Buying to make a difference

by Granate Sosnoff on 4th May, 2012

First of all, it is a great idea. And there are concrete examples of how corporate partnerships with products has raised a lot of money for organizations. But like many things that start out good, they reach a saturation point. I think we may be getting there, where marketing for a product, some kind of “proceeds for charity %” on the label, is more the focus than the actual dollars going to a good cause.

Kudos to Ben & Jerry’s who were early instigators of this, and it was always part of their business plan (1% for peace) as far as I can see. They stay current and hit well with “Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream” but also missed with “Taste the Lin-Sanity” with (choke) fortune cookie pieces and lychee (sorry Asian community).

Ben & Jerry’s does a lot of good through donations and their foundations. They are established players who give away ice cream a few times a year as well and served cones to early Occupiers in New York (back when everyone liked them). Their hearts and politics are in the right place.

But they are the exceptional ones. I can’t open the paper, go to the grocery store, or order online without being given the option to “buy for a good cause,” or “make a difference” la-tee-da look at me.

And though shopping is what Americans do best, have we really come to this? Where we won’t even do our “walk-a-thon” and raise funds – thus putting a dent in our own sedentary lives at the same time as raising money for a cause.

I’m pretty sure (Red) a product line to raise funds to eliminate AIDS raises a lot of money as well. But do we really want ending AIDS branded by a special Coke by (RED) or converse? And what does it say about ourselves when we buy, drink and wear this stuff? Are we doing something, do we understand anything?

I get it. When given the choice we might “buy to do good” and we all want to support what some are calling a “double” or even a “triple” bottom line:  where doing good for a cause or community AND the environment is considered AS (okay almost as) important as making money.

But when is it PR and when is it real?

And lastly I have to mention something along these same lines. I heard the head of GM (yes that GM – General Motors) on the radio (yes, NPR) say that they wanted to be “part of the solution” in regards to the very NPR-y subjects of global warming and fuel crises.

It was a bit weird. And sure, yeah, this of course needs to happen. Activists have implored from time immemorial that “if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” But it’s shocking to hear GM, the definition of corporate America, parrot it back.

So attention shoppers, be vigilant and smart. Don’t forget to “question authority” as well and ask if maybe corporations could just pay their own factory workers in China decently (Apple (Red) nano) or their farmworkers better (everyone) rather than give % somewhere in our name.

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