For a while I’ve been bothered by ad campaigns for products where “a portion of the proceeds from every purchase” goes to such and such charity. On its face, this seems like a generally good idea. I buy something, a charity gets a cut, everyone is happy. But the more I thought about it, the more I disliked it. For one, the amount of money that companies choose to donate to the charity is usually capped–something like “we’ll donate $1 for every purchase up to $15 million.” If these companies were interested in providing funding for good causes (instead of using those causes to help pad their own bottom line), why wouldn’t they just donate the $15 million and be done with it? Perhaps more disturbing, though, is the way we buy into these promotions (in both senses of the term). Instead of donating to these charities directly, we identify with them (and tell other people about our support for them) by buying products. Want to show your support for charities that fight breast cancer? Buy some yogurt. Want to show that you donated to a charity to fight AIDS? Buy a (RED) product. Where does our need to convey our identity through our purchases end? At this point, it certainly doesn’t end with charitable donations.
For a little more reading about what companies tend to do with the money they receive through these promotions (sometimes called “cause marketing”) check out this article from Consumers Digest: