Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Here's the Harvard Business Review, on the marketing of one's soul...

Let's just say I'm a little skeptical of what they're teaching over at Harvard. That's because so many of those who were nurtured and educated in the Ivy League later went on to develop "innovation in finance" that caused our economy to drop off a cliff back in 2008.

But I'm always curious to hear what Harvard has to say about key topics, and was highly intrigued when this eye-catching headline, Don't Sell Your Soul, Market Itcame across my Twitter feed.

Turns out it's a post by Dan Pallotta about building up the "philanthropy" market. According to this article:
"Most people want to help others. Their lives would feel incomplete without this connection to humanity. We can tap into this human desire by marketing compassion with the same rigor as we market luxury cars."
(Highlighting is Pallotta's, not mine.)

Which I guess is a good idea, though now I see images of sleek cars snaking their way across challenging terrain, not starving children who need to be fed or offered polio shots for free.

One thing I don't understand - who'll pay for this marketing? In business, marketing departments are paid for and funded by income generated by the commodity they are selling. So who pays for the marketing budget of a philanthropy? Are we going to divert funds from those who need the particular charity and instead flow that funding into marketing campaigns? For what purpose?


Toward the end of the article, you realize what the purpose is: to provide work for Pallotta's new venture - a humanitarian marketing firm whose "purpose is to begin marketing benevolence as brilliantly as Budweiser markets beer."


(Now I'm seeing Clydesdales! Damn that power of marketing!)


I understand what Pallotta's trying to say. But I'd like to see a cost/benefit analysis of one of his campaigns. Did spending X dollars on a breast cancer awareness campaign bring in significantly more research dollars? Or were resources allocated to marketing that perhaps would have had more impact if they'd been allocated to breast cancer research? How much does the cost of litigation over rights to use the philanthropic "paradigm" take away from the philanthropic work to be done?

Pallotta ends with this:
"The only way that humanitarian organizations will ever become self-sustaining — and will ever approach the scale needed to address today's massive social problems — is by stimulating demand for philanthropic goods and services. The market for that philanthropy must be built, in the same way Starbucks built a market for lattes.
If humanitarian organizations market their souls this way, they won't have to sell them. We can advertise our way to humanity."
I REALLY hope that Pallotta understands that the demand for philanthropic goods and services does not require marketing for growth. That demand is there - and growing without the benefit of marketing - in part due to massive global income inequity. And I kinda hope they've taught the students at Harvard that there are quite a few people in this world who believe the problems caused by income inequity need to be addressed by methods other than philanthropy.

And I also wonder what kind of cars the people who work at Dan's company are driving. Are they driving luxury cars as a result of their work developing marketing campaigns for philanthropic organizations (as many who are successful in private sector marketing drive)?

I hope not. Because when the people I know donate to philanthropic organizations, they want their money to matter - they want the money to reach the people in need - not plump up a marketer's lifestyle.

After reading Dan's post, I realize that the brilliant thinkers of Harvard are now going to take the charitable world by storm - to "advertise our way to humanity." Because at Harvard, there's no other way to acquire a soul except through the marketing of it.

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