The other day I went to see the new Carey Mulligan movie Far From The Madding Crowd at a Regal cinema. I was so excited because, at least in our neck of the woods, no films of late have inspired me out to the movie house. As a dedicated cinephile this has been a bummer.
So there I was all happy to queue up and go in when the ticket girl asks us, “Would you like to donate a dollar to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital today?”
“No, thank you,” my hubby graciously replied.
Everywhere a hand out
Inside I felt a lot less gracious. I felt annoyed, put upon, hassled, shaken down. Plus I felt sorry for the clerk who had to make this humiliating ask with every ticket sale.
Sure, her plea was simple and the encounter was brief, but multiply it by a dozen or more (for her and for the customer experiencing the same in other venues) and it’s easy to see that social marketing — a private company teaming up with a cause to raise awareness and money — has gotten out of hand. In a country where the middle class has been squeezed from all sides into a most painful financial oblivion do we really need to be asked to be the water carriers for every corporation trying to score points on the “we care” meter?
If every day’s transactions, from a fill up at the gas station to a supply run at the hardware store to the coffee pick-up at Starbucks to a movie respite is cause to be asked to support another cause then the method has decidedly jumped the shark.
Now it even happens at online venues during an e-commerce checkout and is increasingly taking on local flavor as smaller scale businesses adopt social marketing methods closer to home.
The law of unintended consequences
It’s not that there aren’t a bunch of laudable causes out there, because there are (though a larger societal focus on prevention through better personal living and a more ecologically-sound world would probably help shrink the needs faster than almost anything else).
And no one wants to sound like the tight-fisted curmudgeon who couldn’t spare tuppence for the sick and dying. But nor does anyone want the unintended but very real consequence of feeling shamed because we don’t want to part with yet another buck for the beleaguered.
There’s another unintended consequence, too.
The business in question likely feels that such campaigns are a public perception win-win. But it’s just as likely in an era of plutocratic fat cats, Wall Street malfeasance, corporate welfare and tax avoidance that the campaigns end up looking like an effort for already wildly profitable companies to get the credit while the lowly citizen-consumer foots the bill again. You’re left to wonder, Why can’t a corporation this size just frankly donate on its own without hitting us up at the check out?
In the case of the movie theater, it was helpful that, amidst the violent and cartoonish parade of bombastic previews and pre-show consumer gluttony commercials there was a short film on the work at St. Jude. Personally, I felt that that should’ve be enough relative to awareness-building with the added opportunity for less invasive ways to suggest joining in the fight through a donation.
But most cashier station charity requests are not accompanied by such an opportunity to know about or get involved with the cause beyond the lowest level of engagement, “Will you give us a buck?”
Happening everywhere these days, social marketing just starts to feel cynical in the extreme.
A better way to reach donors, customers, clients
In the end, the push to democratize charitable giving in the perfunctory transactional encounters of our daily life disrupts in creepy and cloying ways that feel more like they’re working against rather than for the aims of social marketing. I’d never recommend it became a part of my clients’ online marketing efforts — or off.
And as for the charities and their business partners? I’d say if you really care about the cause in question, use inbound marketing to blog about the cause, to tell the story of your relationship, your hopes and your aims together, of the people involved from leaders to patients to charitable recipients.
The inbound marketing approach would let people come to you, find substance and meaning in your effort, and choose on their own — instead of through jarring disruption — to engage with your campaign.
Permission based marketing is here to stay. So shut down that annoying social marketing asap and get started on inbound marketing instead.
— Lindsay Curren, Creative Director, Curren Media Group