May 27, 2010

The rationality of altruism in brands

If you follow science journalism, chances are sooner or later you'll hit upon a discussion on the irrationality of altruism in people (and some animals). Evolutionists have tried to solve the conundrum by devoting scientific papers, books and entire careers to the problem. But the sense that it's still a mystery (and hence a bugbear to evolutionary theory) persists.

Contrast that with brands and altruism. Follow any marketing magazine or blog and you're likely to run into articles about how CSR pays and why brands should identify causes and make their contribution.You'll find abosultely no discourse about why it's irrational for brands to practice CSR. Simply because it isn't.

There are (or must be) perfectly valid reasons why we humans practice altruism despite its cost and irrationality. But this explanation is so obscured in a chain of logic and causation - and our own personal experiences that contradict scientific assertions - that it remains, in all but the most flagrantly obvious cases, a noble act. We feel the need to value and applaud it.

On the other hand, when brands practice CSR it is baffling only to a handful of people - and not for very long. What brands should remember is that when they start seeing a lot of head-scratching, career-making curiosity and books with titles like "The mystery behind why brand X practices CSR" (and half a dozen titles that dispute the findings) - then, and only then, are they practicing CSR.

Until that happens, it's just a case of investments and returns.
About the author:
Iqbal Mohammed is Head of Innovation & Strategy at a digital innovation agency serving the DACH and wider European markets. He is the winner of the WPP Atticus Award for Best Original Published Writing in Marketing & Communication.
You can reach him via email or Twitter.


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