“Transparency forces philanthropy, philanthropy is well received, philanthropy is expected/required, fixing world problems becomes the norm. Boom.”
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Several weeks ago, in this liberal column, I laid some groundwork on how companies could be part of the solution to large political, social and economic problems that exist today. Most of the time I find that they are the problem, but that really isn’t true, nor is it fair. The argument is rooted in the idea that companies, as they face greater exposure to the public via the Internet all around you, are forced to take into account their image in addition to their product. Conceptually, the invisible hand of the market is supposed to even the playing field through competition, but I asserted that perhaps this idea of the hand is incorrect. Rather than companies competing against each other as what drives the the equalization of the market, it is the consumers’ interest in values and actions of the company that are now more a part of the sales process than the products or services they sell. This newfound focus on values and actions pushes companies to be a part of the solution — this should be the effect of the invisible hand.
Most anyone will tell you that this is effective marketing and branding, where if a person identifies with the values of the company, they’ll be more likely to purchase the product. But what if a company begins philanthropic work in order to make the brand look better in the eyes of the public, and what results is a fundamental shift in the in the way the company approaches its own values? Additionally, what if the initial reason, made by executives, behind this positive branding is to increase sales, but the people that create and work on the philanthropic project are truly invested in what they are doing? Does this make it any more or less ethical?
There are some pretty fascinating examples of major companies starting to do some small humanitarian project, and it evolving into something much bigger. Take for instance and idea had by Simon Berry, called ColaLife. When bottles of Coke are sent around the world, they are sent in crates with a lot of unused space. Because of the design of the bottle, there is no efficient way to transport mass quantities without having that space, and that is when Berry had an idea. Why not use that space send packages of medicine and other essential needs to countries that needed them? What is really interesting is that he had this idea back in 1980, but was only able to get it off of the ground in 2008 when he shared it on the Internet.
Fast forward to this year, and you can find something that was born out of the idea behind ColaLife. Coca-Cola, partnering with other companies like IBM and UPS, calls it EKOCENTER, and it’s pretty much a blown up version of its small crate predecessor. Essentially it is an entire cargo container filled with basic needs; medicine, clean water, electricity and other products that are difficult to get access to in remote parts of the world. Somehow, in those remote parts, Coca-Cola sends its soda and where it sends its soda, it can send these crates.
If some executive of Coca-Cola, before green-lighting these projects, said, “Well damn, I bet that would make us look really good!” does that detract at all from the good these projects do? I would like to say no, simply because as these philanthropic ventures grow and companies jump at the chance to better their public image, perhaps this concern for philanthropy will permeate throughout the company. If it becomes standard business practice to find innovative ways to fix problems even for the sake of branding, slowly over time, this is what both consumers and people in the company will come to expect. Expectations in this case will breed a shift in mentality, and that is the invisible hand.
Transparency forces philanthropy, philanthropy is well received, philanthropy is expected/required, fixing world problems becomes the norm. Boom.
Even more recently, Coca-Cola has decided to go even bigger. Beginning Nov. 18, all advertising for the company is being put on hold so that its funds for ads can go to relief efforts in the Philippines after the typhoon. Additionally, the company donated more than $2.5 million to the relief already.
This is Zachary Antoyan, trying to avoid spending multiple nights in the library … What am I talking about, I brought a sleeping bag. Have a fantastic week.