Native charity advertising – debating Freecharge’s #NepalEarthquake relief effort

Yes, you read that right.

Native advertising: A form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.

Charity: The voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.

Cause marketing: Associating a brand or product with a cause, for the long-term benefit of the cause, and the brand/product.

The relief work in Nepal right now would fall under charity, not cause marketing, of course. Cause marketing is Lever’s Project Sunlight, for instance.

So, the seed of this post is Freecharge’s efforts to raise money for Nepal, and Mahesh Murthy’s LinkedIn commentary of that effort.

This is Freecharge’s effort (in the form of a tweet, with my question about it).



This is the gist of Mahesh Murthy’s point of view on LinkedIn: ‘ambulance chasing brands‘.

Mahesh and Abhishek (a.k.a THE @gabbbarsingh on Twitter; from Freecharge) had a debate around Mahesh’s contentions, on Twitter. It then spilled to a Facebook post where I had more questions on both sides.

Mahesh’s contention is – do charity for charity’s sake; not for PR or marketing (Freecharge gave users who call Rs.20, besides donating Rs.20 per call to Nepal).

Abhishek’s stand: This is Spart… sorry, Capitalism. If this helps a brand donate gazillion to the needy, why not go this charity+marketing route? The needy gain and so does the brand, enthusing it to do more for charity (and gain more, of course).

This line of thinking is not new at all. Just hit Google with, ‘Like us and we will donate’ and see thousands of brands asking people to Like them on Facebook and they promise to donate X amount for every Like. The backlash happens when there’s a pre-condition for the number of Likes, like Papa John’s realized after they first kept a target of 50,000 Likes for them to donate. They then changed it to just $50,000 as a generic target with no pre-condition.

Conventional wisdom says that one/brands shouldn’t try to gain something from an act of charity. But again, what is conventional wisdom? Acceptable wisdom? Acceptable by whom? Stakeholders? Customer?

For instance, there are a few people responding to that tweet from Freecharge with, ‘Why are you giving us Rs.20? Why not donate Rs.40 to Nepal?’. In other words, what is left unsaid is that Freecharge has baked in a customer-acquisition tactic inside a charitable act – so, native charity advertising: a form of customer acquisition where the act follows the natural form and function of a charitable act. How different is this from asking people to Like and donate per Like? Not very – in fact, it is far more clever if you take into account that this action by users is more directly beneficial to a brand like Freecharge, than Facebook Likes (which it cannot use in any direct way).

In fact, Unicef came down heavily on the ‘Likes for charity’ business a couple of years ago. It said, ‘Facebook ‘likes’ won’t save children’s lives’. Unfortunately, that doesn’t hold absolutely true anymore. If a brand promises to donate a dollar per Like, then Likes do raise money to save children. It’s just that people do not donate money – they donate a Like. The brand donates the money in return of people Liking them on Facebook. I know that sounds bizarre – reduces the effort of people to a piddly ‘click’ and nothing more, but hey, if this slactivism is making a brand pay up (for whatever in return) and it actually reaches someone in need, should we be concerned about slacktivism’s lack of effort at all?

Is this perhaps a generational thing too? Is it old school to think of charity as pure-selfless-charity? Is it now acceptable for brands to look at self-interest too *while* doing charity?

Someone can, for example, bring a TV crew to shoot them offer freebies to the poor. The giver gains in PR (image) and the poor gain, well… something to eat. If not for PR, the giver does not have any incentive to donate. So, the end act justifies the means? Politicians and film stars do this all the time, and the one logic that helps them respond to this is, ‘it helps inspire others too’! Can’t argue with that.

I recall seeing a post by Jessie Paul recently where she argues that brands shouldn’t have morals – she adds, “My view is that companies cannot have a conscience. They do things that they think will help them be seen as a ?good? company“. If CSR helps the company be seen as a ‘good’ company (by PR’ing the activity), then that’s good, right? After all, brands have been doing PR around charity for ages. If it is not a mention in the annual report (‘Your company did XYZ…’), it may be a press announcement directly.

My experience and upbringing says I should do charity silently and not expect any gain from it. That’s a personal opinion, but if I need to advise an organization, would I look at baking into the charitable act something that the brand can gain from it? As someone who wouldn’t even recommend the ‘Like Us and we will donate’ tactic, I may not – but, that’s just me.

Hypothetically, if I do, will the charity cease to be? Not really.

Will the people who benefited from my act see me differently if they come to know that I have something to gain too, in the act?

Should I care about that? Should *they* care about it?

Is it now acceptable to *gain* from charity?

Someone posted this quote in the Facebook discussion around this topic: ‘If you’re helping someone and expect something in return, you’re doing business, not kindness’. This applies perfectly to individuals. But businesses are in the business of making money and increasing stakeholder value – not in offering kindness to society.

So, does this quote apply to corporates?



1 thought on “Native charity advertising – debating Freecharge’s #NepalEarthquake relief effort

  1. A Corporation is a structure which allows individuals to get away with doing things they would never do otherwise if they were held accountable as individuals.

    You can’t hide behind the mask of working for a corporation. A corporation is just a mask for individual selfish interests.

    If an individual who okays such a decision doesn’t feel conflicted about how they’re using the victims of a natural disaster to further their own PR , then they’re well on the road to becoming sociopaths.

    Why even stop there ?

    Why not organize a reality show , where rescue teams get awarded fifty thousand dollars for every life saved and broadcast it as live 24×7 drama ?

    Why not sell ad space on the rescue helicopters to fund even more rescue missions?

    This is is madness ? No this spart.. Capitalism.

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