There's an interesting article in today's AdAge that talks about why different corporations are maintaining their cause efforts during the economic crisis.
In a down economy, marketing is one of the first expenses businesses generally cut. The fact that cause marketing is being spared - or even increased - during this downturn speaks to how clearly corporations see their efforts to "do well by doing good" return value to their bottom line.
The key takeaway here is storytelling. Corporations that attach their product to a larger social conversation are able to create a story that resonates with their audience in a new, and powerful, way.
The example of the Campbell's soup cans above illustrates this well. Generally speaking, mothers buy soup. Generally speaking, women are primarily impacted by breast cancer. Buy tying the two together, Campbell's is able to reinforce the narrative that it cares about women, and that by purchasing it's soup, consumers can contribute to a fight they're likely to care deeply about themselves.
This entire narrative can be conveyed through a cause marketing effort in a much more effective way than through traditional marketing efforts. The storytelling matters. And companies aren't going to give up on that any time soon - no matter how bad the economy gets.