The patron saint of heavy-handed cause advertising is likely Sally Struthers. Though her intentions for Save the Children are laudable, some of the ads that she starred in during her two decades as a spokesperson for the charity used massive doses of guilt to loosen wallets and, ultimately, raise a great deal of money. Today, however, brands continue to dive deeper into their own cause and purpose-led activities, and new research published by the Journal of Advertising Research shows that a more heavy-handed approach can negatively impact consumer perceptions.
Engage for Good noted that, in 2019, advertising for cause-related marketing (CRM) among the world’s top 100 brands is predicted to reach $2.23 billion, an almost 5% increase over 2018. Additionally, 64% of consumers choose, switch, avoid or boycott brands based on societal issues, and 76% of younger consumers said that they have either purchased or would consider purchasing a brand or product to show support for the issues a brand supported.
While that trend shows a clear pathway forward for brands, Jaywant Singh, a professor of marketing at Kingston University London and Benedetta Crisafulli, a marketing lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London, decided to dig deeper on how messaging can impact perception in a seemingly jaded world.
“There’s a great deal of skepticism about socially responsible behavior,” noted Singh. “People are inherently suspicious of intent—that companies are out to make a profit then, suddenly, they’re investing in socially responsible activities.”
At issue today are what ads and marketing look and feel like, specifically, the intensity in which a cause is portrayed. The researchers’ theory was that high-intensity ads—which include more vivid imagery like severely malnourished children, strong language and melancholic music—are more manipulative and a turn off for consumers.