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NFL and American Cancer Society - Cause Marketing Genius

October 13, 2011

Cause marketing can be incredibly successful for both the non-profit organization and the for-profit organization involved, if it’s marketed correctly. With integrated advertising and a well thought out marketing plan, cause marketing can be mutually beneficial for everyone involved. A perfect example of cause marketing at it's absolute best is the partnership between the NFL and the American Cancer Society.

What is Cause Marketing?

In advertising and marketing, there are hundreds of strategies that a brand can use to drive awareness towards a product, service, or a cause. In this case, the entire story revolves around the cause; whether it’s breast cancer, heart disease, or hunger in Africa, the cause is the heroine, not the brand itself. It’s an entirely different form of marketing, where the story revolves not around the brand as the protagonist, but the cause itself.

The NFL and American Cancer Society

Three years ago the NFL teamed up with American Cancer Society to help raise money and awareness for breast cancer. What started as a comparably small show of pink on players during games has grown into an entire movement where the NFL is generating a lot of money for the cause. Throughout the entire month of October, which is breast cancer awareness month, NFL players on the field can be seen wearing pink socks, pink gloves, pink arm and wristbands, even pink shoes. Coaches on the sidelines are now wearing pink accents on their team hats. Even the refs are in pink with pink whistles.

When you consider the general rules of marketing (determine your brand message, understand your target audience, realize your demographic, integrate your advertising, and build brand advocates) some argue that this cause marketing partnership doesn’t make sense. The NFL, a male oriented sport, teaming up for a cause that disproportionately affects women doesn’t seem like a good fit taken on first impressions. However, if we dive a bit deeper into this remarkably crafted cause marketing campaign we truly see how and why it works so well.

A Crucial Catch

In 2010, NFL’s marketing genius, in partnership with the American Cancer Society, coined the phrase “A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives.” Based on the amazing success of this campaign last year, and the fact that it rose over $1 million for the cause, the NFL and the ACS are using the same brand message for this year’s cause marketing campaign.

The campaign brings together wives, husbands, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers who have been touched by breast cancer to advocate the cause (the brand). It educates, informs, inspires, and, most importantly, makes a lot of money not only for the American Cancer Society, but for the NFL.

Attaching a Cause to a Product

Many NFL players, coaches, even the commissioner himself has been personally touched by breast cancer. Our very own Cardinals wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, lost his mother to the disease and is a staunch cause advocate. The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, also lost his mother to the horrible disease, which is one of the reasons why he partnered the NFL with the American Cancer Society. But the true marketing genius in “A Crucial Catch” is how the story attaches itself to each product that the NFL sells.

When a cause, a brand, a story, is seamlessly weaved into a product line such as the NFL Pink products and is targeted to the ‘shoppers’ in the household, it literally rains money. And here’s where the question of demographic comes into play. Women are not typically the target demographic of sports marketing. However, with the expansion of the NFL’s targeting to a wider demographic, while simultaneously remaining relevant to their dedicated advocates, they have increase their overall female fan base from a low 31% in 2004 to nearly 50% today.

So, taking the demographic into account, and the fact that women hold most of the purchasing decisions at home, and the statistics that show women are “biologically programmed to prefer the color pink” over any other color in the rainbow, add a cause that affects 1 in 8 women, and you’ve got a cause marketing campaign that truly can’t lose. This specific cause marketing campaign will be insanely beneficial to both parties involved for years to come.