Friday, February 16, 2007

Marketing Niceness

Working at a foundation has made Betty aware of the differences between amounts of money that before just seemed plain BIG- I know this sounds dumb, but before taking this job (which is otherwise largely boring) Betty did not really grasp the difference between $100,000 and $1,000,000. To her, it's all just more CDs and burritos.

So today she pays attention to numbers, and she's often appalled at the lengths companies will go to to toot their own horns - when they've done basically nothing.

The most egregious examples of this are of course the cigarette companies - Philip Morris, to cite just one example, frequently spends nearly as much money advertising its token anti-smoking initiatives as it does on the initiatives themselves. In 2000, they spent $300 million (about 10% of their total PR budget) on amorphous "anti-smoking efforts" aimed at youth about and $185 million trumpeting these efforts in advertising. Recent studies have found that many anti-smoking ads actually lead to an increase in teen smoking, too!

Anytime you watch pro sports on TV, you'll find a similar faux-niceness on the part of companies that like to pat themselves on the back. Wow, Budweiser donated a thousand dollars to kids with cancer for sponsoring this official broadcast of Major League Baseball! How generous of them! Set against most peoples' monthly income, this sounds like of money, and surely it helps a little bit, but Budweiser's advertising budget runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars! This would be like you or me donating a penny to cancer research every 10 years, and then bragging to all our friends about it!

I know I should be grateful that these corporate juggernauts feel enough popular or peer (market competition) pressure to do something worthwhile and tell us about it (the huge, unpublicized amounts they donate to Republican political campaigns tells another story all together). But why does generosity as an advertising tool just piss me off so much? I'm not saying one needs to live like a saint - I think you can care and act about climate change and still use your television - but the false generosity these companies peddle is just sickening. I think in the end it's all about the scale of the numbers at stake, and the amount of change that Philip Morris, Budweiser, Starbucks et al. could be underwriting versus the amount they'll do to keep the profits escalating and their names in league with some sucker's idea of the good.

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