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Jumping the Shark in Cause Marketing


Taking a note from one of Steve Drake’s posts this spring about Earth Day “jumping the shark”, I wanted to explore the idea of the moment when cause marketing can jump the shark. For those not familiar with the term, Wikipedia explains that while it started as a term to describe a television show, “the usage of ‘jump the shark’ has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery”.

So when and how might this happen in the realm of cause marketing? A few examples come to mind:

  • Does it mean anything to you anymore to see something labeled or hyped as “green”? There’s even a term “greenwashing” to label when things are being falsely labeled as environmentally-friendly without backing up the claim. Has this started to become meaningless as a spin on a product or service?
  • Does your local auto mechanic having a pink ribbon in the window really help educate you about breast cancer? Or KFC fried chicken for that matter?

That is not to say that helping environmental groups or breast cancer awareness is bad, but simply that it has become so routine and such a standard practice that it begins to lose its meaning. I found another interesting article about how the very viral Kony video may have worked in terms of spreading, but the campaign itself may have jumped the shark – the follow up videos have not gotten nearly as much attention, yet that’s where the calls to action lie in actually addressing the problem.

Personally, I find cause marketing campaigns to appear tired and ineffective when the parties are not aligned. I’ve mentioned this before and highlighted an example of a brand doing it well, but I think those poorly-aligned campaigns have jumped the shark as well. Enough of them have been called out publicly that they now seem sloppy and embarrassing in the public eye.

However, this term is largely one placed upon something by public opinion. So let’s hear it! What do you think has gone past its prime? What types of cause marketing have worn out their welcome and are no longer good options for nonprofits and businesses alike? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Originally posted on 501 Connect.

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