Experiential Cause Marketing – Bringing Your Message to Your Crowd

Cause marketing is not a campaign; it is a commitment.

That conclusion is highlighted by the results of two recent surveys. The first is Purpose 2020 from Kantar Consulting. This research surveyed more than 20,000 consumers and interviewed 100 leading brands.

The survey found that the younger generations, Millennials and Generation Z, prefer brands that have a “point of view and stand for something.” It also discovered that there is an economic benefit when brands support an issue. According to the report, “Brands with a high sense of purpose have seen their brand valuation increase by 175 percent over the past 12 years versus a median growth rate of 86 percent and a growth rate of 70 percent for brands with a low sense of purpose.”

According to Robert Jan d’Hond, the Global Lead of Brand Practice for Kantar Consulting, “Between revenue and social footprint, many brands now have more power than elected leaders, and there is a clear expectation from consumers that this power is used for positive change.”

The other survey, the 2019 report from social impact consultancy DoSomething Strategic, revealed similar information. Based on a survey of 1,908 members ages 13-25, the report shows that 66 percent of young consumers feel that “a brand’s association with a social cause positively influences their overall impression of the brand.” More than half of these consumers, 58 percent, are likely to purchase the brand exclusively due to this association.

However, when asked about specific brands, including notable names like Nike and Patagonia, only 12 percent of the respondents had “top of mind” associations between the brands and their social cause.

“Marketers are missing the mark in how to get [cause marketing] right and use it as a connection point,” Meredith Ferguson, Managing Partner at DoSomething Strategic said to Adweek. “If you do cause marketing, you need to understand it’s deeper and more than a simple campaign.”

Part of the problem is that traditional, passive advertising is not as effective as it once was in conveying this message – especially with a younger audience. Brands can create cause marketing TV commercials, billboards, and magazine ads, but if their target demographic never looks at these sources – and they don’t – the campaign becomes mostly fruitless.

It’s for this reason that many brands are using experiential efforts as a significant aspect of their cause marketing. Since the overall goal of an experiential activation is to connect with a target audience, the technique aligns perfectly with cause marketing efforts.

Cause marketing is a cooperative effort between a for-profit organization and a nonprofit group. It is a relationship that allows a corporate entity to promote its brand or products while raising the awareness of a nonprofit organization. For a cause marketing campaign to be successful, it needs to feel authentic while resonating with an audience on an emotional level, two strengths of experiential marketing.

Experiential Cause Marketing in Action


Since their ads often feature people on a beach enjoying their product, it makes sense that Corona would focus on keeping these beaches clean. To promote World Oceans Day, the brand teamed with Parley for the Oceans to raise awareness of oceanic pollution.

Photo Credit: Corona

Photo Credit: Corona

Currently, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating on the ocean surface. Unless we make significant changes, it is estimated that, by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. That number is so big that it is hard for people to truly comprehend the magnitude of the problem.

Corona’s solution was to use plastic collected exclusively from beaches in London, Melbourne, Santiago, Bogota, Santo Domingo, and Lima to create several large sculptures that were then placed near the beaches. The sheer size of the creations helped people visualize at least part of the extent of ocean pollution. For example, the London sculpture was called “Wave of Waste.” It was a massive wave made entirely of the collected plastic. The sculpture was set in front of a large video screen featuring the actor Chris Hemsworth who appeared to surf on the plastic wave. Visitors were invited to drop off their plastic trash so it could be added to the sculpture.

In addition to the sculptures, Corona took plastic collected by Parley for the Oceans from the open ocean, remote islands, and coastal communities and then recycled it into limited-edition Hawaiian shirts. From a distance, the shirts’ designs looked like any Hawaiian shirt. Yet, with a close inspection, plastic rubbish, like bottles, toothbrushes, and six-pack rings, could clearly be seen cluttering up the otherwise fun design. Proceeds from the sales of the shirts were donated to Parley for the Oceans.

The following year, Corona continued its awareness campaign at the world-famous Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro. Visitors walking to the beach hoping for a gorgeous view of the ocean were instead met with a six-foot-high, 49-foot-long wall that was created entirely of plastic collected from the beach in just three days. “One day, the trash left on the beach will stop you from getting into it,” read a sign that accompanied the wall.

Ben & Jerry’s

What do you get when you mix cinnamon and chocolate ice creams, cinnamon bun dough, and spicy fudge brownies? The answer is potential changes to the U.S.’s criminal justice system.

Ben & Jerry’s partnered with The Advancement Project National Office, a multi-racial civil rights organization that works with local grassroots organizers on racial justice issues, and the Art for Justice Fund, to create the Justice ReMix’d campaign.  Not only did these partnerships result in a delicious, new ice cream flavor, but the brand also commissioned artwork from formerly incarcerated artists and created a gallery in its Waterbury, Vermont factory. The artwork told first-hand stories of how difficult it can be to extricate yourself from the justice system.

The brand also hit the road with its Scoop Truck to generate conversations on prison and criminal justice reform while giving away plenty of ice cream.

Photo Credit: Ben & Jerry’s

Photo Credit: Ben & Jerry’s


Turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth can save four gallons of water, which is more water than many people around the world have in a week. To raise awareness of water scarcity and encourage conservation, Colgate partnered with Mina Guli, an environmentalist and “ultra-runner.” Guli ran 100 marathons in 100 days across six continents to make people aware of water shortages around the world.

The brand also created a Times Square billboard takeover that featured Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps to encourage people to turn off the tap and save water.

McCann Health

Opioid addiction is destroying communities across the country. Yet, despite the crisis extending to every state, some areas are hit harder than others. To raise awareness of the issue, McCann Health and McCann New York teamed with the nonprofit Shatterproof to create an activation at the annual Macy’s Flower Show.

Photo Credit: McCann Health

Photo Credit: McCann Health

A giant brain made of 9,000 flowers was prominently displayed in a greenhouse in Herald Square. The flowers used were pink carnations. However, those were covered by a layer of black opium poppies, a visual illustration of opioids’ effect on the brain. Visitors to the display were encouraged to pick a poppy, which had a surprise message of hope attached to the stem. As the black flowers were removed, more and more of the vibrant pink brain became visible.

Disclaimer: We’re fans of all the innovative and interesting activations that occur across the world, and we like to keep our readers informed as well. This post features the efforts of activations that are not our own. We applaud their work, and do not wish to appear to take credit.