Crowdsourcing activism - great idea or greenwashing?


Some people are skilled at getting the word out, so skilled that their unlaunched site gets written up in Wired here: How Altruism and Advertising Could Change the World. Cindy Gallop former global marketing chief and U.S. chairman for creative icon BBH and Wendell Davis former Splice and Zooomr CEO put their heads together and came up with the idea of a site that convert intent into action, making activism easy and sponsored by advertising. And like everyone else, they even have a twitter account; IWRTW.

Now, being a Gemini I have conversations with myself on a daily basis (because the answers are so good) so here is snap of what my brain was saying as it read the article:

ProBrain: This is great, you can look up what your care about and instead of joining a stupid FaceBook group which is about as useful as slapping a bumper sticker on your car, you get a small task to do and can help.

ConBrain: Seen it. and and cellphonewise are doing it already and youknow, they actually launched their sites too. Fancy that. There's even similar local ones, like the canadian Urbantastic.

ProBrain: Hang on, Big Brands® like for example Coke can sponsor a given program and people already committed get points. Like Gallop says to Wired; "Coca-Cola's Consumer Social Responsibility agenda is 'bring fresh water to the world,'" explained Gallop. "Coca-Cola might say, 'for this period of time, we're going to reward everybody working on this agenda above a certain level activity with Coca-Cola points.' The cause wins, because it galvanizes action, people win because they get something of value for doing something they were doing anyway, and the brand wins, because you're bringing people into the brand franchise."

ConBrain: Oh, did you just mention Coke and water? The coke that demanded "unconditional apology" from photographer for an image that showed a Coke advert on the wall with water jugs in front of it. The same Coke that produces Dasani in Georgia which can't help their drought problem, the same Coke that parched villagers sued in India to shut tap at Coke because they lost groundwater? Seems the key for fresh water here is to shut down Coke plants, not get more Coke points.

ProBrain: But it's so easy, you get your branded task in a wee bite-sized chunk and know what to do. No more wondering what you can do.

ConBrain: So they say: "There is no Google of action", oh god, did she really just say "google of action" - I feel like going Bill Hicks on her ass. Honestly if you cared about a big cause, you already know what to do.

ProBrain: If Big Brands® want to seek out a specific target, say skateboarding guys aged 14-26, they can find here what these guys care about and can transparently 'sponsor' the things that matter to their target group. It's a win-win, no? It's got all the web 2.0 community-making social networking viral marketing features and funnels it into doing good! What's wrong with that?

ConBrain: Dudette! Wake up! The only incentive for the Big Brands® to participate in this so called altruistic behavior is for PR benefits, and what's more donating twenty tomato plants to a measly community garden "transparently" like this and make a big deal out of it is obscuring their true anti-social behavior. Coke employees might care about water, but Coca Cola corporation doesn't give a toss, it's a corp! So of course the Big Brands® want to play, it's a cheap way of buying goodwill, it's greenwashing.

ProBrain: Non-profits have raised capital by taking corporate sponsors since forever, McDonald's have built homes near hospitals for families with very ill children, Dove have the self-esteem fund, many brands have become synonymous with a cause. Why is sharing huge profits off soap and sugar water bad, exactly?

ConBrain: Yeah, and people have wised up to these goodwill stunts, recall the comments left for the Frosted Flakes Fields / Grow Super Bowl commercial - "3M to promote 450k" worth of playing fields is a slap in the face backwards. Don't even get me started on a beauty-brand who has laid the groundwork for the current looksteria in girls suddenly making a 180 degree turn when they realized most of their customers were pissed off with it. Do it like Nissan, quietly sponsor the HBCU summer institute and never make a fuss about you doing it. Feels more real. When the cause the brand supports is actively undermined by the corporations products or creation of it it's nothing but hypocritical with a nice logo slapped on top.

ProBrain: Doing something is real! I think a lot of people will appreciate not just simply writing a check and sending it off somewhere, instead getting a set goal to accomplish. People want to be involved and this place harnesses the will!

ConBrain: Yes, you're right that kids today would rather get their hands dirty than send a check. The g8 riots and plenty of anti-war demonstrations, freeing of farmed minks, protests against pollution caused by air travel, protests against factories making parts for use in war and so on have shown that activism is alive and well. I could actually see flash mob volunteering working when it comes to collecting heads for large demonstrations, or manning soup kitchens or similar. I just don't see how this mash of social networking user tracking and viral marketing mishmash will do anything but attract slacktivists who never lift a finger for anything other than playing the WoW that they studied anyway.

ProBrain: I need an aspirin.

ConBrain: Me too. Make it a generic brand.

about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Comments (2)

  • adlib's picture

    I'll believe it when I see it. How can they get a Wired writeup for a napkin idea? I'm not saying it's a bad idea, it does sound like it has legs and will work nicely the way they describe it, but couldn't Wired just wait until they launch before they write anything? This was more like a giant press release than anything else, where were the hard hitting questions like: "so, why haven't you launched your great idea yet, and did you know that other sites doing the exact same thing already exist?"

    Mar 10, 2009

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