Better Than New

Why Can P&G Only Afford 10 Homes in New Orleans? by morepete
May 26, 2007, 10:02 am
Filed under: Social Change

By Pete Mortensen 

I have to admit, I’m pretty torn about the Tide iPod (a nano, from the looks of it). It’s stylish, and the intent of a project to bring new homes to New Orleans is one I can get behind, but something about it feels a bit too much of a put-on.

Call me cynical, but the maximum output of buying Tide vintage T-shirts will be 10 houses in New Orleans. To me, this reflects something deeply wrong with a lot of corporate social responsibility efforts. Rather than making a donation of a share of profits to a cause a routine part of business or, better still, part of the business plan, companies mark a donation to charity as an extraordinary event.

In this case, it’s worse. The donation is framed up as dependent on the actions of ordinary people to buy these houses, but then an artificial limit is placed on the money that can be raised. No matter how many t-shirts get purchased, 10 houses will be built in New Orleans. Why involve outside people in that process at all. It’s a mistake Fox executives recently made on American Idol. They vowed to donate 10 cents per vote on the “Idol Gives Back” episode — up to $5 million. Well, what about the extra votes? I think they ended up with nearly 80 million phone calls, but the company grew no more generous on behalf of their eager callers.

I don’t know if this is cynical, exactly, but it implies that companies take contributions they could manage on their own anyway — we can build 10 houses, we can afford to donate $5 million — and then come up with a game so that people feel like they’re part of a social cause. I imagine, at some point, this kind of ruse will lead to a backlash. If I’m buying a shirt that will have a social impact, do I get upset and demand my dollars back if my purchase comes after the cap has been reached?

People can sense when they’re being manipulated, and this strikes me as a dangerous line to walk. When contrasted against the business model of the Product RED lines or of Tom’s Shoes, which sends a free pair of shoes to a needy child in South America every time they sell a pair to a well-off customer, it’s pretty clear that these one-offs reflect a very constrained view of the potential for social good to lead to good business.

Still, I do like the Tide iPod. Anyway to get a partnership with Apple going ala the (iPod)RED so that every purchase means dollars for New Orleans, not just up to the first 10 houses?

(Originally posted to Better Than New)


3 Comments so far
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These “participatory donations” are usually guaranteed by the corporation; i.e. P&G promises that all 10 homes will be built, no matter the participation of others. You feel good because your 20 bucks is now 30, or 40.

Perhaps the best known use of this technique is the membership challenge for your local NPR station, and the yogurt lid-breast cancer campaign. This type of arrangement adds a multiplier to the corporation’s (or individual’s) donation, and it increases awareness of the donee. And if you read the fine print in these ads, you’ll see the minimum amount pledged to the charity.

Consider this Tide scheme. Whether or not you choose to participate in their contest, they made you aware that there is still a monumental problem in New Orleans, which occurred nearly two years ago. Not only that, but it refreshed the meme that we need to help. And since you were affected by it – both positive and negative – you felt it important to list it here, spreading the meme to all your readers. And we’ll likely spread it too.

For the charity, corporation, donors, it’s a win-win-win.

Comment by imajoebob

I agree with you that this sponsorship sounds a little strange. The partnership doesn’t really make sense–what is the connection between Tide and homes in New Orleans, and how do Tide t-shirts fit in there? And why are they offering an iPod as a reward to people for buying the t-shirt–obviously the cause of donation to New Orleans and the chance to buy a vintage-look t-shirt doesn’t sound like enough incentive. Also, I’m not buying the idea that people will feel better because their donations will be worth more if Tide doesn’t get enough participants since the same number of houses will still be donated.

If Tide really wants to make a difference, donating houses is a good idea. But I’m not sure it’s the best alignment with their brand and tactics. Why doesn’t they pursue a “clean-up” operation in downtown New Orleans that helps make everything look like “new”?

And the Tide iPod is fun, why don’t they do more with it than offering it as a prize for buying a t-shirt. They could offer it for sale and donate proceeds to New Orleans, or they could sponsor a run with it as a prize for fundraising (as the American Lung Association does with their bike ride).

There’s a lot more that Tide could do with the New Orleans concept than they’re currently doing.

Comment by Katie Konrath

[…] After a bit of light googling I learn that the program is not without warts […]

Pingback by Vintage T-Shirts from in Cause-Related effort « Francis Anderson

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