Cause Ads Worth Watching

by Risa Sherman

One of the places we look for the vital signs of causenation is in popular culture. We admit it, we’re fascinated. From celebrities using their fame to bring attention to important issues, to the “been there, done that” rubber wristbands, we love to see how cause, culture, companies, and citizen action collide to spark or fuel a movement or illuminate a trend in causenation.

Over the years we’ve seen an increase in companies using their advertising to advance a cause, issue, or nonprofit. Early on, companies were only pushing products linked to a cause – likely because that was the extent of their commitments. Today they are using advertising to express values; communicate their expertise or business practices related to social issues; and leverage existing CSR and community programs.  Our favorites make the business case for integrating social issues and bring the viewer to that crossroad of strengthened businesses and positive societal impact.

One of the best in our opinion is IBM’s Tree Hugger ad.  We love it for its self deprecating humor, creativity, and the fact that the business case is so rock solid you can’t help but support it.   Others we like ….

McDonald’s, with its long history of providing support to families whose children have life threatening illnesses, recently unveiled a humble and similarly creative Legacy Ad, showing the results of their long-term commitment to their cause through Ronald McDonald House Charities.


Even Kelloggs took an “old school” consumer packaged goods promotion, with a simple call to action, and put some TV muscle behind it.   To us, that says Kelloggs realizes the equity to be earned in spending those precious media dollars to communicate their values. Great “sizzle” Kelloggs, but there needs to be more “steak.” A cause related promotion does not equate with a values-based commitment to improving our world. In our opinion, it is essential to have the substance in place before a company yells it from the rooftops. Today, you have to have earned the right to shout.


Case in point is Visa whose years of deep commitment to financial literacy predated the launch of its new global advertising “VISA Go” campaign. Within the campaign, Visa encourages consumers to “Go Responsibly” and integrates its commitment to the cause. Visa certainly isn’t perfect, few are, but check out to see the substance for yourself.  Their launch anthem ad is very subtle in how it begins to touch on values and personal responsibility – “…go forward by also giving back.”  We think it could push responsibility in a bigger way. We are also sure we saw a VISA GO financial literacy ad on tv, but can’t find it anywhere.  Please let us know if you see it.


And finally, we give a shout out to Apple’s green computer ad – a CSR ad that describes the product’s functionality and attributes and their impact on the environment.  Cause is not an ad on, like planting trees for every computer sold, but built right in and is therefore more credible. We hope that “ups the ante” and fuels the race for the greenest computer!


Our call is that the best of the best ads and campaigns:

  • Educate or advance the cause or issue
  • Have substantive programs behind them
  • Put forth a higher order than just moving the product
  • Make sense for the brand
  • Give the audience something to do – a compelling and simple call to action that feeds the movement or issue

These are a few of that we wanted to watch again, and we’ll continue to post more and tell you why we think they broke through.

What corporate values or cause ads do you love and why?   Give us your thoughts and ask the rest of the causenation to weigh in!