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Beware People’s Intentions

June 15, 2008

David Doody

I’m generally a cynic when it comes to people’s intentions for doing things when money is involved. Or, to be more to the point, when businesses (usually big, but not always) do things. I believe in most cases the profit leads the charge, sometimes masked by good intentions. So, when I come across stories like this from OnTheCommons.org and this from the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch.org (both about how big companies use the pink veil of breast cancer awareness to hide the true motive of selling goods) I am not surprised, but still perturbed. I do not flinch when someone claims (as Anne Landman does in the PRWatch.org piece) that, rather than promoting prevention, these companies prefer the idea of buying a “cure” because it makes them money, all the while making people feel good about themselves:

“Some critics say the almost total lack of focus on prevention is because prevention doesn’t make money. It’s much more profitable to make people believe that their consumer purchases are contributing to a ‘cure.’”

Feeling good about yourself is all well and good, and so is the idea of a portion of sales going to a greater cause, on the face of it anyway. But when such things come as an actual detriment to the greater cause at hand, then we need to reevaluate. When the “feeling good, because I did something good” stops us from actually considering options that would drastically reduce breast cancer (namely, as in most cases, education) because we feel that we have done enough, then something needs to change. And, obviously, when companies mask true intentions behind philanthropy, while actually doing little for the cause they claim to be advocating and working for, and, as in the case with BMW, may actually do more harm than good, well, this should be unacceptable:

“Besides selling more cars, BMW’s goal is to rack up one million test-driven miles and donate $1 million to cancer research. A laudable goal, but it ignores the fact that the campaign encourages more and unnecessary driving, not to mention that automobile exhaust contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, harmful chemicals known to cause cancer.”

Less sinister are the indirect (and maybe not so, but I don’t want to sound too conspiracy theorist here) results of these campaigns, as is pointed out in the piece from David Bollier at OnTheCommons.org:

“Through their affiliation with this cause, corporate marketers have shrewdly positioned themselves as women-friendly, socially engaged civic boosters. What’s so problematic about that? Nothing, so far as it goes. But as King points out, the gender-oriented marketing of the ‘pink’ campaigns has helped ‘reproduce associations between women and shopping, and a more general tendency to deploy consumption as a major avenue of political participation.’ The advertisers make it seem that buying a pink-ribboned product is the most virtuous achievement one might do to fight breast cancer.”

The idea of “consumption as a major avenue of political participation” has become a popular idea over these last years.

The sentiment produces a numbing sensation: we are told that we are able to simply go about our usual lives and things will get better. Or, even better still, indulge for ourselves and splendid results will shower down upon our fellow man. It would be nice if this were how things actually worked, if the betterment of ourselves created a greater good for the greater population. Unfortunately, at some point, to create actual change, to make an attempt to actually help our fellow human beings, we may need to look outside ourselves for a moment. We may actually need to look at some of the causes that are producing the things we claim to want to change.

Also unfortunately, this is not what drives so many to their actions.

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