Cover Story: The new wave of cause-driven experiential marketing

Over the years the growing inclination of brands towards experiential marketing has made one thing amply clear- Consumers love unique brand experiences. But studies reveal that if there is another thing that they love more it is brand experiences that stand for a cause.


In this new era of social responsibility, it is interesting to note that consumers are increasingly more vocal about subjects that support an important cause and tend to engage in conversations with brands they believe to be socially responsible. Smart brands use this opportunity to make consumers feel closer to them through events and experiences because, well, celebrations are perceived to bring people together. As a result consumers are led to believe they share the same values as the brand and are thence celebrating the same victories. It is the putty from which brand loyalists are molded and the diversity of campaigns reiterating the same message provides the perfect environment for them to thrive and multiply.

Charity gala dinners and exclusive fundraising auctions seen in the past have come of age taking the form of robust experiences that are more inclusive, persuasive and purposive. Today the most effective cause marketing experiential initiatives are those based on mobilizing large numbers of people who resonate with the same social cause. The power of social media has made the task of bringing together likeminded people only easier. And chapter one of every marketing guidebook is the same- Nothing beats good ol’ fashioned word-of-mouth.

The Surge  

Businesses across the country have been known to indulge in charitable spends since a long time. For some it has been a matter of sheer goodwill for many it is a tactic to shape consumer perception towards the brand. In the year 2014 the reason for most became legal compliance. It was ordered by court that companies with annual revenue of more than 10bn rupees must give away 2% of their net profit to charity. Areas they could invest this money included education, poverty, gender equality and hunger. Independent reports indicate the private sector’s combined charitable spend jumped from an estimated 33.67bn rupees in 2013 to around 250bn rupees after the law’s enactment. And events became a popular medium for brands to invest this money. Brands were able to reach and persuade the target group most effectively through brand experiences, establishing a strong emotional connect while also raising awareness for the business and its commitment to social responsibility. It was the perfect recipe.

The Premise

A solid cause-marketing campaign often starts with the right affiliation. The first step of the association is to look for a cause that relates to the brand or its products.

Next is to approach the association as a co-branding opportunity where you pick a partner with an audience that would be interested in your brand, but might otherwise be difficult to reach. It is also advisable to ensure your partner would benefit from your audience too- you want the experience to be a win-win-win: for you, your co-brand, and the consumer.

To put the partnership in action build an experience that requires an “exchange” of each brand’s product or service. That way, the audience is more likely to interact with both of you.

We conducted a study to assess the popular areas of cause driven experiential initiatives in the country by premise. Taking a consideration set of twenty recently held consumer facing events that were driven by a cause it was indicated that music led events are the most popular for cause marketing, followed by art and culture, sports and fashion.

Music Matters

At the heart of most cause related events that attract the maximum participation is invariably Music and music-led experiences serve as the more popular choice for brands vying to establish an emotional connect with consumers.

Independent artists often organize charity concerts in support of varied causes they are inclined towards. While Jennifer Lopez recently organized a Disaster Relief concert featuring Demi Lovato, Maroon5, Ricky Martin etc in the wake of Puerto Rico’s Maria hurricane raising $26 million in corporate pledges and donations prior to the event and another $9 million pledged during the event, Ariana Grande too raised $17m through a charity concert following the terrorist atrocity which killed 22 people in Manchester this May. Closer home in Delhi, renowned Indo-American DJ, record producer from California, Kshmr, recently organized a charity concert named Karma in partnership with Percept and donated all proceeds to CRY.

A shining example of an impactful cause driven music event is the Global Citizen Festival that was held in Mumbai last year.

Internationally organized by Global Poverty Project and curated by Chris Martin, the lead vocalist of band Coldplay, the premise of Global Citizen Festival is to end extreme poverty by 2030. The event was hosted in India in partnership with tGelf (The Global Education and Leadership Foundation) and Wizcraft was sanctioned as the event producers.

The promotional campaign mobilized over 500,000 youths who took more than 2 million “actions” through digital platforms calling on government, faith leaders, business icons and celebrities to be more accountable on education, gender equality, water and sanitation. The star-studded event headlined by Coldplay drew 85,000 people and raised more than USD 5bn while clocking a TV Viewership of 2 million people across India.

Gowri Ishwaran, CEO, tGelf states, “Most organisations that we spoke with were eager to support the causes of Global Citizen India through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Global Citizen India presented a means for outreach to lakhs of global citizens, connection with large-scale public policy programmes, and the ability to gain public support for disruptive initiatives in the private sector. With the support of the Government, civic society leaders and non-profit thought leaders, it presented a unique opportunity for organisations to align themselves with the movement.”

But what was the unique proposition that attracted so many corporates to associate with the event? Ishwaran explains, “As the organiser and host of the campaign, movement and event for Global Citizen India, the outcome was three-fold: commitments, celebrations and accountability. Commitments by corporate and political leaders were made on stage, and, with a total value of over USD 6.3 billion, they are set to affect 516 million lives in India and around the world. On 19 November 2016 we hosted one of the biggest 'entertainment meets public policy' events India has ever witnessed. With the support of Coldplay, Sachin Tendulkar, Ratan Tata and many more on stage, we have created a community of over 5 lakh global citizens who take actions online and on the ground to create positive change locally, nationally and globally. Brand partners, artists and leadership from the corporate and political spheres pledged their support for these important issues, connecting to the people on the level of important social issues and created partnerships with other stakeholders in order to create impactful initiatives. NGOs and development partners found support for their causes and tapped into a community of supportive citizens who can help to amplify their message and goal. The Festival was an opportunity to celebrate the unity of all these stakeholders and join hands to continue the movement. There were commitments on stage of close to 44 Crores. When realised, it will touch 516 million lives.”

While the event was an affair of only a few hours the consequential impact is being closely watched to ascertain positive recall. “One year on, we are monitoring these commitments and following their implementation closely. We are on a journey to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. We will continue to work closely with the Global Citizen team on Global Citizen India to spread the movement around the country”, expresses an optimistic Ishwaran.

Based on a similar premise is the GuestList4Good Concert promoted by Shailendra Singh of Sunburn fame. Positioned as the world’s largest guest list event, GuestList4Good has already educated 28,200 children through their past editions though Magic Bus, one of India’s largest poverty alleviation programmes. The first edition featured Hardwell who as a result added 1 million Indian fans to his digital universe with the United Nations officially recognizing the initiative. Over 5,00,000 fans registered to get on Hardwell’s guest list while 1,00,000 fans attended the show for free which has 10 million live views on Hotstar from 75 countries and 23 million tuning in online across all platforms. Through this event, 18,200 children were benefitted on the10 year Magic Bus programme. The second edition featuring Martin Garrix saw an attendance of close to 50,000 fans. Through this event, 10,000 more children were enrolled on the Magic Bus programme. The past editions have featured brands like Hero Motor Corp, Bharti Airtel, Hotstar, Bookmyshow, Nomobo, Koovs, Uber, Ketto, Kingfisher, 100 Pipers, Pernod Ricard, Absolut etc. The event will premier its third edition on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of December 2017 at DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai.

Shailendra Singh states, “Through GuestList4Good we aim to bridge the gap between the artists and their fans. Give them a direct line of communication. Besides donating their performance to education, that artist performs for free so that they can thank the fans who have loved and supported them by putting them on their personal guestlist, to attend the show for free. However, in the last few years, we’ve had a lot of questions and comments from fans, asking ‘what more can we do to support the cause?’ So this year, we have given them a chance to attend the show and make a difference by contributing to a donor pass. The money goes to Magic Big, and the fan gets to be a part of the biggest entertainment-for-good event on the planet. We’ve revolutionised the whole experience. Found a better balance between commerce, creativity and cause, and it works for everyone involved. It’s next level entertainment, deepening the artist fan connect and it’s for a good cause. It’s bringing the love back in to entertainment! Because the artist performs for free, and we turn over all profits to Magic Bus, fans are seeing that they have the power to make a difference with every choice they make. They want to join the movement and support us. Our USP is to ‘bring the love back’. Unite the world of music and entertainment, IN India; for India. Rebalance creativity, commerce and cause to make a positive social change just by doing what we all love to do.”

Support Sport

While music led events have proven to be a time-tested vehicle to drive the purpose- driven agenda home (the famed Woodstock festival being an early example of advocating global peace over war in the 60’s), on the scale of popularity, sporting events also serve a similar function with more and more brands turning to sporting events to establish a cause-related connect with consumers.

Seen globally, high profile race events such as marathons are great opportunities for a charity to raise awareness of their cause.

Vivek Singh, founder of Procam Running, promoters of leading distance running events such as Tata Mumbai Marathon and Airtel Delhi Half Marathon states, “Times have changed, today the millennial generation is more likely to trust a product or a service coming from an organization they believe is a good citizen, they are sensitive to a good corporate or not so good one. They are critical, inquisitive and want to know what are the brands CSR initiatives, company policies, the ethos of the company and what the brand truly represents. Hence, today, brands are reaching out more to establish trust and an emotional connect with their consumer base. They know just advertising which sells the brand/service proposition of the company will not make the difference. Brands to get the loyalty of their customers are engaging more openly, deeply. Therefore we created a unique model whereby we would be cause agnostic, which encourages everyone to participate and be involved with a cause that people share a connection with. This aspect of a charitable streak has contributed to the growth of not only the company but also the sport.”

Sport has the power to unite, inspire, seed hope and inculcate the habit of never giving up. It is a great source of entertainment for consumers and one of the most prevalent forms of communication for brands to market their product and reach out to their target consumers. Citing an example Sanjeev Anand, Country Head-Commercial Banking and in-charge of Sports Vertical at IndusInd Bank says, “One of the greatest clubs in the world, Manchester United with the biggest fan base in the world has not limited their presence on the field but has impacted lives. Manchester United Foundation uses football to engage and inspire young people to build a better life for themselves and the community they live in. Through this, the foundation has raised close to £104 million.” Speaking of the importance of a brand to be socially responsible Anand adds, “With so much online chatter about giving back to the society and being a harbinger of change in any form, it is important for consumers to know that brands are not here for just profit, but also to make an impact in society for the better.

An example close to home is the “IndusInd Bank Para champions programme” in association with GoSports Foundation. The programme supports the development of 15 Para athletes. The bank is so committed to the cause of Sport, that they have a dedicated non- banking vertical called “IndusInd for Sports”. The vertical has even supported the upcoming shooting stars of our country by offering jobs at their branches through the M.P Shooting academy program. The vertical is also used as a client and employee engagement tool through constant use of content marketing. Another case is Kabaddi a sport that popularized because of the community engagement. It has managed to shape the lives of many players associated with it and further creating opportunities for many. The future of cause marketing looks bright, with engaging content and right cause; brands can communicate with their consumers not just as a seller of products but as a motivator of change.”

Unique Formats

Taking on the mammoth task of mobilizing large sections of India for effecting positive change is Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of Isha foundation, who recently launched the much hyped and equally impressive Rally For Rivers campaign in a bid to preserve the diminishing fresh water sources in India. In order for a large environmental movement through the country to effect policy changes, minimum of 10 crore votes were needed. A central helpline was launched where people could pledge their support for the cause. To create awareness and momentum support was sought from film stars, politicians and sportspersons including Salman Khan, Arbaaz Khan, Anupam Kher, Rishi Kapoor, Kajal Agarwal, Ramya Krishnan, Manisha Koirala, PV Sindhu, Mithali Raj, Uma Bharti and Sonia Gandhi, among others. The rally was flagged off on September 2, 2017 in Coimbatore from where Sadhguru drove a stretch of 6560 km across India conducting 21 events through the entire leg of the journey that concluded on October 2, 2017.

As a spiritual leader Sadhguru has an impressive following across the country, most followers being educated and belonging from urban areas. Therefore several brands immediately signed up with the Rally For Rivers campaign to push their CSR agendas.

Ajay Sahai Jasra, director communication, Indigo Airlines expressed, “At IndiGo, we have always believed in sustainable development and have voiced our opinion on critical issues that the world is facing today. ‘Rally for Rivers’ seeks to bring attention back to the deplorable condition of our rivers and we are honoured to partner with them in this initiative to conserve our environment. Tapping into the wide base of 6E customers and the larger IndiGo family, we wanted to contribute our bit to spread awareness and connect people to make this a successful drive. The campaign’s focus on saving water bodies for a sustainable tomorrow is applause worthy and the underlining factor for its success. At present, 8, 00, 470 streams and tributaries have become seasonal with 44% reduction of water. In such an alarming situation, a campaign like this was the need of the hour and has therefore, seen massive support from corporates as well as mass audience.” Speaking about the impact of Indigo’s affiliation with Rally For Rivers he added, “During the campaign, we reached out to our patrons through articles and branded collaterals across platforms, including 6E magazine and inflight announcements. In addition to this, social media channels were also leveraged to create awareness around this campaign. As a result of the outreach, we were able to reach out to as many as 25 lakh passengers and many more followers on our social media channels.”

Another brand to support Sadhguru’s Rally For Rivers campaign is stationary brand Kokuyo Camlin. In line with the movement the company has engaged lakhs of school students in India through a nationwide creative campaign. Saumitra Prasad its Chief Marketing Officer stated, “We found a strong synergy between Kokuyo Camlin brand philosophy and this great initiative “Rally for Rivers” for making children work towards a better environment. Camlin has been promoting the use of environment friendly products like mechanical pencils that do not destroy trees that are source of oxygen and with this objective we have been conducting many activities with children that either result in tree plantation or tree protection. The campaign “Rally for Rivers” also emphasizes the importance of trees as it highlighted that rivers depend on trees and not the other way round.” As part of the campaign Kokuyo Camlin engaged 3 lac children in a nationwide creative writing contest. Speaking of how the activity emphasized the underlying message Prasad added, “The Kokuyo Camlin school activation team which has a strong connect with schools across the country, along with volunteers of Isha Foundation conducted visits to schools and generated awareness of the activity “Rally for Rivers” and the “Camlin Creative Writing contest”, followed a final visit on the date of the contest wherein the Children had to write on the topic of “Saving Rivers: India’s Lifeline” using the environment friend mechanical pencils. The contest was conducted in 23 cities and in each city there were 3 winners selected by a jury of Isha Foundation and Kokuyo Camlin, who were felicitated in a grand event in all 3 cities. Kokuyo Camlin also heavily promoted the activity on social media platforms.”

Another company that organizes multiple unique format events with social responsibility at its core is Genesis Foundation. Its purpose- To medically treat critically ill underprivileged children suffering from heart disorders. In order to support these children, the foundation organizes a series of fund-raising experiential initiatives such as The Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival, CEOs Cook For GF Kids, CEOs Sing for GF Kids, Music for Life concerts etc. With music as the cornerstone these unique and immersive events are aimed at building a community that believes in the cause of saving little hearts.

Having lost her newborn baby due to a heart condition, Prema Sagar, who is also the founder of PR company Genesis Burson-Marsteller, initiated Genesis Foundation in 2001. She states, “India is the first country in the world to cherish corporate giving into law. The change in company law in 2014 created an impetus for corporate India to its widen their social responsibilities. Given this mandate, The trend is that there is a lot of accountability for both foundations and brands and brands are taking a focussed CSR approach that was previously scattered or non-existent. We help brands understand how Genesis Foundation can help their corporate sustainability programmes. Music has been a core proposition for a lot of our fund-raisers, events like Kasauli Rhythm & Blues Festival, CEOs Sing for GF Kids series, Music For Life Concert Series, have helped us raise a substantial amount of funds that are then directed towards the treatment of the critically ill underprivileged children. Our Initiatives are designed uniquely and aimed at building a community that whole-heartedly believes in the cause of saving little hearts. Till date we have supported over 1300 children. Through our initiatives we aim to create awareness on the severity of heart disorder in this country.”

Feel-Good Factor

A successful experiential marketing campaign is invariably identified by terms such as ‘engaging’, ‘entertaining’ and ‘awe-inspiring’, but another buzzword that is quickly catching up is ‘satisfying’. While the youth is looking for platforms to enjoy and be entertained they are also looking for ways to make a positive difference. Acts of altruism make people ‘feel good’ and if they learn that their participation is contributing to a good cause then they would be compelled to associate there over anywhere else. This does not mean that humans are more altruistic than selfish, in fact evidence suggests we are instinctively predisposed to act in either direction. Our challenge lies in finding ways to evoke the better angels of our nature. Researchers report that giving to charity activates brain regions associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. It fosters a heightened sense of cooperation and promotes social connections. And smart marketers are quickly realizing that offline experiences serve as the perfect environment to trigger a response to this need.

*This article was first published in BW Applause

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