EDITORIAL: Co-op Bank dares to care and shows strength of brand

Cluster bombs, it must be said, would not figure high on the wish-list of many brands looking to launch a high-profile cause-related marketing campaign. Comic Relief? No problem. Equipment for schools? Even better. Cancer research? Certainly. But the devastating effects of unexploded cluster bombs? It's political, it's sensitive and it's not an issue that 'fits' well with the values of any brand.

None of which mattered to The Co-operative Bank, which has won the 2003 Cause-Related Marketing Award from Business in the Community. As cause-related campaigns go, 'Unexploded cluster bombs: the great clear-up operation' is in a league of its own and rewrites the rules for companies that put ethics at the heart of their business.

The initiative is part of the bank's Customers Who Care programme, which acts as a campaigning umbrella for different issues each year, and has seen the bank throw its weight behind such diverse and controversial campaigns as 'Safer chemicals' and 'Refugees: the real story'.

At its most simple, Customers Who Care is a straightforward fundraising initiative - with 1.25p donated to the current campaign for every £100 customers spend on the bank's credit and debit cards. Last year, it raised £129,000 for the Landmine Action charity, which helped to fund cluster bomb clear-ups around the world - laudable in itself.

The Co-operative Bank, however, is not in the business of signing a cheque and moving on. It pays for, and puts its name to, groundbreaking research on landmines and cluster bombs; it lobbies MPs; it runs full-page national press ads on the issue; and it works hard to get its customers actively involved in the campaign.

Why does any of this matter to you? The answer to that question lies tucked away on page 27 of the bank's latest Partnership Report. While the company has never made a big noise about the effects of its ethical positioning on its profitability, the results are there if you look hard enough - which its high street rivals should certainly be doing.

Research by MORI Financial Services shows that, for its customers, ethics is a major determining factor in opening an account. For customers of other banks, less than 1% cite ethics as influential in opening account.

It gets better: 24% of The Co-operative Bank's profits can be attributed to customers who cite ethics as an important factor, and 13% to customers who cite ethics as the most important factor.

In short, it has carved out a unique positioning in a sector where differentiation is more usually measured by APRs and the promise (but never quite the delivery) of excellent customer service.

There is a moral to this story, which is that what holds true for branding, holds true for cause-related marketing: be brave, be sincere, make a difference.

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