The Guilty Gift


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La version française de ce billet est, une fois n’est pas coutume, sur le blog de Seth Simonds.

Is, in France, cause marketing soluble in social media? This is the question I asked myself when Seth proposed me to write this post, question which quickly turned into: “is cause marketing soluble in French culture?” as we must agree on the fact that, in Descartes and Pascal homeland, money, fine feelings, companies and charities maintain complex relationships.

Whether it be individuals or organizations, French people give, and give more and more. They are also ready to engage into causes they find ethical: 47% of them now claim having changed their consumption habits towards more sustainable products. This is not the lack of motivation or creativity, which occasions the charitable discretion of French companies, “discretion” which is particularly remarkable on the social web, but rather a mix of cultural and social factors unique to France.

The distrust paradox

It is a commonplace to say that consumers less and less trust brands’ and businesses’ communication. More thought provoking is that they consider the same businesses’ engagement toward populations as largely inefficient (CSA study – October 2009). This is a highly paradoxical situation: for a company, getting committed to a cause allows giving credibility to its willingness to act ethically, but communicating about this commitment discredits it at the same time. For example, Kinder France initiative with the Secours Populaire, is barely promoted outside the limits of its website, echoing neither on Kinder Facebook page, nor of the Secours Populaire one. Many such initiatives are not highlighted beyond the company’s corporate website (Innocent) or beyond the point-of-sale (Pyrex).

Commitment and empathy, friendly rivalry

Unlike the Anglo-Saxons, who give sense to an initiative through action, the French generally put discussion at the heart of their approach. This behavior encourages my compatriots, when mixing feelings and discussion, to completely dissociate empathy (the charitable claim) from commitment (the gift and its assertion). It is good practice to stay (and look) restrained when we give, and to not too explicitly call for action when talking about a cause. French do not mix money with feelings.

Considering this, it is hardly surprising that the only NGOs leveraging the viral and empathic power of social media are “activist” associations like Greenpeace or Aids. They consider action and feelings as intimately related, and part of a global approach. Most others only timidly step outside of traditional media channels, even preferring to leave this initiative to internet users, without giving any active support. The page devoted to “webbénévoles” on the French Red Cross website delivers a clear message: make us your donations, relay our cause, but please do not ask us to engage ourselves. In such a paradoxical context, it is not surprising to notice how much associations are reluctant to associate themselves too openly to businesses, those symbols of profit and wealth.

Ethical = sincere

From “consume more” to “consume better”, marketing has recently undertaken a change of focus which, if often driving businesses to more commitment, is still largely prisoner of our cultural reflexes. But is this so bad? Are global, mainly American, brands which previously partnered with (RED), so well-intentioned? Don’t they seek, through their highlighted commitment, to restore an undermined trust, where French brands, for the same reasons, keep themselves understated? Social media do offer real opportunities to cause marketing, but require something today missing from so many initiatives: sincerity.

Photo Filtran

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Thierry de Baillon
Branding & web strategist, Druckerian marketer with a sustainability and cross-culture flavour. Passionate about learning.


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