Plastic bags have been identified as a major environmental concern. One grocery store in Vancouver, Canada decided to take the situation into their own hands, or bags, as the case may be. In the process, they created both a marketing campaign that received international recognition and a new revenue stream.

Store owner David Lee Kwen initially started charging customers who didn’t bring their own reusable bags a fee. When he didn’t see any change in his customers’ habits, he tried something new. Customers who don’t bring their own bags to the East West Market now have to pay a fee AND carry their groceries home in bags with a variety of humorous and embarrassing store names such as “Wart Ointment Wholesale” or “Into the Weird Adult Video Emporium.” Kwen says that the plan isn’t to embarrass customers, but to make them think. He told the Guardian, “It’s human nature not to want to be told what to do.” Kwen feels that his bags start a conversation that will ultimately do more good than a bag fee.

Kwen admits that the bags became a little more popular than he planned, meaning some people are actually asking for the bags. But he still thinks the plan is working because those who want the bags then talk about them with their friends, starting the environmental conversation that he intended. He also plans to transfer the images from the plastic bags to canvas bags, which he’ll sell, creating a new revenue stream.

Cause marketing has to come from the heart. Attempting to champion a social cause that you don’t believe in only to help your company is likely to backfire. But, as East West Market has shown, choosing a cause that you care about, and approaching the issue in a way that’s on brand for you, can lead to unexpected dividends.

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