One For Me, One For You: Cause Marketing with Buy-One Give-One Promotions

Executive Summary

There are two types of “You buy. We’ll give.” promotions:

  1. When a product is purchased, a retailer donates money to a cause.
  2. When a product is purchased, a retailer donates a similar product to someone in need.

These cause marketing methods have different psychological impacts on the customer, because:

  • triggering a monetary donation to a broad cause such as “fighting hunger” evokes an abstract mindset 
  • triggering a product donation similar to the one purchased evokes a concrete mindset 

According to the study’s author, Anne Hamby:

  • “A consumer evaluating a product in a Buy One Give One promotion is often proximal — physically or psychologically — to the item, so the linked product donation is likely to be viewed in the same concrete, immediate manner.”
  • “Although monetary donations can be construed in both a concrete and abstract manner, cause marketing campaigns are often implemented in ways that encourage abstract thinking: most monetary-donation promotions feature vague descriptions that do not refer to observable features.”

Consumers evaluate abstract vs. concrete experiences differently.


  • Study participants were more likely to prefer that their purchase triggered the retailer to donate a similar product (53.3%) rather than donate money (33%). 
  • Consumers perceive the value of Buy One Give One donations to be higher than monetary donations.
  • Buy One Give One promotions are more effective at enhancing attitude and purchase intention when bundled with utilitarian products (e.g., toothpaste) compared to hedonistic products (e.g., ice cream).
  • “You buy; we’ll donate money” promotions are not more effective at enhancing attitude and purchase intention when bundled with hedonistic products compared to utilitarian products.

Note:  The fourth finding is inconsistent with prior studies, which have found that hedonistic products are a better choice than utilitarian products for cause marketing campaigns which involve a donation by a retailer. Perhaps the inconsistency is due to the choice of which hedonistic product is used as the research example. “Strahilevitz and Myers (1998) suggest cause marketing promotions work especially well with frivolous products because they allow individuals to offset any guilt induced by the hedonistic purchase… So, one plausible explanation for the inconsistency with past research is a lower level of guilt-inducing products in the current studies compared with past work.”

Research Notes

A distinguishing feature of Buy One Give One promotions is a direct connection between the retailer’s core business and the product donated.

TOMS popularized the Buy One Give One donation model. When you buy a pair of TOMS shoes, TOMS will donate a pair of shoes to a child in need.


The research findings are not based on actual exhibited behavior. Instead, the researcher conducted a pilot study and three roll-out studies using surveys of undergraduate business students and polling American consumers via Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Literature Review

  • “Marquis and Park (2014) note that Buy One Give One promotions are more effective with certain types of (utilitarian) products, such as eyewear and shoes. In contrast, traditional monetary-donation cause marketing programs are more successfully paired with frivolous luxuries (Chang, 2008; Strahilevitz & Myers, 1998).”
  • “Past work suggests a concrete mindset may also be evoked when evaluating monetary-based campaigns. Grau and Folse (2007) explored the role of donation proximity (local vs. national causes), and found donations to local causes, which should evoke a more concrete mindset, were effective at encouraging donations from low-involved consumers. The authors suggested national donations may be abstract or unobservable to consumers, while financial support provided to local communities signal a more tangible offer to consumers. Relatedly, Tangari Folse, Burton, and Kees (2010) found an immediate temporal orientation (immediate aid to a beneficiary vs. aid in the distant future) led to more positive influence on attitude toward the sponsoring brand for present (vs. future) oriented consumers.”
  • “Past work highlights how donation behavior is enhanced when an individual beneficiary is described versus a group of people because it is easier to imagine the experience of one individual (Slovic, 2007).” Buy One Give One promotions may bring to mind the individual beneficiary.
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Publication Date



Psychology & Marketing


Anne Hamby

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