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March 12, 2015
Social Good Advertising: Altruistic, or Profit Driven?
 
Ah yes, Corporate Responsibility. Social Good. Community Involvement.

Whatever you want to call it, brands are paying more attention to it than ever before. When the "greenwashing" of advertising really started back in the early 2000s, people thought it was just a fad; indeed, since nearly every major CPG brand was saying how "green" its products were, regulations actually had to be created and updated to ensure quality and honesty.

It's easy to see why. Consumers are beginning to care about about the environment around them. They (or at least the loud ones) want to be patrons of a company that takes care of the environment, and uses modern sustainability strategies to make sure the product does good to and for everyone.

If the brands want the money and attention from consumers, it looks like they have to start caring.

So here's the deal, though. Many brands are getting near cameras and in movies and interviews saying that they are making these changes or implementing these strategies because it's the right thing to do. Really? Are these brands, and these ad agencies, really shifting to "doing good" out of the goodness of their hearts?

We would be absolutely thrilled if that were true. But see, altruism, or doing something for goodness' sake, doesn't seem to really exist. Doing something because it's good makes the doer feel good. So essentially, doing a "good deed" has a direct benefit to the doer. The more they do it, the better they feel.

So when a brand or ad professional says "it's the right thing to do," it raises some serious flags on our side. The data simply doesn't support that empty statement, however positive it may seem.

If consumers want true transparency, and if advertising professionals do want to be able to sleep at night without worrying if they are hurting a party, let's all just come clean. We are sure that there are people out there advocating for branding to be sustainable and healthy. We've met a few of those people. But there are also brands out there that saw that going "green" is more energy efficient (saves money), can cut down on raw material costs (saves money, resources), and can garner a lot of positive publicity (customer buy-in, engagement). 

What's wrong with those reasons? Plus, knowing that consumers are digging tree-hugging, light-bulb changing, plastic-refurbishing brands, why is openly switching to that strategy a big deal?

Because consumers will see through it? Who cares? If you make a good product (because still, a good product is the ultimate factor), the consumer can and will forgive you.

Perhaps we're just tired of the mushy lip-service.

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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