Experience Project ‘Sharing Machine’ Meets Acts of Charity

Honda will promote its Japan aid via Broadcause

Part of a rising cast of “cause marketers,” Broadcause intends to let no good deed go unnoticed. The social media platform, which can reach a 10-million-strong captive audience, today announced its campaign to publicize Honda’s $3.7 million donation to Japan relief efforts.

Broadcause was launched this month by Experience Project, Inc. to promote the charity acts of brands to its loyal, often emotional users. “Our audience,” explained Peter Jackson, CEO of Broadcause, “is kind of like a live Oprah show all the time.” The value of that audience has already attracted campaigns from American Express, Haagen-Dazs, and Pepsi Refresh, which launches on May 2.

Experience Project was launched in 2007 with the idea that virtual connections tied to common interests can trump real life social contacts. The website is essentially one big sharing machine, focused on topics from living with cancer to dealing with a sexless marriage. Until now, its easily targeted, self-defined audience hasn’t been fully exploited by advertisers or corporate philanthropists, Jackson said. Broadcause is changing that, by informing users of causes—and, in turn, the associated brands—that intersect with their specific interests. The firm promotes brand-charity partnerships through ExperienceProject.com, Facebook, and @Twitcause, its twitter account. In a one-week campaign, Broadcause engaged 5 million unique individuals from the 12.4 million tweets and Facebook posts its followers shared for Haagen-Dazs’ “Help the Honey Bee” campaign.

Broadcause’s offerings fit into a wider trend of brands increasingly aligning themselves with charities and wanting to spread the word on social media channels. “For the brands, it’s a perception of doing good,” Jackson said. Eighty percent of consumers are willing to switch from one brand to another of about the same price and quality if the other is associated with a good cause, according to a 2010 survey from Cone Inc. Since charitable donations are a tax write-off, in many cases fees paid to a cause marketer like Broadcause can count as a write-off, too.  

Naturally Broadcause's campaigns run the risk of spamming a valuable, and at times, sensitive, audience not accustomed to such marketing tactics. Jackson said sensitivity to over-marketing and "cause fatigue" will be key to Broadcause's success. "We don't want to harvest this community the wrong way. We want them to feel safe," he said.

The company must also steer clear of backlashes like the one experienced recently by Microsoft's Bing in its attempt to draw attention to its Japan earthquake relief donation. After the search engine tweeted a link to its donation micro-site and a donation incentive for every retweet, twitter users lashed out at Bing for using the natural disaster as a marketing opportunity. Bing ultimately apologized for its insensitivity.

Risks aside, investors stand behind the trend. The Experience Project has raised $5.6 million in venture backing from D.E. Shaw, Floodgate and Ron Conway's Angel Investors, and Broadcause plans to raise an additional $2 million for its efforts. Last month SocialVibe, a cause marketer which distributes "engagement ads," raised $20 million from Norwest Venture Partners with participation from Redpoint Ventures, Jafco Ventures and Pinnacle Ventures, on top of a previous $12 million in funding.

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