Cause Marketing has been a buzzword (or is it a buzz-phrase?) for years in advertising circles.  Tie your brand or product to a popular cause and hope that some of the good will rubs off.  It sounds good, but it doesn’t always work out the way you want.  Even some of the best advertisers struggle to find the right way to frame the message.

Here are five of the biggest cause marketing fails in the past few years.

Wa;lm,art Food

Ask Walmart about its Canton, Ohio food drive for Thanksgiving.  The store asked employees and shoppers to donate to WalMart workers.  The company said it was proof its Employees care about each other.

A labor group that has organized protests again WalMart in the past, known as OUR Walmart, said it was proof the company didn’t pay its workers enough to eat.  When it publicized the food drive, the viral backlash it created undermined any positive outcomes for the company.

KFC Buckets

KFC bragged about making the single largest donation to breast cancer research.  The claim fell hollow when research on the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website detailed how body weight can contribute to cancer risk.  KFC is not seen as exactly health food.

“You can reduce your risk of cancer by making healthy choices like eating right, staying active and not smoking,” is the first thing you read on the American Cancer Society website.

Pepsi Kendall.png

When Pepsi enlisted Kendall Jenner to try to help a crowd come together in light of recent national tensions over police, race, and social justice, it achieved what the L.A. Times call “a startling level of tone-deafness.”

The ad was pulled almost immediately.

MCDonalds Boston Strong

McDonald’s didn’t expect strong negative reactions when it changed it marquee signs to remember Boston bombing victims and remember victims of 9/11.  They did.  Even though the intentions may have been good, it was seen by many as an attempt to capitalize on tragedy?

“How about donating money to people who lost their limbs instead?” asked one post on social media.

Pepsi JDF

Here’s one more from KFC.  Take a close look at this ad.  If you buy one of these giant, mega jugs of Pepsi, they’ll donate $1 to Juvenile Diabetes.  Think about it for a second.

If you do it, be careful

Done properly, cause marketing can be a great way to help your community, give back, and let customers know where you stand on important issues.  But be careful.  Even some of the biggest brands make mistakes (see above) when they misread the room.

Ad Age reported on a study done by Traction Co. on cause marketing.  While 58% of those surveyed say all things being equal, they would prefer to buy from a company that’s associated with a good cause, it seems people’s B.S. detectors are set to high these days.  41% agree or somewhat agree that it’s “just spin.”  25% say they find it annoying!