The “Buy One, Give One” Approach to Cause Marketing

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 11.38.06 AMI recently read an Advertising Age article about Target’s new cause marketing campaign (launched July 13) in which, for every Up & Up brand school supply purchased between July 13 and Aug. 2, the retailer will donate one Up & Up brand school supply product to a child in need via the Kids In Need Foundation. While this tactic may not necessarily be new – in fact, here is a list of ten “Buy One, Give One” Companies – I’m intrigued by Target’s use of this approach to build awareness and share for a specific category within a specific brand. (This is an approach we are seeing more frequently as the “Buy One, Give One” model continues to grow in popularity. As indicated in this Winter 2014 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, companies such as Kiehl’s, Sephora, Whole Foods and Aveda have also introduced buy one, give one items.)

If, as Harvard Business School professor Christopher Marquis points out, the model only works well with specific products, and it works best when it allows consumers to publicly display their affinity for a particular cause, how well will school supplies translate? It is a relatively inexpensive item, one of the factors Marquis cites as important with this model. However, will an Up & Up brand notebook come to have the same “giving back” cache as, say, a pair of Tom’s Shoes?

From a PR perspective, this type of campaign has a lot of benefits. It has a well-defined call to action, is easy for consumers to understand and clearly amplifies Target’s commitment to education, a cause it is already well-known for supporting. And, for now anyway, the approach is still novel enough to generate attention and publicity. (Marquis and his co-author Andrew Park suggest that this may change as “Buy One, Give One” campaigns become more commonplace.)

Target does plan to keep everyone posted via social media as the campaign hits milestones en route to its $25 million donation goal. (In fact, per Target’s Facebook page, it had reached $5 million in donations as of this past Saturday.) From a personal perspective, I am definitely motivated to make my small contribution to that total. What about others, though? We’d love to hear your thoughts as to the effectiveness of this type of cause marketing campaign.

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