doing ‘good’?

Companies need to be seen to be nicer than they used to be. Now it’s not enough to slide a few grand to charity or employ some disabled people; now you have to create full-scale, massive, constant niceness and, most importantly, tell everyone about it.

This new state of affairs leaves me somewhat torn: is it a little off-putting that companies now appear to be jumping on the good deeds bandwagon just at the point where we might like them less (and use them less, and give them less money), or do the good ends justify the means, whatever the purity of the motivation? Or have the people behind these giant organisations suddenly realised, apropos of nothing, that being of benefit to the world is something worthy of their time, money and effort?

Take this, for instance: Samsung kindly uses your excess phone power to help cure cancer. Is this the result of Samsung’s altruism or is it part of a larger effort to get people to like, and therefore buy, Samsung? Does altruism even exist, and if not, what is motivating Samsung here?

This article suggests that… Altruistic acts are self-interested, if not because they relieve anxiety, then perhaps because they lead to pleasant feelings of pride and satisfaction; the expectation of honor or reciprocation; or the greater likelihood of a place in heaven; and even if neither of the above, then at least because they relieve unpleasant feelings such as the guilt or shame of not having acted at all.

As someone who doesn’t believe in right or wrong, but instead in the workability of a situation, I have to say that this seems like a perfectly good way of attempting to relieve pain and misery. Does it make Samsung’s phones any better? Does it make you like them more? Does it matter? The answers to those questions slip almost unnoticed into the world of branding: if Samsung’s brand is composed of so many deliberate or unintended messages and elements then this effort is just one, along with this post, their sponsorship of Chelsea FC and their strange ads that involve street urchins and Lionel Messi:

In a post-No Logo world it feels that CSR is now an essential part of a corporation’s offering, but it can sometimes seem that they are glossing over a lot of bad behaviour with a bit of good. I wonder if Nike would have stopped the sweat shops and tiny wages if such policies hadn’t become so public and unpopular. Is this just a macro version of doing (voluntary) community service after you’ve been caught beating up old ladies?

In finding a conclusion about this, the really tricky thing is choosing what you think of as something to hold against a company; after all, they all do something you could interpret as negative (or positive).

Pay your money (or don’t) and take your choice.