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Joe Waters

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Urban Outfitters' Cause Marketing for NPR Is a Poor Fit

Posted: 05/16/11 01:06 PM ET

I'm curious what you think about this cause marketing program between Urban Outfitters and National Public Radio.

As originally reported by Fast Company, Urban Outfitters offers a specially branded NPR tee on the public radio station's website for $20. Profits support NPR. Nice cause marketing (purchased-triggered donation, more specifically).

But the very same t-shirt is sold on Urban Outfitters' website, and a similar version offline in stores, for $24 -- but NPR gets zilch.

You could argue that NPR benefits in a couple of ways. First, NPR does receive money from the shirts sold on its own site. This is worth something as its site and online store are probably well trafficked by the rabid listeners of public radio. NPR doesn't get anything from the same shirt sold at Urban Outfitters, but the awareness it gets from being on this hip tee may be worth something. Good luck putting a value on that.

But this program has more defects than a tee marked irregular. Here's the big one for me: it's totally confusing for consumers. If a consumer buys the NPR tee on the Urban Outfitter site they're probably thinking that a portion of the purchase is supporting public radio.

Take this review of the tee on Urban Outfitters' site.

I bought this for my dad, who loves NPR and had no idea where I had found it! (My secret.) It is super soft and looks great, but the fabric is very thin and it runs a tad large/baggy. Great gift for anyone who loves this radio station or cool music in general.

I wonder if she knew her purchase wasn't supporting her Dad's favorite radio station.

The essence of cause marketing is win-win. A win for the company. A win for the cause. Urban Outfitters is doing a good thing by supporting NPR on the public radio station's site. But reaping the profit from the tee on their own site without supporting NPR is self-serving and even slimy. The verdict is in. No halo for Urban Outfitters.

The win for NPR is a partial one at best. You have to wonder how they felt about the same shirt being sold at Urban Outfitters with no donation. They might have thought that making some money from sales on their site was enough. I can't disagree with their thinking, although in this case they may have sold themselves short.

 
 
 

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