This past weekend, Microsoft tried to do a little good (donate $100,000) and use that good to market Bing.
Here is what happened:
Microsoft sent a tweet that said:
How you can #SupportJapan – http://binged.it/fEh7iT. For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K
This caused a flood of criticism apparently, along the lines of “How dare you use the tragedy of an earthquake to help promote Bing.”
Six hours later, they sent the following tweet:
We apologize the tweet was negatively perceived. Intent was to provide an easy way for people to help Japan. We have donated $100K.
This criticism of Microsoft irks me, in that it is likely strikingly inconsistent with our behaviors in general on charitable giving.
The critics seem to think that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts must be purely altruistic. If you get something back for it, then shame on you. This seems like an odd standard. If one really wants such a standard, why not also demand that CSR be anonymous? And I wonder, do those who criticized Microsoft always give anonymously to charity? Of course, if CSR were anonymous, then no doubt corporations would be pressured to support some charities, and they wouldn’t be able to say “but we did” because that defeats the whole point of doing it anonymously.
The reality is that we do get something for the gifts we give. And offering people things to entice them to give works. Tangible incentives work: think of the ubiquitous giveaways that come in many charitable solicitations (pens, mailing labels, tote bags, etc.). And playing to one’s ego works too: here we tested social recognition, and found clean evidence that getting your name in a newsletter really does make you give more, even though few would likely admit that about themselves. More examples abound. We may wish the world worked in a different way, but alas it does not. So why should we expect corporations to be “better” than we are?
Now, taking this a step further, suppose my goal is to see as much given to address poverty problems (using effective methods) around the world as possible (this is an accurate supposition). Do I want to see corporations use development aid as a marketing tool? Absolutely! If it gets them to give more, go for it. If other firms see that a simple campaign on twitter to donate to a good cause also gave them some good business, then great. I much prefer marketing dollars be spent that way than on Super Bowl ads and (no offense) expensive dinners for Madison Avenue executives.