Charity Through Consumerism

Successful marketing campaigns are essential when framing health issue campaigns; well-known examples of this include the pink campaign for breast cancer and Product Red for HIV/AIDS. Although using consumerism has helped to fund these important causes, I wonder if the entanglement between charity and consumerism has begun to manipulate our thinking.[1]

Breast cancer, for example, not only has it’s own month of awareness (October) but has also taken root in shopping malls and football stadiums. Bracelets and t-shirts are sold with witty slogans, such as “Save the Boobies” and “Fight Like a Girl”, NFL teams wear pink gloves and goal posts are painted pink for games in October; all to promote awareness and raise funds for breast cancer research. Similarly, Product Red markets various products as charitable purchases; these products range from beverages to clothing to baby strollers and computers. For each item supported by Product Red that is purchased, up to 50% of the sale goes to the Global Fund to fight AIDS.

The marketing campaigns of both of these causes have aided in successfully raising millions of dollars from the private sector. During these turbulent financial times, it is necessary for these charities to continue to ensure their budgetary needs are met and utilizing the private sector is helping to secure their funding. What is concerning to me about the consumer driven charity model is that people believe that they are doing good simply by fulfilling their consumerist needs. Is this truly a philosophical model that we want to pass down to our children- that you can fulfill ethical duties to others by satisfying your own materialistic want/needs?

Critics of my argument may say that there is nothing wrong with this consumerism- if you are going to buy a cup or coffee, then why not buy a cup that helps others? This is a valid point, and one that I don’t necessarily disagree with. My concern is the philosophy behind the act rather than the act itself. Yes, if you would already be buying product X then you may as well buy the version that supports a good cause; the problem arises if that person feels that he has fulfilled his ethical obligation to help others through said purchase. Buying a Product Red IPod is not the same as volunteering time a soup kitchen or shelter.

The values that underlie these types of charitable projects need to be reinforced. Although people’s motivations cannot necessarily be altered, we should strive to strengthen the ideals of helping others because it is the right thing to do, not because it gets you a new IPod. Maybe this is too philosophically idealistic of me but I hope that we, as a society, can work towards helping others because it is an ethical imperative and not because it fulfills a materialistic void.


[1] I shall not get into the problems of how these organizations are run and the way the money is spent during this posting (maybe that will be a blog post topic at a later date).


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