I've loved the debate this week about cause-related marketing created by an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Professor Angela Eikenberry, assistant professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
I've long been conflicted about cause marketing, which Professor Eikenberry calls "consumption philanthropy," both recognizing a certain place for it in our consumerist society, but wondering about its potential to distract us from real social issues. Professor Eikenberry makes a good case that cause marketing has at least three negative consequences:
- distracts the giver from grappling with the issues: "...consumption philanthropy—which usually takes place as individual market transactions—distracts its participants from collective solutions to collective problems. This distraction steers people’s attention and collective resources away from the neediest causes, the most effective interventions, and the act of critical questioning itself."
- distances the giver from the beneficiary: "...a person who uses a charity-licensed credit card to pay for an expensive meal, and thereby sends a percentage of his purchase to a cause that fights hunger, may no longer feel obligated to find out who is hungry or why they are hungry. Without this knowledge, he may feel less empathy for poor people, and therefore less compelled to change the conditions that caused their plight."
- diverts the giver's attention from the environmental and human impact of producing the products that are sold in the name of a charity: "...it obscures the ways that markets produce some of the very problems—physical, social, and environmental—that philanthropy attempts to redress."
The comments resulting from this article are as interesting as the article itself. One of the people who disagrees with Professor Eikenberry is Joe Waters, a cause-marketing expert. He has continued the discussion on his blog, Selfish Giving, to great effect.
I'm grateful for the healthy debate the article by Professor Eikenberry has created and urge you to follow it.
*Quotes from article.