Cause marketing is not new, but the heightened awareness and response of the always-connected and informed millennial consumer has awoken us to corporate social responsibility (CSR). This has led to further opportunities for brands.

Beyond towering ethical obligations, if your business doesn't stand for a cause, consumers may turn to your competitors. According to the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study more than 9 in 10 (91%) millennials would switch brands, choosing the one associated with a cause and two-thirds (66%) use social media to voice opinions and engage around CSR.

Millennials, millennial founders and their start-ups have, in a short period of time, already built game changing, successful social enterprises and contributed to some of the most successful social-driven campaigns.

Cause marketing has evolved and taken on many diverse faces, from a simple yet hugely successful global campaign such as the “Ice bucket challenge” to the response to the Syrian crisis by companies such as Uber and Arsenal, who are contributing to generate awareness and encouraging donations.

Relevance of the cause, allowance for personalisation and content shareability, combined with companies presenting a clear CSR vision are critical when it comes to a successful and fruitful partnership with consumers.

Responding to the cause

Thinking on your feet, being reactive as well as being proactive in a timely manner are crucial when it comes to “crisis” situations. Immediate response with unexpected situations can show the true face of companies which take CSR seriously.

Syria’s civil war is one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time, causing the suffering of millions. It has challenged a number of big companies to respond and shape the conversation of this very sensitive topic.

Billion-dollar tech start-up, Uber, is acting in an agile and millennial way by launching “UberGIVING”. In partnership with Save the Children, this pan-European initiative, available in 20 countries, offers a free service, collecting donations and taking them to local shops. The funds raised from all sales are used to fund Save The Children’s work, and their Child Refugee Crisis Appeal which supports thousands of children affected by the refugee crisis. Uber claims they have “collected enough donations to fill 10 shipping containers”.

This crisis has also seen Arsenal becoming the first Premier League team to seriously step up their efforts to help Syrian refugees. The club announced that £1 from every ticket sold at one of their football matches, would go to the Save the Children charity.

Social cause engraved in company DNA

Neil Blumenthal, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Warby Parker, said: “Social enterprise is now mainstream. In years past, it was a niche offshoot of the non-profit world. Today, it is front and centre.”

Warby Parker is what is known as a One-for-One business. The model is simple - for every product sold another is donated to someone in need - "Buy a Pair, Give a Pair". This was pioneered most successfully by shoe manufacturers such as TOMS which, since 2006, has put 10 million pairs shoes on children’s feet in over 60 countries.

Warby Parker has seen a meteoric rise and is now the number one glasses supplier to hipsters in their 20s. Having distributed a million pairs of eyeglasses to people in need, the company is valued at $1.2 billion, as of April 2015. Unlike a stand-alone campaign this is a great example of a start up with social and cause marketing engraved in their DNA.

Cause marketing campaigns

In August 2014, the ALS Association released a statement on the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge - the social media-powered video challenge, whereby participants pour a bucket of ice water on their heads and dare others to donate for the cause. In the statement they reported, “As of Wednesday, August 27, The ALS Association has received $94.3 million in donations compared to $2.7 million during the same [month-long] time period last year.”

This is an astonishing 3000% increase ($2.7 million to $94.3 million) and all because of a ‘lightweight campaign’. The increase in donations, which the ALS attributed heavily to the Ice Bucket Challenge, included those from an incredible 2.1 million new donors taking action for the first time. The combination of competitiveness, social media pressure, online narcissism, and low barriers to entry led to more than 2.4 million tagged videos circulating Facebook.
In an age when social media has made us even more aware of how we look at any given moment, asking women to take photos of themselves without makeup and upload them to social channels seemed risky.

The #nomakeupselfie campaign, which began with people posting images of themselves makeup-free on social networks, wasn't started by Cancer Research but their social media team quickly got involved and asked people to donate via text. The campaign raised £8m in just one week. This kind of grassroots viral campaign is impossible to replicate but charities of all sizes can position themselves to take advantage of the next social media phenomenon by responding rapidly and creating a sense of community around the movement.

The next generation of cause marketing is an actual innovative “cause product”

Pavegen is a pioneering technology company founded in 2009 that creates flooring that harnesses the energy of footsteps. The technology has been installed in over 100 projects in more than 30 countries and can be found in train stations, shopping centres, airports and public spaces.

Led by millennial founder Laurence Kemball-Cook, the company has created a product looking straight into our more sustainable and CSR responsible future. Pavegen’s largest installation to date is in partnership with Shell, in a local football pitch in Morro da Mineira, Rio de Janeiro. Pavegen tiles work day and night alongside solar panels to power the lights for up to 10 hours on a full battery, creating the world’s first ever people-powered football pitch. This first-of-a-kind energy solution is a source of global inspiration, empowering action through sport as well as providing a tangible off-grid power supply that benefits a whole community.

Their success and support was imminent starting from their crowdfunding campaign whereby their £750,000 target was reached in just 59 hours of going live and raising a total of £1.92m from 1500 online investors.

To be effective, companies must not only create meaningful, sustainable cause-related programs, but also consistently engage millennials and clearly communicate the impact of those campaigns. Millennials are more likely to pay attention to a company’s message if that company has a deep commitment to a cause, but in order for that message to resonate with millennials, the commitment needs to be authentic and relevant to both the brand and the consumer.

About Millennial 20/20

The Millennial 20/20 Summit is the world’s first gathering of brands, businesses and industry leaders who target the Millennial generation. The inaugural event will take place in London on the 13th-14th April, 2016, at B1, Victoria House, Bloomsbury in London.

Over the two-day period, Millennial 20/20 will host over 150 speakers, 40 interactive and experiential showcases, 50 panel discussions, 24 keynote presentations and interviews.

With four dedicated industry tracks of fashion and beauty, food and beverage, travel and hospitality, and sport and fitness, Millennial 2020 will feature highly curated and challenging discussions across eleven pillars; marketing, retail, design, mobile, payments, video, social, e-commerce, CRM, big data and merchandising.

For more information please visit:


By Viktoria de Chevron Villette, Co-Founder, Millennial 20/20


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