Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mara Einstein's "Compassion, Inc."

Mara Einstein is Associate Professor of Media Studies at Queens College. She is the author of Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age. She has worked as a senior marketing executive in both broadcast and cable television as well as at major advertising agencies.

Einstein applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Compassion, Inc.: How Corporate America Blurs the Line between What We Buy, Who We Are, and Those We Help, and reported the following:
My intention with this book is to shine a spotlight on the downside of cause marketing, the strategy of using charities (and their associated celebrities) as a means to sell consumer products. Cause marketing—pink ribbons, red dresses, greenwashing, and so on—is detrimental to our culture because it distorts how we think about charity and those in need, and disguises how institutions like governments and corporations are abdicating their responsibility in caring for the community at large.

As important, is my wish to advocate for those who are “getting it right.” That’s where Page 99 comes in. Leading up to this page, the book is discussing what I call hypercharities (Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Feeding America, and so on) as well as a number of celebrities who have used charities for self-aggrandizement (Donald Trump and Celebrity Apprentice). Page 99 presents the work of Stephen Colbert—funny man and philanthropist:
In June 2009, Stephen Colbert and his merry troupe from Comedy Central moved “The Colbert Report” to Camp Victory, Iraq. The “mission” was named “Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando,” and entailed taping and broadcasting the show for one week from amidst American troops fighting overseas.

Anyone who has watched this program is aware that the host is an unabashed supporter of American troops. He helped raise money for the troops through multiple methods during his “stunt” week, all with the Colbert spin. Viewers could provide money to help get school supplies for children of soldiers through (an organization that helps all schools not just military ones), buy Colbert’s WristStrong bracelets (a takeoff on Livestrong), with the proceeds going to the Yellow Ribbon Fund, helping injured veterans; or download episodes of the show from iTunes.

Does Colbert get something out of this? Definitely…. Even so, in this case, who benefits? Net-net, you would have to say the troops and their families. They get attention and money, and awareness is raised for charities that benefit them. Moreover, Colbert is not asking you to buy anything (except his WristStrong bracelet) but rather to donate money directly.”
Direct donation is better for charities than buying something with a pink ribbon on it and hoping the money will go to breast cancer, or buying a bottle of dishwashing liquid and thinking you’ve helped save the sea lions. That is because cause marketing purchases are often more effective in putting money in the pocket of consumer product companies than they are in making the world a better place. Compassion, Inc. provides the reader with information about how cause marketing works, and how not to be duped by their misleading appeals.
Learn more about the book and author at the Compassion, Inc. blog and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue