Altruism and advertising

Part of our new series with 12ahead

Altruism and advertising

With the inexorable rise of social media fuelling more and more brand campaigns, we’re seeing the volume of company budget and resources being pumped into these channels increase, in the battle to create ever bigger, bolder – and occasionally better – executions. According to Altimeter’s State of Social Business 2013 report, at least 13 different departments within a business now regularly include dedicated social media staff and 25% estimated that they would have spent between $100,000 and $500,000 last year on social alone.

However, it isn’t just businesses and agencies that benefit from this investment. There’s definitely a chance for marketers to consider how benefitting others can fit into the corporate social media mix. The cliché tells us that doing a good deed unto others actually does good for us, and social media activity tends to bear this out with surprising power. Accept this doctrine as a given, and it can open up some refreshing – and effective – avenues for marketers to explore when we’re conjuring up our next social move.

It can be hard to push financial gain to the back of your mind when boards are clamouring for directly trackable results, but if you can liberate your thinking and focus on helping somebody, not aggressively shifting products, acquiring new followers, or chasing numbers, the results are, ironically, much more likely to come.  Commit to real world problem solving and storytelling for a few months, and see the affect it has on your brand conversation, your advocacy – and yes, your bottom line.

Word of mouth will be the medium that achieves your aims but again, don’t get hung up on twibbons or hashtags – the purer the act, the more likely it is to spread. In some cases the message or medium can even be contradictory to what you are promoting on a daily basis, but it’s important not to panic – the very definition of virality is something that spreads beyond your control. As an example of how this works, look at Werner Herzog’s short film for AT&T’s ‘It Can Wait’ campaign. For a company that promotes using mobile every day, it’s slightly contradictory to warn against the dangers of constant mobile use. But it’s the right thing to do. The film takes its time to unravel the dangers of texting while driving, illustrated by horror stories from real people who have experienced the consequences. It’s brave and genuine, an unexpected gem with a selfless agenda, and with over 2 million views to date and piles of positive advocacy, its success speaks for itself.

You need to start by understanding the timely issues where brands can make a real difference. With the majority of families still suffering from financial difficulties, tackling the areas of unemployment and lack of personal empowerment is a particularly rewarding approach.  Jos. A. Bank’s risk free suit programme is a great case study; if you buy a suit and lose your job, you get your money back. Here it’s win-win for both the customer and the business. It wouldn’t work if the customer had to buy one of their more expensive suits to qualify, however, so make sure the details are always thought through.

More recently Casey Neistat took things into his own hands by turning an offer from 20th Century Fox to make a video about fulfilling your dreams into a true show of altruism. Neistat spent the whole video budget on a trip to the Philippines, in order to provide relief for those most affected by typhoon Haiyan, and demonstrated how scalable the concept is by receiving 2.7 million views in 1 month.

So why aren’t more brands doing this kind of thing already? Fox must be thinking they missed a trick. No doubt it’s because it can be difficult to justify making these bold moves without sales data to back them up. But that’s exactly what keeps brands repeating mediocrity, without ever achieving the success that individual good-doers seem to garner so easily.

Imagine a car company teaming up with a local council to fix potholes. Tweet images of potholes in your district and the car company will help to fund and fix them. Will this directly impact sales for the car company?


But will everybody love them not just talking about a common problem but doing something about it too?


As time goes on traditional ways of working will start to become less successful when compared to altruistic approaches. Young people are introduced to information and culture through the online networks and apps at a far younger age than ever before. There are plenty of campaigns talking at and around them, struggling to grab their attention even for only a moment. So looking to employ your brand in the service of another, more compelling story will soon become one of the biggest keys to success.

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