The Cause Marketing Taste Test

Two recent cause marketing campaigns caught my attention. Both are for the same cause, both campaigns are from well known brands. Yet, one campaign has generated criticism of the sponsor and the cause, while the other campaign receives kudos for the sponsor and the cause. What is the difference in the two campaigns? Let’s take a look.

The cause is one of the most recognizable in the United States in recent years: Susan G. Komen for the Cure. This nonprofit organization is viewed as the standard bearer for raising awareness and money to fight breast cancer. The campaign that has played to favorable reviews is Major League Baseball’s “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” campaign. Players donned pink batting gloves and wristbands, and pink bats were proudly used in yesterday’s games across MLB. Fans can even purchase pink bats at, and $10 from their purchase will go to Komen.

The other cause marketing campaign involving Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a partnership with KFC. The “Buckets for a Cure” campaign involves KFC donating 50 cents from each bucket of chicken sold, with a goal of $ 8 million. As of this post, more than $3.1 million has been raised by the campaign. KFC has a microsite dedicated to the campaign and is supporting it with social media. A KFC Twitter post even gives a nod to the MLB pink bat offer as Louisville-based KFC promotes another hometown firm, bat manufacturer Louisville Slugger.

So, what is the problem? KFC and Komen have been criticized for their partnership. Specifically, critics are quick to point out incongruence between a cause promoting women’s health and the unhealthy properties of KFC’s fried chicken. When sponsor and cause are perceived as incongruent, the impact a sponsor hopes to achieve in terms of favorable image, greater brand goodwill, and even sales increases may not be realized. In this situation, consumers call into question the motives of the sponsor- does KFC really care about the cause, or is the sponsor exploiting the cause to make money?

The criticism of KFC’s Buckets for a Cure is unfortunate and shortsighted. First, give the folks at Komen some credit that they see that the partnership will be perceived as a bad fit by many people. To that end, the partnership focuses on KFC’s grilled chicken. Moreover, KFC has a national platform to raise awareness for the cause, not to mention raise money. KFC is succeeding at doing both, and the money that will go to Komen is hardly tainted. KFC’s customer base includes women who will potentially be impacted by the influence of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. And, KFC’s male customers are part of the picture, too, as many of them have mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters who have dealt with breast cancer.

MLB and KFC have something in common: they have great reach and influence among large numbers of people. One of the most significant contributions a business can make is to use its influence to give back to stakeholder groups that are unrelated to its core business. The need met by Susan G. Komen for the Cure will not go away, unfortunately. If there are brands like KFC that can make a difference in the lives of those persons impacted by breast cancer, they should do it and be recognized, not criticized, for their support.

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