Why to Think Twice About Cause Voting Campaigns

Challenges to consider before diving in
Feb 15, 2011 10:20 AM ET

What Do You Stand For?

Pepsi Refresh made a huge splash with its launch in 2010 and, more than a year later, it’s still getting a lot of attention. With all the fanfare, it’s hardly surprising it has caused a bit of a stir in the cause marketing world as companies consider whether a voting campaign could also be their best bet for consumer engagement. Before you dive in, consider some challenges unfocused voting campaigns face:
1. Impossible oversight: Despite Pepsi’s best efforts to police it, allegations of cheating and fraud continue to plague the campaign. With so many organizations competing, it’s virtually impossible for Pepsi to vet the organizations and keep tabs on their activities, particularly the smaller ones who are off the radar.

2. Scattered results: Reporting results is another challenge because these programs focus on so many issues, at so many levels, in so many places. They can talk about dollars given, number of organizations funded or estimated number of people impacted, but the question will remain as to the deeper level of impact they may have made on any given issue.

3. Conflicting returns: Recent results indicate Pepsi Refresh may have bolstered the company’s brand among consumers, but because there is no direct product tie-in, it hasn’t had the same positive effect on sales. Pepsi seems sated with the positive consumer engagement and buzz, but other companies may expect different results.

4. Resource drain: The voting trend is forcing all nonprofits to continually tap their networks of donors and supporters for votes. Consumers will tire, and it’s a drain on resources for all organizations, particularly the small.

5. Lost cause: As the saying goes, when you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing. This is a risk companies face with such a broad approach. Even with millions of dollars in grants, it’s hard to articulate what Pepsi stands for today, which is not a promising indication for long-term brand equity.

The key point is that open voting campaigns, like Pepsi Refresh, come with a unique set of challenges and considerations. This unfocused model is not a sustainable way to engage stakeholders and achieve long-term brand equity or social outcomes when used as a stand-alone strategy. However, some companies are taking a more focused approach by limiting voting to strategic partners or issues, which can be powerful ways to engage consumers while reinforcing what they stand for. We anticipate the voting trend will steer away from an unfettered list of causes and organizations, and companies will better harness their consumers’ desire to have a voice by deepening engagement within a strategic cause.

To view Cone’s full POV about voting campaigns, including best practices, visit our website.