Did Toyota’s cause marketing pass the test?

From the Pepsi Refresh Project to the American Express Members Project, big brands everywhere are jumping on the cause marketing bandwagon.  The problem is many dive in without truly thinking though the road hazards and missteps that can be avoided. Sure, you’ll never please everyone but I think Toyota got close.

This summer they embarked on their “100 Cars for Good” program. They selected 500 finalists from a short essay. Each day for 100 days, 5 like-sized organizations competed for Facebook votes. Here’s more on how it worked.

There are 6 reasons I think they passed the test.

6. They integrated their product

It sounds like a no-brainer but they looked at their product and determined the value it held to the world of social change. Then they developed a strategy to offer their product in a creative and competitive way.

5. They leveled the playing field

Toyota sent the same ‘Finalist toolkit’ to every finalist. It had an HD FlipCam for shooting your video, $250 in Facebook advertising credits, a USB drive with official logos, 5 music tracks to pick from and the full rules.  One of the big worries of small nonprofits upon entering these social contests is getting blown out by the big organizations that have big marketing budgets, in-house graphic/web designers, zillions of fans and followers, etc., etc., etc.  In this case, finalists only had about two weeks to complete their original video – precluding most from getting to fancy. Additionally, organizations were matched up against ‘like-budgeted’ peers – assuring that the Piketown, Pennsylvania Pit-bull rescue didn’t get blown away by the American Cancer Society of New York City.

4. They managed the nonprofit’s workload.

If you’ve spoken to anyone who’s been through the Pepsi Refresh project application process – they likely didn’t care for it. It takes valuable staff time & resources to determine strategy, complete the application, upload documents, etc.  Upon announcing the program, Toyota simply asked for the organizations name, tax ID number, city, state and a short (approximately 200 word) essay about the mission of the organization and what they’d do with a new Toyota.  It took all of 6 minutes.

Even after becoming a finalist, we made a short video, edited the ‘about us’ and ‘why we need a Toyota’ section for the Toyota Facebook app and were done until our big day came.  Here’s my favorite part…

3. They did not ask nonprofits to harass their networks

While the ‘voting’ medium has been over-used (via Facebook, Twitter, texts and more). Toyota limited the hype per nonprofit to one day.  How many times have you been asked to ‘Vote for X at website.com once a day until 2037’!  Really? Gathering my information wasn’t enough, you want interrupt my day, every day, for the foreseeable future? No thanks.  The shortened time frame allowed organizations to engage their following without pushing them towards fatigue and worse, annoyance.

2.  They outsourced the campaign to a firm who seemed to know what they were doing

Creative Zing – the company handling the promotion, had a well-thought plan, prompt & regular communication and responsive staff.  They also took feedback throughout the campaign and reminded organizations of the rules. I’d imagine some large brands would try to manage the project in-house…and fail miserably.

And the number one reason I think it worked?

1. Toyota did not spend millions in advertising to tell you about the thousands they gave away.

This might be single most frustrating part of cause-marketing. All to often, the marketing heavily outweighs the cause.  (See my pink-washing post from a while back.) Brands will easily spend 10x the donation budget telling the world about the great thing they did. Every day Toyota was getting thousands of mentions in 5 markets around the country – and it was happening in the most valuable way – organically peer-to-peer as opposed to being forced by prime-time commercials.

In all, I thought Toyota pulled off a quality program. (Disclaimer – I’m not endorsing it just because the organization I work with won – promise.)

What do you think? Was it a good program? What would you have done differently?

2 thoughts on “Did Toyota’s cause marketing pass the test?

  1. I absolutely agree on the voting aspect. Well done for Toyota to realized voting once was what we should be asking people. Not once a day for the rest of their lives.

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