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)
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