When Marketing Masks the Message

Man there’s been a lot of controversy around the interwebs lately, and it’s sparked a few posts for this week! I’ve got views on a lot of the issues, but this blog isn’t about touting my views, it’s about marketing and business and people. So, today’s post will dive into some marketing issues around a lot of the controversial subjects that we face in our society. No matter which side you’re on, I think we can all agree that lately, the marketing has started to mask the message for a lot of organizations. What do I mean by this? I mean that the heart of the issues is so lost in the hype that neither side can make real progress.

Take Susan G. Komen, an organization with the mission to find a cure for breast cancer. I think this organization started out with a strong purpose and vision, and effectively raised money and emotional support for those facing a battle with cancer. But, between the “Save the Tatas” bracelets, the Planned Parenthood funding controversy, and the general “bandwagon” mentality, the charity seems to be more focused on the marketing than the message. They want the cute t-shirts, the trending Twitter hashtags, and the “cool kids” more than they want to find a cure. Honestly, how many people actually donate to breast cancer research by doing something other than purchase the “I heart boobies” bands? When you spend more on branding, advertising, and merchandise than you do on your actual product (in this case, donations/grants for cancer research), the marketing has masked the message. Sure, everyone is more aware, and sure, they’re “donating” to the cause when they buy a $5 plastic wristband… but when it cost a dollar in materials, a dollar in advertising, a dollar in salaries, and a dollar in distribution, people would’ve been much better off to just donate $2 directly to a lab that focuses on cancer research! But, we don’t want to do that, because then no one will know that we heart boobs, no one will know that we’re cool and good because we donated, and no one will want to re-Tweet or Like our Facebook status for being an awesome human being.

Then there’s the KONY2012 video that went viral last week. My first exposure to it was a photo in my news feed from my 8th grade cousin, showing her and three friends with “KONY2012” markered onto their hands with cute exclamation points and bright, multi-colored font. I figured it was some club they were in, not a movement against a warlord. Then I started seeing the critics of KONY2012, and I have to admit, I felt like the marketing had masked the message. It’s like the directors were so worried about winning an award for their video, going viral, or “raising awareness” that they hurt their message to help those in Uganda. Great, you watched and shared a video… but did you actually donate? Did you sign up to go on a mission trip? Did you take any action other than the flying leap onto the bandwagon?

What about charity galas, where everyone is willing to pay $5,000 for a little 8×10 inch picture of some horror around the world, and they’re “generous” because the picture was really only worth $5, and they had chicken instead of steak for their dinner? Or the charity events where everyone gets together to hoop and holler about how the cause is so worthy, but they’ve spent all their money throwing the event to improve “community”. Don’t get me wrong, humans need community and support systems, but when the advertisement focuses so much on the fun, convenience, excitement, whatever of the event, instead of the reason behind the event, we have a problem. The celebration of accomplishment is necessary for morale, awareness, and solidarity, but we can’t lose sight of the reason for the gathering.

In these cases, it’s not that the message is bad, wrong, or otherwise unworthy. It’s that the people with the egos have gotten involved and twisted it into something that’s selfish. It’s about saying, “I had millions of hits on YouTube. My cause is superior to your cause. My fancy charity work is way better than your behind-the-scenes work.” How many people go to Africa to dig wells for clean water? How many people go to Vietnam to volunteer in an orphanage? How many people are willing to donate their time, money or their bodies to medical research? Very few, relative to the amount that will write on their hands or buy the t-shirt. And the few that go or give rarely receive recognition. Because for them, it’s about the message, not about the marketing. It’s not about being in the humanity club, where we’re all supposed to care about each other, so we pretend to care by adding to our fashion collection or our social calendar. There’s a lot that’s wrong in this world, and marketers can help make us aware of ways that we can help find or provide a solution. But don’t get confused… it’s not about the marketing.

3 thoughts on “When Marketing Masks the Message

  1. Great post! I get so frustrated with the “buy pink” message for breast cancer…you buy a $25 set of tweezers and 25 cents goes to breast cancer? Why not just DONATE $25 and actually impact something?

    I guess I’m just not the target market for these types of gimmicks. I don’t have $5,000 for a gala dinner, but people who do may not have 5 hours a month to volunteer at the local shelter. And for the super-rich and influential, they can lend their fame and influence to a cause…I don’t know if there are any stats, but I’m willing to bet that celeb figureheads greatly increase awareness of a cause compared to smaller causes without a great visual or spokesperson.

    To me, they’re different audiences…the do-ers, the givers, and the celebrities, and they all have their place. But you raise some really good questions and points about not forgetting the cause…and that is the key to it all.


  2. I think there’s a lot of ways to give, and I think that time, money, and influence are all valid ways to make a difference. I don’t necessarily think one is better than the other, if the person actually gives sincerely. But thinking that you’re truly involved by re-Tweeting a video or buying one bracelet that sits in a drawer after October awareness just bothers me. I’d rather not be involved at all than pretend, you know?


  3. Pingback: “Brand Awareness” is a Phase » Consciously Corporate - When business is your life.

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