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Beyond CSR: What Disneynature’s Bears can teach us about cause-related marketing

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Pretty much everyone knows the importance and benefits of corporate social responsibility (CSR) these days, and for companies around the world, it’s become an everyday part of business and, indeed, part of their identity. Back in January, Shelton Insights looked at a couple of “brilliant” CSR initiatives that demonstrated how a company really can do well by doing good, particularly if they link their philanthropic activities to their core business.

This week, we take that thought a step further by looking at an example of cause-related marketing (CRM) to see how it can have an even more direct and immediate effect on your company’s bottom line. While CRM may have evolved from CSR, it is not the same thing and goes well beyond simply publicizing the writing of a check to a charity. It’s a carefully developed strategic alliance with a non-profit organization, and even more than CSR activities, it can influence purchase decisions – like which movie to take the kids to.

The recent release of Bears, Disneynature’s latest film, came with a pledge from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund to donate $0.20 to the National Parks Foundation for every ticket sold during opening week, and more promised from the sales of Bears-related products. The Bears opening coincided not only with Earth Day, but also with National Parks Week and Easter, which made the timing rather perfect. Unfortunately, it had some strong, family-friendly competition, so at $4.77 million, the first weekend box office was perhaps less than hoped for. Even so, it looks like the National Parks Foundation could come away with more than $100,000 dollars.

Obviously, this is a very good thing for our national parks, but what does it do for Disney, and what could this kind of CRM do for your company?

Done right – and it appears that Disney has – a CRM initiative is a win-win. The cause makes some money and the company gets a gold star in the eyes of the public. They both get a boost in public awareness, and they both benefit from what can be some pretty extensive free publicity in the form of earned media. In the case of Bears, Disney also benefits from the many national park websites that have promoted the movie. The partnership was mentioned in most of the movie’s reviews and in many educational, family-centric and nature-centric websites, not to mention dozens of blogs and social media postings.

Bears is not the first Disneynature film that’s benefited from a cause while the cause benefited from it: Four previous Disneynature movies were released with donations tied to opening-week attendance and product sales. Each time, the money raised went to a conservation effort that was directly related to the movie, and it seems clear that these Disneynature partnerships have worked particularly well because of the close link between the film and the cause.

Data supporting the effectiveness of CSR and CRM abounds. In Shelton’s Eco Pulse 2013, we asked, “How much (if any) do a company’s nonprofit partnerships and donations impact your decision whether to buy its products or services?” We found that one-third of our respondents said these CSR activities had somewhat to very much impact on their purchase decision. It’s also worth noting that a 2013 worldwide Nielsen study found that earned media, especially in its word-of-mouth form, is a highly trusted source of information and is the channel most likely to stimulate consumers to action.

Whatever other CSR activities your company undertakes, try to make sure it doesn’t always just write a check to some worthy organization. Encourage a real partnership with a cause that resonates both with your customer base and your company’s mission. As Chris Rosica, author of The Business of Cause Marketing, put it, CRM “is a way to merge a company’s profit center with its ‘passion center.’” The rewards are potentially great. You’ll gain a leg up over your competition, earn customer loyalty and media attention, and increase brand awareness – and sales.

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Lyn Meany

About Lyn Meany

As Shelton Group's senior copywriter, Lyn Meany conceptualizes and develops compelling content for client and internal projects. She excels in both the technical and creative aspects of her work for clients such as Ameren Missouri and Healthy Planet Partners. Before joining Shelton Group in early 2014, she built a freelance writing, editing and marketing business. Prior to self-employment, she worked for nearly 12 years at CRC Press (a major scientific and technical publisher), moving up during that time from copywriter to director of marketing.

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