Background and Basics


Whether your focus is cause or business or both, you’re bound to run into a sea of new terms and a variety of interpretations of the term “cause marketing”.

Here’s how we define cause marketing:

Cause Marketing encompasses a wide variety of commercial activity that aligns a company or brand with a cause to generate business and societal benefits.

Cause Marketing is Not:
“Social Marketing,” the use by nonprofit and public organizations of marketing techniques to impact societal behavior (e.g. stop smoking, don’t pollute, don’t use drugs, don’t drive drunk.)

nor is it:
“Corporate Philanthropy,” the giving (without expectation of direct corporate gain) of charitable financial and in-kind grants by companies or their corporate foundations.


Although the term "cause-related marketing" is attributed to American Express and its 1983 Statue of Liberty Restoration project, the history of cause marketing as we know it today dates back even further.    The actual “first” cause marketing campaign may forever remain a mystery.  For example, Marriott and the March of Dimes conducted a cause-focused campaign in 1976.  Famous Amos Cookies and Literacy Volunteers of America also created a long-running cause-related promotion in 1979. American Express copyrighted the term “Cause-Related Marketing” but made no attempt to limit the term’s general use.

Since that time, the terms "cause-related marketing" and "cause marketing" continue to grow in popularity.

The IEG Sponsorship Report shares that in 2011, corporate cause sponsorship grew slightly -- up 3.7% to $1.68 billion -- the overall sponsorship category was also up 5.5% in North America. Cause marketing's share of the overall sponsorship market remained at 9%..

Cause Marketing Pioneers:  Marriott and the March of Dimes

One of the first "cause marketing" campaigns occurred in 1976 through a partnership between Marriott Corporation and the March of Dimes. Marriott’s objective was to generate highly cost-effective public relations and media coverage for the opening of Marriott’s Great America in Santa Clara, CA.
The March of Dimes' objective was to significantly increase overall donations for their pledge walk and incent their fundraisers to meet a given deadline.  The promotion was conducted simultaneously in 67 cities throughout the Western United States and exceeded all goals to become the most successful promotion in the history of Chapters West of the March of Dimes who received $2.5 million in donations (a 40% increase) by their deadline.  The promotion also resulted in a record-breaking opening day for Great America, attended by 2.2 million people and provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in free publicity.

Cause Marketing Pioneers:  Famous Amos Cookies and Literacy Volunteers of America

Another of the first examples of a "cause-related marketing" campaign was initiated in 1979 by Rosica, Mulhern & Associates for Famous Amos cookies. In this campaign, Wally Amos became the National Spokesperson for the Literacy Volunteers of America. According to the organization, Wally has alerted more people to the illiteracy problem than any other person in history. This strategic cause-marketing tie-in helped to tell the Famous Amos Cookie story while maintaining visibility and is responsible for many new and expanded literacy programs. This case study is now used in university classrooms nationwide as an example of successful "cause-related marketing".

Cause Marketing Pioneer:  American Express and The Statue of Liberty Restoration Project

American Express entered the scene in 1983 with its iconic Statue of Liberty Restoration project.  Within the campaign period, every American Express card transaction unlocked a penny toward the effort and for each new card issued, a dollar was given to the preservation of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Over a four-month period, $1.75 million was raised for restoration, new users grew by 17% and transaction activity jumped 28%.