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Charity is good, right? There are obviously lot of great causes that deserve our attention and our investment.

But can charity be abused? It's a question I've been asking myself lately.

I asked it again today when I came across John Battelle's post about P&G Digital Hack Night. The idea: sell Tide t-shirts and raise $100,000 for charity.

Battelle, who is chief of Federated Media, is loving it:

But I really liked what Peter Kim said about how it was an important event not just for charity and team building, but also for P&G as a company, learning to become more social. Just like with Comcast, here's another example of a massive company learning new tricks.

Donating $3 for each person who follows you on Twitter? Fine in my opinion. Selling tweets for $1 and donating some of that to charity? Acceptable in my opinion. The former doesn't cost followers anything; the latter is selling a service and donating a portion of its revenue to charity.

Getting people to pay for a t-shirt that promotes your brand and donating the proceeds to charity? Bad idea.

The reason: in my opinion it's nothing more than a simple ploy to acquire walking billboards for the Tide brand. The person buying a t-shirt really gets nothing of personal value except for maybe the satisfaction of wearing a t-shirt that promotes a billion-dollar brand. Some deal, huh?

Of course it worked:

$50,000 was raised in four hours employing everything from Digg, blogs and Twitter to MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and a host of niche community sites. Tide matched the $50K for the $100K total.

While I'm glad that disaster relief efforts have another $100,000, I think companies like Proctor & Gamble should be ashamed of themselves for treating charity like a marketing exercise. The blogosphere and Twittersphere might love these things but I'm of the opinion that if P&G wants to donate $100,000 to charity, it should just cut a check. Or donate a portion of the revenue from Tide sales so that the customer is actually getting something of value from the deal that isn't just a hollow promotion for P&G.

P&G doesn't need to sell t-shirts that promote its own brand and it doesn't need to pull the wool over the eyes of the blogosphere to get it to believe that it's trying to become more 'social'. If Tide is sincerely interested in disaster relief, it should make a donation and get its marketing team to sell t-shirts that turn those who are wearing them into walking billboards for the cause, not for laundry detergent.

Instead, there are now 2,500 people who will promote Tide any time they wear the t-shirt. And, it only cost Tide ~$20 to acquire these potential walking billboards (since half of the $100,000 was subsidized by the walking billboards themselves). I don't know what P&G's marketing spend for Tide looks like but I'd say that's probably a very good deal for P&G.

There's a real fine line between doing good and looking bad. As Mike Mongo commented on Battelle's blog:

Tide? T-shirts? It's a PROMOTION. To sell T-SHIRTS. For the company that SPONSORED your junket.

Is it really so simple to be re-purposed into becoming an implement for corporate manipulation?

Sadly the answer seems to be yes.

You can be sure that because of the recession there will be more corporate-charity partnerships, which is actually good. But I think wise brands will be careful about how they implement these. In all cases, the customer needs to receive real value (e.g. they're paying for something that has value without the charitable incentive) and if not, the charity's brand should not be a tool to promote first the corporate brand.

Patricio Robles

Published 12 March, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2391 more posts from this author

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Jared D.

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I agree that the best charity really is done with minimal fanfare and almost 100% of proceeds going to the cause. The challenge here is that Tide is really engaging cause-related marketing not necessarily charity. 

What I think we would like to see from Tide is more transparency of just how much they are spending on the promotion and how they are spending dollars raised. Tide could also gain ground by making an acknowledgement of the fact this is a promotion intended on aligning their brand with charitable causes.

Marketing purists will argue that a home run has to be where all stars align and the intensions of the company are absolutely altruistic.  However, the promotion worked proving that Tide's audience is, for the most part, indifferent to the distinction between charity and cause-related marketing. 

We might have a ways to go before the general population catches up the distinction.

over 7 years ago

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Beverly

Charity is not bad after all. If you can combine charity with business then I believe nothing is wrong with it. Do you think people will buy the shirt if it has no print on it? If I am the buyer myself, I would rather pay for something that I know is really from a reliable and trusted company like P&G. To prove that it's not a scam. If it can help both the company and a certain charity - why bother.

over 7 years ago

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Anonymous

Let's see a picture of the T shirt and see if the brand is even mentioned.  Perhaps it wasn't?

over 7 years ago

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Elaina

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Elaina

http://www.freearticletrove.com

over 7 years ago

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Children Of Bali

Interesting, thanks for this article.

over 7 years ago

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Christiaan

Interesting article, I agree with some of your points but i do think that charities and online marketing can collaborate effectively.

Christiaan Harden is the Business Development Manager at Spectrecom Films Ltd - http://www.spectrecom.co.uk/ - an award-winning corporate video production company and owners of Waterloo Film Studios; http://www.spectrecom.co.uk/the-studio/studio-overview

almost 6 years ago

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Video Production Company

It is very hard to say that charity marketing is a 'Fail' i happen to know several companies which have launched a fantastic online marketing campaign, Oxfam is jsut one of many that shines through.

almost 6 years ago

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Hannah

Charity on your mind. Try out Auscause and you can shop while you donate. Check us out on http://www.facebook.com/Auscause

almost 6 years ago

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Corporate Video

Hmm, I'm really a bit unsure about this article, while I appreciate what you're saying about this particular example I think it is unfairly casting bad light on potential companies who integrate with charities well. P&G's failure to even mention the charity on their merchandise is a bit of a half-arsed attempt at raising awareness of a charity they're supposedly supporting, but many companies produce great things from working with charities.

Perhaps you're right in that companies shouldn't use charities as a source of marketing, as charity should always be a self-less act in my opinion, however there is certainly room for a cohesion between businesses and charities in an effective manner to benefit both business and charity in the same way. I think many businesses forget that charity should be about charity not just giving them a bunch of money to promote their business, that is pretty low.

I think I understand what you're saying, but this article is a bit dangerously over-arching. Thanks for raising this argument though it is certainly worth a debate.

AH
Skeleton Productions.

about 5 years ago

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