation to the cause with a purchase of its product or service.”

In the Fast Company cover story, the “cause” was obviously clean and accessible water.  Likewise, while maybe not the traditional definition of a company, Matt Damon certainly qualifies as a highly successful business entity. Yet, for me, it’s a big leap to directly link his involvement with this issue to movie sales. I have little doubt that the publicity generated by these philanthropic efforts produces a positive impact on his “brand.” I’m even willing to concede that this goodwill drives more people to the theatre for his latest flick…but I can’t help thinking that there are much easier ways to sell movie tickets.

Is Mr. Damon’s involvement with the global water crisis really a “promotional strategy” at all? I cannot say for certain. However, if we view this case as a cause marketing effort as defined earlier, it offers a couple of critical strategic considerations for effective cause campaigns.

  • Be sure to consider both the long-term and short-term impact of potential cause marketing initiatives. If Matt Damon, Inc. based the decision to engage solely on generating movie tickets sales this campaign never sees the light of day. Yet, with a bigger picture approach looking at the long-term impact on brand and awareness, it’s easily regarded as a win-win promotional strategy.
  • Passion for the cause is one of, if not, the most important reasons for engaging in a cause effort.  Matt Damon did not just lend his name to publicity materials. He didn’t just spend a couple of hours recording a PSA. He got engaged in the initiative and aggressively tackled the issue head on. Most importantly, he created an impact. Water.org raised $4 million in 2010. This year, due at least in part to Matt’s awareness efforts, the organization expects to donations will exceed $10 million this year.

To learn more about this cause, please visit www.water.org. To talk more about effective cause marketing strategies and creative executions, please contact us.