Monday, January 26, 2009

Sugar Coating Cause Marketing during Super Bowl

As reported here in USA Today, both Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and Pedigree pet food plan on showcasing their cause related efforts during the most widely watched (and most expensive) time slot - this weekend's Super Bowl.

Kudos to both for embracing this marketing model and for understanding that in these tough economic times many people do indeed respond to more emotional messaging – all things being equal. Of course, the "all things being equal" can be tricky. While quality and price will forever be the ultimate drivers of decision, a cause component can be a great way to break ties in short term and great for placing distance among brands in the long term.

As for these two brands in particular, since it's the Super Bowl the creative will likely get more critique (from the vaunted USA Today AdMeter no less) than the cause tie-in or messaging. But in my opinion these two examples bear some significant overall differences:

Pedigree is now a couple of years into their "Dogs Rule" campaign and adjoining "Adoption Drive" cause marketing program. Both have garnered lots of press and even twice a Cause Marketing Halo Award. Most importantly, the cause alliance and it's resulting communication all feel organic and authentic to the brand.

Kellogg's Frosted Flakes however is a different story. While Leo Burnett's Tony the Tiger is a case study in the use of animated characters to create likability for a low-involvement brand, this recent cause component of kid's athletics feels a bit hypocritical.  As a marketer I love the campaign encapsulated in "Work Hard. Eat Right. Earn Your Stripes." It's strategic thinking and polished creative. As a father I hate it. By no means do we have our son on a strict broccoli diet, but come on, one of the greatest marketing decisions ever was naming them "Frosted Flakes" and I think most people know what makes them "Frosted" – sugar.  So while it's noble to create a program called "Plant a seed" that remakes athletic fields, it smacks of "cause-washing" similar to brands "green-washing" by jumping onto the green movement in a less than authentic way. No doubt it's a great need they are meeting. And heck it's a great tasting product that I might share with my son as he gets older. But don't cloud the issue. Kellogg's should have used one of their "better for you" cereals to get behind such an effort. 

Otherwise it's just sugar coating.

What do you think?