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Strategies for Cause-Based Beverage Brands

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by Sam Viklund

The wine and spirits industry is a natural fit for cause-based branding and sales models. Consumers purchase beverages for pleasure, of course, but the knowledge that their purchase can also benefit a larger cause that they feel strongly about can be an overwhelmingly positive thing for, consumers, brands, and their beneficiaries.

The beverage alcohol industry is one where story ideation and effective, creative communication is paramount to a brand’s success. Donating a portion of proceeds to advance a particular cause, and communicating this clearly to your various audiences, is a powerful strategy to build brand loyalty and respect. Most importantly, philanthropy is a tangible opportunity for brands to affect meaningful and measurable change in their communities and in the world. Below are two guiding principles to consider, with case studies from past and present Colangelo & Partners wine clients.

Make sure your cause is authentic, appropriate, and specific

When choosing a cause or organization to support through your sales, it’s key that this initiative aligns with your overall vision and values. What drives a brand to choose a cause? And when that cause is selected, does it fit with your values as a company? While a weak partnership can come off as ingenuine (or even offensive), a great match can be transformative.

Tom of Finland Wines, a wine label created in tribute to the legacy and artwork of prolific homoerotic artist Tom of Finland, was launched in 2016.  A portion of proceeds from the purchase of this wine are bequeathed directly to the Tom of Finland Foundation, which exists to educate the public as to the cultural merits of erotic art and the promotion of healthier, more tolerant attitudes towards sexuality—through experiential workshops, residencies and exhibitions.

In the shadow of hollow and potentially offensive LGBT product marketing campaigns of the past, Tom of Finland Wines sought to create the most authentic LGBT alcohol product in the US market. Unimpressed with sterile campaigns featuring rainbows and not much else, Tom of Finland Wines took a brazen approach to communications that fit with the vision of the late artist. Through saturating the media and public with Tom’s artwork, the artist’s work could be presented beyond the walls of privileged gallery spaces and increase visibility for otherwise marginalized populations.

When selecting a PR team, it became evident that the brand needed culturally competent executives, preferably who identified as LGBT themselves. Through careful messaging, targeted event sponsorship activities, and the commissioning and creation of beautiful visual content, Tom of Finland Wines and Colangelo & Partners saw a steady stream of strong publicity and positive reception from media, influencer, and consumer audiences. Sales of the wine continue to support the Tom of Finland Foundation’s mission and programming.

Be flexible and reactive with your donations and communications

The standard model of a corporate donation is through an annual check presented for a set dollar amount or percentage of sales. Though this works, brands should also pay close attention to the complex needs that many social organizations and the people they are aiding are navigating on a daily basis, and react accordingly.

One example of this principle in action comes from Purple Heart Wines, a wine label from the C. Mondavi Family crafted in honor of our nation’s veterans. While Purple Heart wines makes a generous annual donation to the Purple Heart Foundation, after the devastating wine country fires broke out in 2017, it was brought to the brand’s attention that many veterans in Napa had been affected and desperately needed immediate help. Purple Heart Wines sprung into action and swiftly allocated $20,000 to the Purple Heart Foundation, 100% of which was dispersed to nine veterans and their families to assist with immediate needs and help them begin to pick up the pieces and move forward.

In a similar fashion, a great communications team should be ready and qualified to disseminate this news while it is still relevant. A combination of a press release, targeted pitches, broadcast interviews, and engaging social media posts on owned channels should be right behind every donation.

Communicate clearly, effectively, and frequently 

As with all marketing communications strategies, there is no “one size fits all” model, and an integrated approach is almost always necessary. You must communicate your work clearly, effectively, and frequently. As the old adage states, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, did it really make a sound? When the cause you are championing matters, your donations make a measurable difference, and your communications are efficient and relevant, you can truly make an impact.

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