A lot of effort has gone into rebranding philanthropy from “giving away money” to “making a social investment”. While the shift has supporters and detractors, I think the most useful and interesting way to think about the underlying motives for the shift is as an attempt to move philanthropy from the “should” category (you “should” work out, eat healthy, call your mom and give to charity) to the “want” category (you “want” to have fun, feel good about yourself, eat yummy food). My post last week about the rebranding of baby carrots as “junk food” and the lessons to be learned for philanthropy was meant to tap into this line of thinking.
In the Fast Company article about baby carrots being branded as junk food, the carrot company CEO talked about how most all of the advertising companies who applied to work with them tried to make baby carrots more fun, but kept returning to their status as a “health food”. It was only the winning advertising company who completely took baby carrots out of the “should” category (you should eat healthy food) and put them into the “want” category (you want to eat this cool, fun, tasty product).
This weekend at the grocery story I ran into this new packaging of Mandarin oranges:
The basic concept is similar to the junk food baby carrot campaign. Note the plastic, shiny packaging, the “cool” character on a skateboard, the tagline “One of life’s sweetest pleasures”, and the “grab ‘n go” handle.
But the company doesn’t go all the way. The product was in the produce department, not in the snack food aisle, and they still stick the “healthy snack, naturally sweet” tag on the packaging.
Of course, while philanthropy does make people feel good and can be marketed in the “want” category, a major part of what makes people feel good is the idea that they are doing good for others. It is like a health food that only tastes good if you believe it is healthy.
In this hilarious segment of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David finds out just how bitter the giving experience can be when he suddenly feels like his giving is in the “want” category instead of the “should” category. When he suddenly feels like his giving is something he’s doing for himself instead of others, his giving loses its meaning and value. (warning: some explicit language at the end of the segment)
(Click here to see the video if you are viewing this in an email)
So what’s the answer? I don’t know. But I do know that philanthropy shouldn’t be in the “guilt” category. Those things you do because you “should” even though you really don’t want to. I’ve always thought that the phrase “give back” when used in philanthropy sounds like the donor has “taken” something that must be returned (and in fact, I think many people think about giving this way).
As we explore new blended value propositions, I think it is important that we keep in mind the strange characteristics of philanthropy. It is like really tasty health food, or maybe junk food that’s good for you. But whatever it is, it is something people do enjoy and we need to embrace this aspect of the giving experience.