Is There a “Right Way” To Do Good?
March 23rd, 2011 - 6 Comments
Though cause-related marketing has been on the rise for some time, it’s been more prevalent in light of recent events in Japan and other natural disasters that have occurred in past years. An article in The Wall Street Journal highlights consumer skepticism surrounding these cause-related marketing campaigns. Smeal’s Karen Winterich, assistant professor of marketing, studies consumer behavior and offers some thoughts below.
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While such disasters give companies the opportunity to show they care, it seems companies often can’t win when they offer aid. As Steel pointed out in her article, Microsoft’s Bing took a hit from consumers when offering to donate to Japan relief efforts every time a person forwarded their message on Twitter. Because of the backlash, Microsoft made a flat donation.
However, such flat donations have been criticized not only as marketing ploys but also because some believe offering money is the easy way out. Some think that companies should be offering more effortful contributions, such as products or services (i.e., employee volunteers), rather than money alone. Additionally, cause-related marketing efforts are often more successful when consumers invest some (albeit minimal) effort to feel they personally have contributed to the cause.
I have to wonder how much we, as consumers, should care how and by whom the money is given, as long as it provides the much-needed aid. Maybe that’s not the real issue regarding consumer backlash in response to some corporate donations to Japan relief efforts. Perhaps, it’s the short-term nature of the firm’s efforts that doesn’t “fit” with their long-term behavior.
When Lady Gaga, who topped DoSomething.org’s 2010 list of most charitable celebrities, sells a bracelet to raise money for Japan relief, this “fits” with her past charitable behavior and we believe it’s conducted with good intentions.
If a company consistently does good for the community, then offering $1 million for the Japan relief efforts, regardless of whether it’s a flat donation or raised through consumer purchases or word-of-mouth, shouldn’t make much difference to consumers. However, if the company has not helped out before, consumers may ask, “Why start now?” If you’re not helping your own community on a day-to-day basis, then maybe the consumers have a right to knock you for helping Japan.
A company’s preference to make a donation rather than give a discount for product purchases only tends to exist when the donation is helping a cause with which they identify. Firms are likely to benefit more if they step back and help their community before diving in to help only when a disaster hits.