Stand By Your Cause: What Marketers Can Learn From Dawn’s Involvement In The Gulf Oil Spill

3punditFinal We've all seen the Dawn commercials where rescue workers are cleaning oil-drenched birds in dish gloves, and presumably saving these animals' lives. In this Triple Pundit article by Jacquie Ottoman, we learn that since the BP oil spill, Dawn has been thrust into the spotlight, and that they've managed to stick by their brand, despite their bottles being associated with press and photos that contain dead birds and other disastrous imagery. P&G (Dawn's mother brand) is working to minimize risk to the Dawn brand by embracing their position in the spotlight as an opportunity to take an environmental leadership role, empowering concerned consumers to make a difference.

Posted July 9, 2010

By Jacquie Ottoman, Triple Pundit

Long marketed by Procter & Gamble as an “effective yet gentle”
way to keep dishes free from even the greasiest of grease, Dawn
dishwashing liquid was widely publicized  during the Exxon-Valdez oil
spill in 1989 as an ideal way to remove residue from afflicted bird and
mammal species.

Fast forward to mid-April 2010, just days before the 40th
anniversary celebration of Earth Day. P&G decided to create
awareness for its 30-year long support of bird rescue groups by
launching a new installment to a campaign begun last July featuring $1
donations to wildlife for the purchase of specially-marked bottles
supported by a dedicated website and social media. The goal: donate
$500,000. But just two days short of Earth Day the Deepwater Horizon oil
rig exploded, leaking 60,000 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of
Mexico and killing eleven workers—and untold birds and fish.

Now, in what may represent at once every brand manager’s nightmare
and boon, Dawn is being drawn into the mess, with bottles appearing in
photos and video footage with dead birds, and the brand is the butt of a
well-publicized joke of Steven Colbert and others
in the media for the “convenient timing of their marketing campaign”.
Some recent studies have even found that washing the birds with Dawn
doesn’t necessarily guarantee their survival once released back into the

P&G now finds itself in the unenviable position of attempting to
minimize risk to the Dawn brand and P&G’s reputation as an
environmentally responsible corporation to boot. Pulling the campaign
might imply that P&G was exploiting the link between wildlife and
their “effective yet gentle” formula after all. However, sticking with
the campaign continues to keep them in the midst of controversy. An
alternative stance might be a call to support renewable energy and an
end to oil-drilling once and for all. What should Dawn’s brand handlers

A call into P&G spokeswoman, Susan Baba this week indicates that
P&G is in fact sticking by its campaign—a move I support
wholeheartedly. Here’s why: Dawn has a unique opportunity to shift
emphasis from passive support of wildlife via its planned “$1 on
specially marked packages” effort to a more leader-like strategy of
empowering concerned consumers to assist in the cleanup by supporting
their campaign.

Check out Dawn’s Facebook and
Twitter pages and now notice updates on the oil
spill, detailing the numbers of birds washed and released on a certain
day, as well as information on how fans can get involved. One post even
details the laudable efforts of 11-year-old Olivia Bouler, who raised
over $70,000 to the cause by mailing hand painted drawings to individual
donors. To their credit, P&G has not attempted to link the brand
any more overtly to the spill via, for instance, targeted media
outreach. Instead, they are sticking to their campaign goal of $500,000
in contributions to the International
Bird Rescue Research Center
and The Marine Mammal Center. I
support their continuing the campaign in this manner, and in doing so,
proving their commitment to a cause that will one way or another, long
be associated with their brand.

Lessons for Would-be Cause-Related Marketers

The sticky situation P&G has found itself in for its Dawn brand
suggests that when it comes to cause-related marketing campaigns, tread
carefully. Some important tips include:

  1. Pick a cause that ties in strategically with your brand’s
  2. Be prepared to stick by your cause when the going gets tough – this
    is the acid-test of exhibiting genuine support for a cause versus merely
    exploiting an issue for marketing purposes.
  3. Stay focused. Avoid the temptation to stray from your cause when the
    going gets tough—as would be the case if the campaign were to evolve to
    an emphasis on renewable energy.
  4. Heed the critics but don’t necessarily be dictated to. As P&G’s
    Baba reminds us, “Any program has critics, especially ones run by a
    large corporation like ours.”

Speaking of critics, I realize not everyone will agree with my point
of view, hence a reason for writing this post. Weigh-in please. What do
you think?

Jacquie Ottman,
founder and president of the NYC-based J. Ottman Consulting is an expert and consultant
to industry and government on green marketing. Her latest book entitled,
The New Rules of Green Marketing (Berrett-Koehler 2010) is due
out in Fall 2010.  Click here for more details.

Shannon Sutherland contributed to this post.

No Responses to “Stand By Your Cause: What Marketers Can Learn From Dawn’s Involvement In The Gulf Oil Spill”

  1. Thanks for the post! extremely interesting!

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