Corporate philanthropy. Oxymoron or force for good?
By its very nature, a corporation cannot be altruistic. A corporation, no matter how many altruistic or philanthropic individuals it employs, is a capitalist construct. It must make a profit or die.
And while I understand that a great deal of cause-related marketing begins with sincerity and a desire to help on the part of an individual or group of individuals, the combination of product marketing with charitable giving will always be more about the marketing and less about the charitable cause. How could it be otherwise?
When people ask me what’s wrong with corporate pink ribbon campaigns to raise awareness of breast cancer, it’s hard to sum up a response that’s clear and concise. It’s a complicated issue, one I’ve been writing about here for most of the past month, trying to examine it from multiple perspectives. Someone leaves a private comment asking, “What’s so wrong with Yoplait’s pink lid campaign? If just one woman looks at that lid and is reminded that it’s time for her annual mammogram, follows through and schedules it, isn’t that worthwhile?”
My answer is that, more likely than not, that one woman will fit a marketing profile that the corporation is hoping to attract and keep with positive brand association, a customer with purchasing power to enhance the corporation’s bottom line. That one woman is likely to be white, middle or upper-class, well-educated and in possession of health insurance.
Think about it. The entire thrust of “awareness” campaigns is to remind women to do regular self-exams and to get a mammogram. See your doctor and get a mammogram. Early detection, we’re told again and again, saves lives. But is that last statement really true? Or, does early detection only lengthen the amount of time a woman lives with the knowledge that she has breast cancer, all the while being subjected to debilitating and disfiguring medical treatments? Are we increasing our risk of breast cancer by subjecting ourselves to the radiation of mammography?
These are credible questions that some researchers have started to raise, but the establishment medical community that profits from a steady stream of insured patients entering the system via mammography testing, and continuing through CT scans, biopsies, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy and expensive drug treatments – is not likely to ask itself. That established medical community includes the manufacturers of medical equipment, x-ray film, big pharmaceutical companies, and the like.
When so much money for breast cancer is raised by corporations with a competing interest in maintaining the status-quo in cancer detection and treatment, what happens to the voices of dissent? The voices calling for new approaches? The voices urging more funding to discover the causes of breast cancer so that women are spared from ever getting it in the first place?
Today’s approach to breast cancer is two-fold: personal responsibility (self-exams, healthy lifestyle, early detection, positive attitude, cheerful survivor) and medical treatment (surgery, radiation, drugs). Both aspects are important, but why have we limited ourselves to these approaches alone?
How much of the money raised by encouraging women to shop for pink ribbon products is going to organizations or researchers concerned with the socio-economic aspects of breast cancer? How about research into possible connections between environmental pollution and breast cancer?
The answer is that not enough money is being directed towards breast cancer prevention, and that is largely because we have allowed corporations to have undue influence over where and how charitable dollars are directed in this fight. Take a closer look at the interconnectedness of big corporate giving and their recipients and I guarantee you you will not like what you see.
Then again, you can choose not to look and just go to the mall. Corporate America is literally banking on the laudanum effects of shopping to keep us from raising some political hell.