Saturday, January 19, 2013

Things I Don't Understand #1: Corporate Charity

Y'know, I read things like this:

...and I invariably find myself puzzled - bewildered, even. Am I the only person in the world who recognizes corporate charity for what it is - a marketing effort?

For example, consider the various education programs that major companies have going - the big ones are General Mills' "Box Tops for Education" and the Campbell's Soup Company's "Labels for Education." The only way that you, the consumer, can persuade these mighty corporations to contribute to education funding is to buy their products. Then you have to collect the easily-lost / misplaced pieces of paper or cardboard and give them to your school, who in turn has to keep track of all these scraps. "Gee, I hope they doesn't get lost in the mail, 'cause we really need the money!"

Here's another one: Breast Cancer Awareness. Everything turns pink for about a month. If you buy their product, they'll donate money to cancer advocacy organizations, like the disgraced Susan G. Komen Foundation. Sometimes you need to take additional steps to get the donations sent along, like lids or box tops or codes you enter online. Don't get me wrong - cancer sucks. I'm not a fan. But it's not like these companies are doing this out of the goodness of their collective hearts. It's not like they're forgoing profits or executive salaries to contribute more funds to the cause, either.

If America's conglomerates really wanted to help, they wouldn't bother with all this silliness. It would probably be cheaper just to donate the cash up front - no need to hire people to open envelopes and count small cardboard rectangles for hours on end. In some cases, it would probably be cheaper and more efficient still just to stop avoiding taxes. But these programs are marketing efforts, not philanthropy. It makes them look good. It helps keep customers from buying store brands.

It's marketing

I imagine we'd all be better off if we just ignored these sales pitches. If you bought mostly store brands or generics, you could donate some of the cash you saved to whatever causes you fancy, and it would probably end up putting more funds into your preferred organization's coffers than if you bought a brand name product and turned in the label.

At this point, the corporate apologists will say, "Oh, that's not true! You're so cynical! Big companies DO care!" Give me a break. For-profit corporations care about quarterly earnings statements and dividends - making (and bragging about) donations of art supplies to elementary schools is intended to boost those earnings and dividends first and foremost.

It's marketing!

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