Cause-Related Ads Get More Attention, May Increase Sales up to 74%

October 6, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | CPG & FMCG | Retail & E-Commerce | Sponsorships | Women

Cause-related marketing can increase sales as much as 74% in certain consumer-goods categories, and consumers spend twice as long looking at cause-related ads than generic corporate ones, according to a study by Cone and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

The 2008 Cone/Duke University Behavioral Cause Study finds a strong link between cause-related marketing and consumer choice.

After participants were exposed to either a cause-related or a generic corporate ad for one of four focus brands in the toothpaste, shampoo, chips and light-bulb categories, they entered a mock convenience store with nearly 150 SKUs and were given real money to purchase a product of each type.

Shopping behavior revealed higher sales in two of the four categories (toothpaste and shampoo), and modest increases in the other two categories (chips and light bulbs) because of the cause-related ads:

  • There was a 74% increase in actual purchases of a shampoo brand after it had been associated with a cause. Nearly half (47%) of participants who saw the cause-related message chose the brand, while only 27% of those who saw the generic corporate ad chose the brand.


  • There was a 28% increase in actual purchase for a toothpaste brand when associated with a cause. More than two-thirds (64%) who saw the cause message chose the target brand vs. 50% who viewed the generic corporate ad.

Related, qualitative consumer responses showed that the issue, the nonprofit organization involved with the brand, and the inherent nature of products were key factors in cause-related purchasing decisions and helped explain why movement in these categories was not significant, the study said.

To validate these sales increases for shampoo and toothpaste, Cone and Duke then replicated the study online among a sample of more than 1,000 adults. They found:

  • Participants spent nearly twice as long reviewing cause-related ads vs. general corporate ads.
  • This resulted in a sales increase (19%) similar to the lab study for the target toothpaste brand.
  • Though the shampoo brand increased only by a modest 5%, sales among its target audience of women increased by nearly 14%.

“One thing we know for sure – consumers are paying more attention to cause messages, and as a result are more likely to purchase,” said Gavan Fitzsimons, Duke marketing professor and lead researcher on the study. “This is clearly great news for brand managers, as every percentage increase can translate to millions of dollars in revenue.”

About the survey: The 2008 Cone/Duke University Behavioral Cause Study consists of a two-phase research methodology. The first phase was conducted throughout October and December 2007 in a behavioral lab study at Duke University among a random sample of 182 participants, age 18-62. The second phase, conducted online in July 2008, consisted of a demographically representative US sample of 1,051 adults, including 625 women and 426 men.


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