What Patagonia Can Teach Us About Cause Marketing

7 min read
Oct 19, 2015
  • Post on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • Post on LinkedIn
  • Post on Reddit
  • Copy link to clipboard
    Link copied to clipboard
Patagonia banner mountains cause marketing

For many people cause marketing is a corny sales trick. All those donation-with-purchase actions we can see on every corner. All these companies shouting: “pick me, pick me, I donate to charity! I care!”.

Like, for example, Coke.

You might not remember, but back then, in 2011, the company decided to go green. The cause they have chosen was painfully obvious. They decided to show how much they care about polar bears, the stars of their campaigns.

One would say that the cause was noble. I wouldn't argue with that! The way that Coca-Cola displayed its dedication to the environment was the problem here.

They made a “bold gesture” (I’m not kidding, that’s how they called it) and turned 1.4 billion of their cans white.

White coke can cause marketing


That really made a difference.

Polar bears had to be on cloud nine.

As it didn’t sound ridiculous enough, it quickly turned out that soda lovers could not distinguish the new Coke from a Diet Coke. They were swamped with complaints.

All white cans were recalled.

Polar bears were crushed.

How can anyone be surprised that with such a poor execution of cause marketing, people are fed up with it? I’ve even read an article where the author proclaimed that we should kill cause marketing! I can’t blame him. This marketing type too often is being used badly.

I know:

It’s a funny start for a post about superiority of cause marketing over other marketing types. But I believe that if everybody has done it the way Patagonia does, cause marketing can be the future of marketing.

(Speaking of the future - if you'd like to test a tool that's the future of customer service, try LiveChat for free!).

Cause marketing is about making a difference

Patagonia was founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard, a Yosemite rock climber, surfer and self-taught blacksmith. The funny thing is that Chouinard never expected that in a couple of years he’ll be running one of the best outdoor gear and clothing company in the world. He just wanted to have a small company selling fine tools for climbers.

I never wanted to be a businessman. All I wanted to do was to do my craft and climb mountains.

Chouinard quickly understood that running a company gives him opportunity to fight for what he cares the most: for the environment. That was the moment when Patagonia entered the path of environmental activity and sustainable business practices.

They started in a way we’re all familiar with: from donating one percent of sales (or ten percent of profits, whichever was the greater) to environmental groups. And it was just a warm up.

You have a whole life in the outdoors, you realize you have a sense of responsibility to protect these wild places.

In the early 1990s an environmental audit of Patagonia revealed that cotton was the worst product for the environment. After years of intensive exploration of the supply possibilities, in 1994, the company proudly announced that their clothes were now made of ecologic cotton.

This move was both: a spark that created the organic cotton industry in California and a kind of their mission statement.

“[Environmental care] gets to be a pain in the ass, I tell you. But you can sleep at night. Which is really pretty good feeling. You feel like you’re a part of the solution rather than the problem.”

Since 90s, Patagonia involves into environmental care actions and recycling programs. They work to protect birds and endangered fish. They promote healthy, mostly vegetarian food. They work to make all their cloths recyclable. They get involved in saving wild nature from human activities.

It’s not always easy, but according to Chouinard, it’s worth every penny.

One of my favorite Patagonia ideas is their Environmental Internships program. It allows their employees to volunteer within an environmental non-profit group for up to two months and get a full pay.

Just how cool is that!

Fighting the throwaway culture

We can’t be a society that’s based on consuming and discarding endlessly.

Patagonia is unique not only for its huge commitment to the environment but also for its philosophy. They consider consumerism to be the most important environmental issue, so they encourage people to buy less.

Just think how crazy it is: a company asks people to buy less!

Doing business I really enjoy is breaking the rules and proving that it works.

To remind people how important recycling is for environment protection, Patagonia started the “Worn Wear” campaign. They’ve asked people from all over the world to share their memories and stories related to their favourite piece of Patagonia’s clothing.

We can watch the story of a surfer from Australia who used to wear his shorts for 15 years. A hiker from New England who hiked about 10,000 miles and was wearing a Patagonia hat for seven years. A mother of four from New Hampshire who told the story of old, blue bibs worn by seven kids.

The message is clear: don’t buy clothes if you can still use your old ones. Instead of buying new, buy second-hand. Instead of throwing them away, repair!

To make that happen, Patagonia opened the biggest garment repair facility in North America and hired 45 full-time technicians to repair their customers’ gear and clothing.

What we’re trying to do is to make clothes that can be handed down, that’ll last forever.

Quite unusual statement these days, when everything is made at the lowest costs just to last one season.

Cause marketing at its best

One would say: “all this cause marketing stuff looks very good, but is it worth my time and money?”.

Let me dispel your doubts: Patagonia’s strategy was a great marketing success. Quite the opposite, in 2012 (a year after Patagonia began appealing to consumers to buy less) sales increased almost one-third, to $543 million!

Money is not the only win for the company. The second win is great Patagonia’s PR. Their commitment to environmental sustainability makes them a company everyone has to love! They are so genuine and consistent in their philosophy that it’s hard not to feel the admiration for their achievements.

For every job opening we have about 900 job applications for average.

Last but not least, all Patagonia actions draw attention of people who would not necessarily buy their products, but share the same values. The company sends a simple message: live a simple life in harmony with nature and see how fulfilling it can be.

People who think alike identify with the brand's philosophy and support their actions. And once they identify with the brand, they will more likely become their customers.

Take the “Denali” story as an example. It’s a short video about the bond between photographer Ben Moon and his dog, Denali. It’s a story about friendship, living in harmony with the nature, it’s about life and death. It’s beautiful.

The company's name is not mentioned even once. All we know is that Patagonia sponsored this video. But does it mean they threw money down the drain? Hell no. It just made people love them even more.

The future of the marketing

Why do I think that cause marketing is the future of marketing? Because traditional advertisements are less and less efficient. People are tired of the bullshit they see every day in tv, Internet and on the streets. No one has a doubt that ads are mainly made to draw money from our pockets.

People are tired with corporate culture and are willing to see more of marketing branding and personalisation.

City night lights banners adverts

So, instead of giving money to advertising agencies, consider hiring young and passionate artists who will make such emotional, breathtaking videos as Patagonia does.

As long as you’re not afraid to show the world what you stand for, you have a chance to gain people’s respect and their loyalty.

I'll be honest. Before I saw Patagonia’s videos and learned about their commitment to the environment, it was just one of many companies for me. Today, if I’ll be buying a winter jacket, I’ll definitely buy theirs.

And this is how good cause marketing works.

Photo courtesies of Patagonia and Reuters.

Times Square photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Creative Commons.

Get a glimpse into the future of business communication with digital natives.

Get the FREE report