Friday, November 23, 2007

Buy Nothing Day

In honor of Buy Nothing Day, it seems a good time to take issue with the ways that charitable giving is often recast as mass-market consumption. As the author of Pink Ribbons, Inc. points out, appeals breast cancer have set the stage for other efforts at "cause marketing."

Now, cause marketers are taking advantage of the economy of attention that the Internet provides by trying to deliver "eyeballs" to online advertisers. Recently I was urged to visit The Breast Cancer Site, which promises a something-for-nothing way to "donate" by button-clicking past website sponsors. I tend to be wary of this kind of re-branding of feminist activism to fit familiar tropes of consumer capitalism. The site hawks breast cancer themed clothing, jewelry, and Christmas ornaments, and I was creeped out by the gender targeting of the external advertisers, who were pitching bras and pharmaceutical drugs.

Furthermore, I may be a cancer survivor myself, but I also don't like the way that complicated life stories that don't always have happy endings get reduced to a stock genre. Like many other former patients, I also don't know if it is appropriate even to use the language of "survivorship" at all.

The web page is organized with "tabs" with "survivors' stories," "supporters' stories," and a request page for more user-generated content running up and down the right margin and virtual file folders with other cause marketing efforts, such as "hunger," "child health," "literacy," "rainforest," and "animal rescue" oriented along the top of the page.

For those who want to give generously, instead I would recommend giving -- and really giving rather than simply donating your spectatorship -- to ArtSeed. The Executive Director of this program, Josefa Vaughan, was the one who plugged the breast cancer site to me, although her own cause of supporting community based art by low-income young artists much more genuinely merits support.

Update: For more on getting "eyeballs" in cause marketing efforts, see my review of the online serious game Free Rice in the new international social marketing blog Osocio.

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