September 30, 2013 3:40 pm
Updated: October 1, 2013 11:24 am

Canadian Tire gets social cause marketing right


There’s a TV ad on air that has struck a chord with me. It’s from Canadian Tire and it’s called the We All Play for Canada Anthem and it struck me as a great example of social cause marketing done right.

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Social cause marketing is a continuing trend for brands and companies. The objective is to increase consumer engagement to a product by linking it an emotional moment in order to create intimacy and emotion with the consumer. This helps brands create an emotional connection with consumers. Emotion leads to stronger persuasion at the moment the purchase decision is made and translates to higher sales.

Make no mistake, social cause marketing is about sales.

Good social cause marketing communication follows an arc: it raises awareness of an issue, provides a solution, and leaves the consumer feeling positive. It makes people feel like they can do something about the issue at hand, and that action is directly tied to the brand. Consumers are left feeling empowered and the brand is absolutely heroic.

The Canadian Tire spot follows this arc. It advertises a very important issue: Canadian kids aren’t getting the exercise they need. As the spot illustrates, too much time is spent indoors watching TV or playing with electronic devices. This is a concern that’s been noted before. It’s been estimated that 99% of kids in the GTA aren’t getting enough exercise. Increasing numbers of Canadian kids being driven to school versus walking twice a day, everyday which is also impacting their activity levels.

Yet the tone of the ad creates feelings of hope and inspiration. The call to action is for consumers to get more active with their kids and share their activities on the campaign microsite.

Canadian Tire showcases itself as the facilitator of the solution and it has the credibility to do so. After all, Canadian Tire sells all sorts of sporting goods, and has well known partnerships with Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic teams, Skate Canada, Hockey Canada, Soccer Canada, and others. Like many Canadian children, Canadian Tire is where my first bike came from as well as my first skates, so this ad also stirs a lot of latent, feel-good memories in me as I’m sure is the case for many other Canadians. The link between the brand (Canadian Tire is a retail brand after all) and the social cause (childhood inactivity) is crystal clear.

Many other brands don’t get social cause marketing right. Sometimes, the thinking is that just linking a brand to a cause and donating money is enough. Unfortunately, many examples of poor social cause marketing are linked to breast cancer. Termed pink washing,  it is the idea is that companies are just using a disease to profit by putting a pink ribbon on a product. Sure, raising awareness of a disease is fantastic but when it comes to donations, how much is actually donated? And exactly where does the money go and how is it spent? These are the questions consumers are grappling with. The result can be a lot of cynicism and potentially negative feelings that can halo back to a brand.

From a marketing perspective, using a pink ribbon on a package or in ads isn’t necessarily a smart tactic either. If the link between the brand and the solution isn’t clear then it’s hard for consumers to make the emotional link. It fails to feel authentic. Furthermore, over saturation of links to one specific cause results in no single brand standing out in the mind of the consumer.

Canadian Tire has done a great job with the We All Play for Canada campaign. While I don’t think the execution is ideal, (in my opinion, the micro site will dilute consumers away from the Canadian Tire website and also diminish the power of the message on the Canadian Tire website) overall, the strategy is right and I look forward to seeing where it goes.

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