Charity As Advertising - 2006/03/10

Charity sees the need not the cause. - German Proverb

What actions do you think are associated with the word charity? Giving, selflessness, humility, sacrifice? Those all seem to fit, because they embody the very act of charity. If a family is in need for food, clothing, and shelter and someone helps them, that is charity. This help can come in many forms from working hard to train them to become self-reliant to merely cutting them a check. Charity boils down to the idea of giving.

Advertising is done almost for the complete opposite reason. In advertising money is spent, not on a product, but to make people want a product. The hope is that the money and work invested into the product will create a demand that offsets the cost of advertising and thus, you will net profit. Advertising is a very broad term. Companies use it in the form of commercials and billboards, people use it in the form of sexy clothes and hairstyles. In the end, advertising boils down to getting.

Even though they have different ends, they have very similar means. Most people fail to see the correlation, and some even get upset to hear that statement, but if you break them down you can see it. Charity requires money or work to help someone else--advertising requires money or work to help yourself. Both require money or work and both are an attempt to create an improvement. The only real difference is that where charity is to help others, advertising is to help one's self.

It's a common event for the upper class in our society to hold charity events. Basically, a bunch of "haves" get together to raise money for the "have nots". This is usually endorsed by a celebrity or business owner. Sure we call them charity events, but in reality they have much more in common advertising promotions.

Now granted, money exchanges hands, and the people who need money are usually getting it. And while that does make it charity by definition, it is also advertising. You may ask, how does getting a bunch of people together to raise money count as advertising? The answer is that the people giving away money aren't just there to help the less fortunate; they're there to be seen. They want others to see how they are giving away their precious hard-earned money to the poor and destitute. They are advertising themselves so that others will think of them as good people--true humanitarians. They are not giving money to the poor; they are investing in an advertising campaign that they hope will earn them or their company more business than what they gave away. Even worse than that, they get to feel self-righteous that they did a good deed, when in fact their whole motive was self gain.

Am I being unfair? Are all the people who attend charity dinners and concerts and dances hypocrites? Well, let me ask you this; was it really necessary to waste a bunch of money on a stage or an arena to get people to give away their money? Are the expensive dinners, wine, and cigars needed to mail a check? Shouldn't these people derive the same amount of satisfaction from sending the money anonymously? These people want to be seen. They want others to look up to them as heroes who saved the weak.

If a person helps build a house for the poor and doesn't ask anything in return, even recognition for the work, they are showing charity. If a person wants all eyes on them as they hand the check to the weak and lame, they are advertising.

I'm not trying to say there is anything wrong with advertising. It is a necessary business endeavor and people who are good at it should be proud. I am saying that people should be aware of those who would disguise advertising as charity and see their hypocrisy for what it is.

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