Cause marketing: How these 20 visual campaigns created massive impact

Let’s face it: marketers have had a rough last few years. The average consumer has come to associate marketing with some form of deception and is constantly on the lookout for “the catch” in every message. The expression “marketing tactics” reminds us of all the fast food, luxury cars, unnecessary cleaning products, disposable fashion, and undesirable services that somehow someone managed to make us buy. But why is it that we rarely associate the word “marketing” with social good? Throughout this article, I will share 20 visual campaigns that have reminded us about marketing’s most important mission: to help spread meaningful ideas and causes that can improve the world we live in.

What is cause marketing

Cause marketing is when a nonprofit embarks on a marketing campaign with the goal os reaching new audiences in order to promote their cause.

20 Cause marketing examples

01. The Ad Council’s “Love Has No Labels”

To encourage Americans to forego their subconscious biases towards their peers, the Ad Council launched a transmedia campaign that took off with this viral video. It accumulates 40 million views so far. Thousands of social network users also added a graphic overlay to their personal photos in support of equality.

Design lesson we learned: This campaign asked viewers to join the conversation by using the #LoveHasNoLabels to tag their photos. Next time you’re designing for a social initiative, think about how user generated content (like those photo overlays) can help the idea spread faster.


02. Always’ “Like a Girl”

Always, the female hygiene brand, detected that 72% of girls feel that society limits them — especially during puberty. To restore their confidence, the company created a campaign to share how girls can be unstoppable and smash all kinds of limitations. This empowering message spread virally, managing to redefine what doing things #likeagirl means.

Design lesson we learned: When you design cause-driven campaigns, consider how hashtags can help the organization keep track of the initiative’s success. If you tie a clear call to action to the different pieces involved and ask for answers to be tagged with a certain phrase, figuring out the campaign’s effectiveness will be completely transparent.


03. American Express’s “Small Business Saturday”

American Express launched Small Business Saturday to support small, local businesses back in 2010. In 2012 approximately 73 million people went out to shop at small businesses, and over 1,000 neighborhoods signed up to support the day in 2013. By 2014, an estimated 14.3 billion USD was being spent on that single day.

Design lesson we learned: Key to this initiative’s success was the notion that supporters had to receive useful design resources to spread the message. American Express designed creative pieces like signage, social posts, scavenger hunt maps, recipe sheets, and themed passports to support their “Neighborhood Champions”—men and women that vowed to formally celebrate Small Business Saturday in their areas.


04. Greenpeace’s “LEGO: Everything is Not Awesome”

Before June 2014, LEGO had been selling brick construction kits that featured the Shell logo. Greenpeace called them out on the fact that the oil company was “destroying the natural world that our children will inherit”. The online petition collected over 680,000 signatures, which compelled LEGO to stop collaborating with Shell. The campaign’s video has been seen over 7 million times.

Design lesson we learned: Greenpeace offered a smart & controversial twist on “Everything is Awesome”, the hit song from The LEGO® Movie. When thinking about compelling copy and themes for your cause-related designs, take into account how existing conceptions can be wittily contradicted.


05. UN Women’s “The Autocomplete Truth”

Ogilvy used Google’s autocomplete function to expose the hidden truth about gender bias. The alarming search results drove their campaign, which asked people to join a global discussion through the hashtag #womenshould. Other channels included outdoor, posters, an online film that was seeded throughout news sites, blogs and social media.

Design lesson we learned: Online design research can offer impactful insights. Used and developed well, these can serve as the starting point for viral campaigns like “The Autocomplete Truth”.


06. Giving Tuesday’s “Unselfie Movement”

#GivingTuesday started in 2012 when New York’s 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation launched a global movement to promote giving back. Held every year after Cyber Monday and Black Friday, the initiative has rallied over 30,000 organizations around the world. In 2013, the organization launched the #Unselfie movement, inviting thousands of supporters to tag and share photos of their selfless actions.

Design lesson we learned: Your campaigns can become much more impactful when design aligns with trending societal behaviors. The #Unselfie Movement took advantage of the rising selfie trend in 2013 to design a campaign around its counter-trend.


07. Alex’s Lemonade Stand

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation was created to fulfill a 4-year-old girl’s dream of eradicating childhood cancer. The idea is that anyone can raise money to fund cancer research– even kids who run a lemonade stand. The massively successful organization has raised over 100 million USD to fund 500 cancer research projects.

Design lesson we learned: Alex’s Lemonade Stand is empowering in and of itself. However, there are certain design elements that have helped make this brand distinguishable and extendable over the years. One of these elements is color. The organization has continuously designed pieces around yellow palettes (after the color of lemon), to the point where their followers already associate everyday yellow items with the brand’s mission.


08. The ALS Association’s “Ice Bucket Challenge”

An explicit campaign for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis might have focused on displaying human beings that suffer from it. The ALS Association decided to explain it using a metaphor that illustrated a person’s inability to move under the disease. Soon more than 17 million people joined the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge (#ALSIceBucketChallenge) and 115 million USD were donated to the cause.

Design lesson we learned: Launch is only one part of a cause marketing campaign. Providing transparent resultsafter the campaign is over is key to guarantee that this success can be replicated in the future. Design a piece that helps supporters understand how their resources contributed to the cause.


09. University of California’s “Promise for Education”

With state funding being dramatically cut every year, finding creative new ways to increase private support for student scholarships became crucial for the University of California. In 2013, they launched “Promise for Education”, a crowdfunding campaign that used personal promises to ask friends and family to raise money for grants and scholarships for California students. The campaign raised over1.3 million USD through more than 1,000 promises.

Design lesson we learned: When your cause marketing campaigns involve intensive user participation (i.e. asking followers to essentially create sub-campaigns), be sure to provide a clear set of guidelines to make it simple for anyone to join the global movement. The team behind “Promise for Education” designed this brilliant explainer video to make participation simpler.


10. The Internet + Cancer Research UK’s “#NoMakeupSelfie”

Monitoring social media led the team at Cancer Research UK to run into and leverage the #NoMakeupSelfie trend. They quickly invited online users to #BeatCancerSooner and donate €3. Within 6 days approximately 8 million Euros had been raised thanks to the thousands of supporters who shared their #NoMakeupSelfie.

Design lesson we learned: Sometimes the most compelling typographic choice for cause-related designs is human handwriting. Doctors at Cancer Research UK used handwritten signs both to invite users to participate and thank them once they did.


11. It Gets Better Project

The It Gets Better Project aims to tell lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth around the world that life will get better for them. By asking online users to take a pledge in favor of equality, this initiative tries to inspire the changes needed to actually make it better for LGBT youth.

Design lesson we learned: When the initiative you are designing for has received some traction, include those credibility details in your pieces to persuade new supporters to join others before them.

It Gets Better Project

12. The Movember Foundation

This organization runs a month known as Movember to raise funds that support men’s health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental problems. As of 2015, they’ve grown 4 million moustaches, raised over $550 million USD and funded over 800 programs in 21 countries. The central idea is to ask men all over the world to grow a moustache, upload a selfie tagged with #Movember, and donate to solve men’s health problems around the world.

Design lesson we learned: While your cause may be particularly active during specific months/days of the year (like Movember in November), there are great opportunities to promote follower engagement with smart design pieces throughout the rest of the year. The Movember Foundation designs and shares quotes related to men’s health to make sure that their supporters remain engaged with their mission.


13. Plan Norway’s “Stop The Wedding”

“Hey! My name is Thea and I’m 12 years old. I am getting married in one month! So, welcome to my blog. This will also be my wedding blog from now on <3 “. With these lines Thea the bride turned the world’s attention to the frightening fact that 39,000 girls are getting married every day. Plan Norway wanted to show that child marriage is real, wrong and deplorable. Thea’s fake wedding blog was read by 2.5 million people and the overall campaign reached 1 billion.

Design lesson we learned: Get outside of your comfort zone and think about how design can bring hypothetical situations to life. Thea’s Wedding Blog was a fake design piece meant to call attention to an important issue.

Plan Norway’s “Stop The Wedding”

14. Doctors of the World’s “Make a Child Cry”

Undeniable truth: most children cry whenever they are forced to see a doctor. Not-so-well-known truth: visiting a doctor is a privilege in many regions of the world. These two facts combined sparked a wildly successful campaign by Doctors of The World. Essentially, we were all invited to donate at in order to, you guessed it, make a child cry. But there’s a catch: these children would shed a few tears in exchange for the unique opportunity to extend their lifetime by getting the medical attention they were otherwise denied.

Design lesson we learned: Counterintuitive, daring headlines can call attention to a pressing issue that does not receive enough of it. Combined with powerful photography, this strategy can enhance an initiative’s shareability.


15. Bailout for Children

If you’re familiar with the Greek bailout crowdfunding campaign, you’ll recognize that it is an impressive movement with a highly ambitious target. “Bailout for Children” answered the question of what would happen if the crowdfunding project didn’t reach its €1.6bn target. Instead of returning the funds, this campaign argues, “we can use the money to help the children in need”.

Design lesson we learned: When a given cause involves reinvesting certain funds in different needs, designers can help illustrate the impact of that redistribution. The team at Bailout for Children created a strong landing page that compares how much different amounts would mean for children in need.


16. The National Kidney Foundation’s “Everybody Pees”

Kidney conversations can get complicated. The National Kidney Foundation created this campaign to draw attention on the fact that kidney disease is no joke. In their words, “it’s a life threatening condition with 1 in 3 people at risk, and most have no idea they’re in danger”. The essential lesson here is that peeing is the best way to figure out if your kidneys are working properly.

Design lesson we learned: Can a kid understand your design concept? Certain causes can seem complicated for an uninformed audience. In these cases, approaching the explanation with a simple, unassuming design concept like these illustrations might be the best way to go.


17. Axosoft’s “It Was Never a Dress”

#ItWasNeverADress is a B2B software company’s invitation to change our perceptions about women and what they’re capable of. To send the message across, their design team created a transmedia campaign asking supporters to use their “voice, camera, pen, poster, creativity and instinct to visually represent injustices and triumphs.”

Design lesson we learned: Shifting basic design symbols and conventions like a bathroom sign can be a powerful design approach.

Axosoft’s “It Was Never a Dress”

18. The City of Philadelphia’s “It’s Road Safety”

It can be challenging to get people to follow road safety rules, not to mention boring. It’s Road Safety was Philadelphia’s answer to this ever present issue. #Notrocketscience pop-up road safety events were held throughout the city’s highest crash sites.

Design lesson we learned: Sometimes be serious, but sometimes play. What if the sole point of your design pieces is that they shouldn’t be read? Explore what a more conversational and witty tone can do for the client’s message.

Road safety program by the City of Philadelphia

19. Women’s Aid’s “Look at Me”

On March 8 of 2015, International Women’s Day, the “Look at Me” interactive billboard was launched displaying a woman with a bruised face. When bypassers looked up at the woman, a victim of domestic violence, her wounds suddenly began to heal. This campaign’s goal was to invite citizens to genuinely care about domestic violence victims and notice their struggle. Their problem affects society as a whole.

Design lesson we learned: Your design concept could transform/evolve to reward a desired action from a given initiative’s supporters.


20. Big Green Radicals’ “Breaking Up With Fossil Fuels”

So far, we’ve only discussed causes that would naturally garner a high amount of support. They all seem acceptable within reason, and therefore easier to design for. This controversial campaign explained why fossil fuels remain an important part of our lives. To do so, they leveraged Valentine’s Day and created a video message comparing quitting fossil fuel use to breaking up with someone you love.

Design lesson we learned: Leveraging an upcoming holiday to design a relevant piece can be a smart diffusion strategy. Media outlets are inclined to share content related to the holiday, and your design work (and the cause) can get increased exposure.

fossil fuel and joe

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