Monday, July 26, 2010

Street Solicitation Comes to the Super Market

It happens every day. The clerk at the grocery store says “would you like to add $1 to your purchase to help the animal human society?" My knee-jerk response, before I even register what I’m being asked to donate towards is—of course with great guilt--“um..not today, thanks.”

You’re likely thinking what kind of selfish person are you? It’s only a dollar? The reality is that I didn’t use to say no, and I do donate money to support local, national and international causes I believe in. The problem is with the inundation of solicitations at the register these days I feel numb to the causes--and I don't think I'm alone. I’m convinced more and more that cash register solicitation is the equivalent these days of the Greenpeace street solicitation street—where people don’t listen, avoid contact and don’t participate.

The good and bad of the point of purchase function is that everyone is doing it—at nearly every major retailer—so the landscape is quite crowded, which is making it difficult to stand out. Also, the person that corporations/non profits are relying on to “sell” the issue and be the brand ambassador is often a store clerk that doesn’t necessarily understand how to convey the importance/significance of an issue.

There is a positive side to point of purchase, and that is that it can often work at gaining donation dollars from consumers that wouldn’t have otherwise donated money, but there’s a catch. An article in Fast Company in April found that when the public radio show This American Life initiated a mobile phone giving method allowing people to text a code to donate money, the donations doubled from 20,000 to 40,000 but the amount raised remained the same. According the article, the reason the dollar amount remained the same was that those who donated on their mobile phones gave far less than those that went online to donate. What I think this statistic points out is that engaging in a more meaningful way will lead to a greater level of financial/emotional participation with the brand/issue, etc.

So what’s the solution? I believe whole heartedly that the most valuable cause marketing programs come when the corporation/organization can meaningfully express its initiative and goals via marketing efforts that are innovative and aligned with the business. Look at the NBC Universal/American Express initiative, which successfully used a voting style program to donate money to small business owners across America. Using point of purchase is one way to reach the demographic, but it cannot be the only way.

Additional Articles on the Issue of Cash Register Solicitations:
Wall Street Journal Op-Ed

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