Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 4/26/2012
Seeking some enticing reading about companies behaving unethically or secretively under the pretense of cause-related marketing? Look elsewhere.
Mara Einstein had a separate preoccupation writing her recently released book, Compassion, Inc.: How Corporate American Blurs the Line Between What We Buy, Who We Are, and Those We Help.
I want to be clear that my critique exists so as to find real solutions to difficult problems; it is not about corporate bashing.
Einstein is an associate professor at Queens College, where she teaches a course in social innovation and writes and speaks about cause-related marketing and corporate social responsibility.
In Compassion, Inc., she researched marketing campaigns, analyzed case studies, interviewed people working in sustainability and social justice and attended conferences in the hopes of distinguishing the good from the bad.
Einstein writes about a “charitable marketplace” in which consumerism is equated with philanthropy and people are relieved of the responsibility of giving time and money to support important causes.
The predicament in all this is that so many companies have wrapped themselves in the blanket of philanthropy today without having any significant effect on solving social problems.
Remember when Bono first appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2006 to talk about the (RED) campaign? The (RED) parentheses advertised a percentage of the sales price of upscale purchases would go to the Global Fund, which works to relieve AIDS in Africa.
According to Einstein, The Persuaders LLC is the for-profit corporation that sells licenses to corporate partners to use the (RED) brand, a five-year commitment reportedly costing between $3 million and $5 million.
What has never been clear about the campaign is how much money from the sale of each item actually goes to the Global Fund. And, the focus is increasingly about attracting corporate sponsors who become more important than the cause.
Einstein proposes that hypercharities like the (RED) campaign lull us into believing we are compassionate, while we are actually helping a company’s profits. And, we ultimately support these celebrity endorsed causes to the detriment of other equally important social problems.
She writes about high-profile cause-related marketing:
Raising money for African girls to attend school is heartwarming; ignoring the number of high school dropouts in America is not.
Einstein cites Ken Berger of Charity Navigator, who claims the most effective way to give is to donate directly to a charity. This way, you are certain every dollar goes to the cause and you are not so separated from a meaningful altruistic decision.
Mindful consumers increasingly want to do good works and corporations can be altruistic, despite some with ulterior motives and conflicting messages.
Einstein thinks the most compassionate companies have a corporate-level position that fosters social innovation—embedding responsibility and return on investment. This executive officer thinks and acts on good works consistently and is equipped with resources and performance-based objectives.
WhiteWave Foods is Einstein’s example of a socially innovative company. Notable for producing Horizon organic milk and International Delight coffee creamer, WhiteWave’s sustainability and social justice initiatives are the job description of Ellen Feeney, vice president of responsible livelihood.
One of the projects Feeney has implemented is a company code of ethics tied to Values in Action. Employees are rewarded for doing good. Every volunteer hour or donated dollar earns a point when the employee logs into the company’s online VIA system.
In an interview with Einstein, Feeney says:
Whatever you do, no matter how small, whatever, logging a point one time will get your name in the hat for (random prizes). As you can imagine, we have 100 percent participation.
Online modules and mini-lessons also train employees on topics such as Sustainability 101 and Recycling 101 and 102. WhiteWave tracks the progress and scores of employees to measure program effectiveness.
In addition, Feeney works with management to develop bonus programs based on achieving responsible livelihood goals. Actions taken by employees and dollars saved by management contribute to real social good, which Einstein predicts will move more companies toward social innovation and away from cause-related marketing.
A list of other companies with social innovation in their DNA: Seventh Generation; TerraCycle; Life is Good, Inc.; Newman’s Own, Inc.; Clif Bar and Company; Eileen Fisher; MAC Cosmetics; Interface Carpets.
Einstein proposes in Compassion, Inc. that the social good companies hope to achieve should never “be tied directly to product sales.”
Become more sustainable through better operations management, allow employees to take time off to volunteer, donate product to local causes, hold charity events, whatever makes sense for the company. Just don’t make us buy a product in order for that to happen.
Compassion, Inc. by Mara Einstein is a highly worthwhile read with prescriptive examples for authentic sustainability and social justice initiatives at companies—not all about the brand, the celebrity or corporate self-interest.
Category: Nonfiction, Sociology