Some of the most effective marketing campaigns have an altruistic or philanthropic theme. However, not every campaign has the permanence of a business or specific product line; sometimes, the best campaigns focus on an idea, rather than a place or product.

Cause-based marketing example

Today we’ll be taking a look at cause-based marketing. We’ll examine what caused-based marketing is before checking out several real-world examples of cause-based marketing in action, including the strengths of each campaign.

We’ll also be talking about what makes caused-based marketing so effective, as well as the challenges and obstacles that are unique to this kind of marketing so you can prepare for them in your own campaigns.

Ready to change the world? Me too.

What Is Cause-Based Marketing?

As its name implies, cause-based marketing is the process of marketing a specific idea, cause, or goal, rather than a specific business, product, or service.

Cause-based marketing Human Rights Campaign marriage equality campaign example

Cause-based marketing campaigns can be incredibly broad, or very narrow, depending on the campaign. For example, a cause-based marketing campaign could be launched to promote a cause as broad as LGBTQ rights or marriage equality, encompassing a wide range of organizations and viewpoints such as the campaign by the Human Rights Campaign above, or a cause as narrow as ending animal testing in the cosmetics industry, which may target specific companies or even individual product lines.

Regardless of how broad or narrow a cause-based marketing campaign may be, these initiatives are often partnerships between a nonprofit organization – typically the driving force behind the messaging of the campaign itself – and either an ad agency or corporate partner, which typically handles the execution of the campaign.

Although cause-based marketing campaigns can focus predominantly on PPC or social advertising, these campaigns can and often do incorporate elements of guerilla marketing in their execution. Trying to grab people’s attention is no easy feat these days, and as such many organizations adopt more creative ways of getting their message out, as we’ll see later on. Many cause-based marketing campaigns are organic offshoots of grassroots marketing efforts, which also tend to focus on causes.

Cause-Based Marketing vs. Ethical Marketing: What’s the Difference?

One of the biggest differences between cause-based marketing and ethical marketing is that cause-based campaigns typically focus on a specific objective, whereas ethical marketing focuses on broader marketing principles that apply to many different aspects of an organization’s marketing efforts.

Cause-based marketing Warby Parker buy-one give-one program

Image via Warby Parker

For example, promoting a fundraising event for a cancer research organization would be cause-based marketing. Buy-one, give-one programs, such as those used by brands like Warby Parker and TOMS Shoes for example, are an example of ethical marketing because this approach to corporate giving is a fundamental part of those companies’ identities and brand values.

Although there are distinct differences between cause-based and ethical marketing, the two approaches share a great deal of overlap, particularly in their execution. Visual assets such as images, the style and tone of the language used, and the overall positioning of a cause-based marketing campaign may be very similar to those of an ethical marketing campaign by virtue of the similarities between the two campaign types in terms of themes and objectives.

So now we know what caused-based marketing is. But what does cause-based marketing look like?

6 Powerful Examples of Cause-Based Marketing

There’s certainly no shortage of social problems in urgent need of solutions, and as such cause-based marketing campaigns are as diverse as their profit-driven counterparts. Here are a few examples of particularly well-executed cause-based marketing campaigns that can serve as a little creative inspiration for your own cause-based campaigns.

1. Veganuary

2017 was an absolutely incredible year for plant-based diets. According to data from the Vegan Society, the number of vegans in the United Kingdom has increased by 350% over the past 10 years. Nellson, a manufacturer of protein bars and powders, claims that demand for the production of plant-based foodstuffs has increased by almost 140%. Data from food delivery service Just Eat suggests that veganism is set to be the biggest food trend of this year, and in 2017 alone, the company observed a 987%(!) increase in demand for vegan options.

Cause-based marketing Veganuary participation graphic

Image/data via Veganuary

With figures like these, it’s little wonder that this year’s Veganuary campaign was one of the biggest ever. Veganuary is an annual, month-long event that aims to promote the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet. Veganuary, now a registered charity, first began in the U.K. back in 2014 with just 3,300 people participating. Last year, more than 60,000 people took part.

Veganuary is a prime example of cause-based marketing done right. The organization’s first real foray into true advertising was launched in October of 2016, when the charity crowdfunded $30,000 to place advertisements across the London Underground network. Following the success of that campaign, Veganuary made the leap across the Pond when the organization placed similar ads on the Boston subway system, as well as across Manchester in the U.K. and Sydney in Australia.

Cause-based marketing Veganuary ads London Underground campaign launch Kings Cross station

Professional vegan pole-fitness instructors Terri Walsh and Michael Donohoe promoting
Veganuary outside King’s Cross St. Pancras Underground station in central London. Image via Veganuary.

One of the reasons why the Veganuary campaign has been so successful – aside from lots of people looking to reduce their consumption of animal products, of course – is that social engagement is built into the heart of the campaign itself. As well as useful resources that new vegans will find useful in their new lifestyle, Veganuary asks participants to sign a pledge stating their commitment to veganism, which participants can then share across their social networks. This provides new vegans with a sense of community by getting involved with the initiative and provides a way for participants to spread the word organically (no pun intended).

2. Movember

Every November, millions of men around the world come together to champion the most noble of causes – raising awareness of serious health issues facing men by refusing to shave our upper lips. This curious phenomenon has become an immensely popular annual tradition better known as Movember.

Cause-based marketing Movember New Zealand statistics

Image via Movember New Zealand

The story of Movember begins as so many grand tales do – over drinks between two mates in an Australian pub. In 2003, friends Travis Garone and Luke Slattery noticed over beers in their native Melbourne that the traditional mustache had become an increasingly rare sight. Convinced of the genius of their idea, and inspired by a friend’s mother who was raising money for breast cancer charities, Garone and Slattery managed to coerce around 30 of their friends to grow mustaches throughout the month of November.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Cause-based marketing Movember statistics mental health

Image via Movember

As of 2017, more than 5 million men took part in Movember to raise awareness for a range of health issues facing men, from prostate cancer to suicide. The movement resulted in the formation of the Movember Foundation, a charitable organization that works with various men’s health advocacy groups around the world, and aims to reduce premature deaths among men by 25% by 2030. The organization has had an incredible impact since its inception in 2004, having funded more than 1,200 men’s health initiatives worldwide.

Similarly to Veganuary, the social element of Movember is a strong driver of organic growth (again, no pun intended). Many men update their Movember progress pics daily on social media, which not only keeps participants motivated to see their attempt through to the end, but also keeps the campaign front-and-center in people’s social feeds. This also provides participants with additional opportunities to fundraise for men’s health charities throughout the month, not just at the beginning of their attempt.

Cause-based marketing Movember progress pictures social media

The mustaches themselves aren’t important; in fact, it seems that guys who can barely grow any facial hair are just as involved and enthusiastic about the campaign as the guys who can grow a spectacular set of whiskers.

Like many of the best charitable awareness campaigns, Movember combines lighthearted fun with a serious message to spread the word.

3. Women’s March

On January 21, 2017, half a million people descended upon Washington, D.C., to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.

Cause-based marketing Womens March Washington DC 2017 CNN

Image via CNN

What became one of the largest protest marches in modern history began as a Facebook post by Teresa Shook of Hawaii, who invited her social network to join her in a march on the nation’s capital. Several other similar Facebook pages emerged, and soon after merged to become the official Women’s March. Planned Parenthood helped organize the march by making experienced event-organizing staff available to the march organizers, and more than 100 organizations lent their support and expertise to the event.

The organizers of the Women’s March were smart enough to realize very early on that strong, unified branding would be crucial to the success of the event. This helped the Women’s March make the difficult transition from loosely affiliated groups of people organizing in the same place to a cohesive, strategic event that united hundreds of special interest groups and dozens of individual causes, from domestic abuse prevention to women’s reproductive rights.

Cause-based marketing Womens March branding logos

In addition to its strong branding, the Women’s March campaign made excellent use of hashtags to keep the conversation going. The #WhyIMarch hashtag wasn’t just used on the day of the protests, which saw the hashtag surpass more than 200,000 mentions just three days after the event, and has been used in subsequent events – a valuable lesson on the importance of choosing good, evergreen hashtags.

4. Everytown for Gun Safety

According to the FBI, a mass shooting is defined as an incident in which at least four people, excluding the gunman, are injured or killed by firearms in the same incident at the same location.

By this definition, there was a mass shooting almost every single day in America in 2017.

Cause-based marketing New York Times mass shootings by month 2017 infographic data visualization

A visualization of mass shootings by month in 2017, via The New York Times

Regardless of where you stand on the Second Amendment, there’s no getting around the fact that America has a unique gun violence problem. When you start to look at the data on firearm-related deaths in the U.S., the terrifying scale of the problem becomes clearer – even if the solution does not.

There are dozens of gun reform advocacy organizations in the U.S., but Everytown for Gun Safety is among the largest and most active. The organization was founded in 2014 following the merger of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Cause-based marketing Everytown for Gun Violence logo

The group advocates for a wide range of gun reform initiatives, including comprehensive reform of the current background check system, legislative changes that forbid convicted domestic abusers from acquiring firearms, and the ending of federal statutes that allow legal weapon trafficking in some states. Everytown is also one of the few gun control advocacy organizations that actively campaigns about the dangers that firearms pose to women through domestic violence.

Cause-based marketing Everytown for Gun Violence domestic violence statistics

Image via Everytown for Gun Safety

If we use general awareness – or brand recognition, to think of it another way – Everytown has become one of the most successful cause-based marketing campaigns in recent memory. Even if Everytown has struggled to influence policymakers in Washington, the campaign itself has become synonymous with the wider gun reform movement in the U.S., and the brand itself has become a highly visible lobbying organization across the country. While the organization has lobbied for specific legislative items over the years, it’s Everytown’s success as a growing movement against gun violence in general that speaks to the power of cause-based campaigns.

Similarly to the Women’s March, Everytown’s unified branding is both immediately recognizable and quite visually clever, making it a strong brand under which the organization can rally supporters.

Cause-based marketing Everytown for Gun Violence rally Julianne Moore

Actress and gun reform advocate Julianne Moore at an Everytown for Gun Safety rally.
Image via Everytown for Gun Safety.

Everytown has enjoyed remarkable success, despite a lack of attendant policy changes. The organization has become one of the most visible gun reform advocacy groups in the country, and has racked up high-profile support from a range of well-known and influential people including actresses Emma Stone, Laura Dern, and Julianne Moore, as well as politicians such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the group’s biggest financiers.

5. Feeding America

Despite being among the world’s wealthiest nations, America has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the world. Approximately one in five American children lives in poverty, and few dimensions of poverty are as devastating or potentially deadly as hunger.


Some sobering statistics from Feeding America’s Hunger in America 2014 report

Feeding America is one of the most active nonprofit organizations in the U.S., and works tirelessly to end food insecurity across America’s most vulnerable and impoverished communities. Every year, more than 46 million people rely on Feeding America programs and food banks to make ends meet, and more than 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries make up the Feeding America network, which serves one in seven Americans.

Cause-based marketing Feeding America impact

Image via Feeding America

The organization frequently embarks upon large-scale cause-based marketing campaigns to highlight the urgent problem of child hunger in the U.S., including print ads in national publications, billboard ads, and online and social media campaigns. Feeding America also operates vital seasonal campaigns that put food on families’ tables at particularly challenging times of year such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In addition to the enormous impact that Feeding America has on the lives of vulnerable families, Feeding America’s cause-based campaigns illustrate how poverty can be tackled without resorting to the use of exploitative imagery for its own sake. In all of its visual assets, Feeding America prioritizes dignity and respect, highlighting the complex socioeconomic causes of poverty and hunger and their disproportionate impact on the poor and people of color, rather than demonizing it as the result of fecklessness or laziness. Feeding America has also leveraged modern trends to highlight how prevalent hunger is across the United States, spreading its message in an increasingly relatable way:

Cause-based marketing Feeding America social media campaign example

Image via Feeding America

Feeding America is a prime example of how cause-based marketing can not only help people, but establish nonprofits and charitable organizations as true leaders in the fight against society’s most urgent social problems.

6. WWF

The World Wildlife Foundation is one of the most dedicated conservation organizations in the world. Although WWF is best known for its advocacy work in protecting endangered species from extinction, the organization is also very active in the field of habitat conservation.

Cause-based marketing WWF Amazon deforestation campaign

WWF has launched hundreds of cause-based marketing campaigns over the years, but a recent campaign highlighting the urgent dangers of rainforest deforestation was particularly memorable. The campaign’s creative featured an image of a rainforest resembling human lungs that has been partially clear-cut by loggers. Produced by French agency TBWA/Paris, the image was a powerful reminder of the need to protect the world’s rainforests, not only for the animals that call the forests home, but for our planet as well.

While this particular campaign is an excellent example of the power of strong visual assets, it also highlights one of the potential pitfalls of cause-based campaigns, namely the lack of a specific call to action. Without a hashtag, landing page, or even a QR code, the campaign itself isn’t the easiest to track in terms of performance or objectives – these ads appeared primarily in ambient locations such as subway cars – making it difficult to justify in terms of impact or ROI.

Rebels with a Cause

As we’ve seen from the examples above, cause-based marketing campaigns can be an excellent way of raising awareness of crucial causes across a ran

ge of interest areas. Although they may be more difficult to track in terms of performance or impact, there has never been a greater need for cause-based marketing.

Which cause-based marketing campaigns have stuck in your mind over the years? Has a cause-based campaign ever persuaded you to make a change or reevaluate your position on a prickly topic?