Tuesday, July 8, 2008

DWBDG: a case study

Although they're not exactly the company that co-opted the motto "do no evil", Microsoft is channeling it's products toward good causes. From yogurt to magazines, cleaning detergents and Facebook apps, many for-profit companies have begun marketing their products under the DWBDG (do-well-by-doing-good) philosophy.

Microsoft's foray into this venue isn't exactly breaking news (the project began in 2007,) the i'm Initiative promises to donate a portion of advertising profits generated from the MSN Live Messenger and Live Hotmail products to various causes. Users do need to opt into the program in order to participate, and can then select a benefiting nonprofit partner.

Now what's really interesting is the way that Microsoft has begun promoting the i'm Initiative. Under the guidance of their PR/media/ad agency, McCann, a young, hip, urban blogger named "Parker Whittle" has started the i'm Talkathon, tracking the Initiative's progress and offering up success stories and conversation starters.

However, Parker's not a "he". He's a "they."

At the bottom of this deftly produced blog is an upfront disclaimer:

...As you’ve probably guessed, this blog is fictional, but the causes, and the i’m Initiative most certainly are not. The purpose of this blog is to raise awareness of the i’m Initiative and the worthy causes it helps. If we rubbed you the wrong way in the process that wasn’t our intention, so “sorry, our bad.”...A herd of well-compensated legal professionals in Redmond, Washington, says we also need to tell you something:

The Parker Whittle character depicted herein is fictitious and his activities are described for illustrative purposes only.

Okay, Microsoft, you pulled a fast one on us again. But knowing how the agency world works, I'm willing to bet that this idea originated in the head of a junior account exec and not within the Richmond city limits. The disclaimer itself is also pretty honest and does somewhat neutralize the blow of yet another manufactured blog/blogger.

Come on, it's 2008. I thought we were over this kind of bullsh*t! I thought we'd learned our lessons, moved on, become more innovative than that! Did they really have to undermine a potentially good campaign with a half-assed effort?

The final question remains, and is re-posed by the Disclaimer, Is the i'm Initiative really helping these partners and causes? A quick look around the i'm website reveals little transparency of the program, including the planned share of donated profits and to-date progress.

GOOD Magazine, on the other hand (to reference a for-profit with a similar initiative,) includes an upfront explanation of their motives and the business logic is sound--it makes sense for a paper publication. GOOD also shows the growth of their contributions on their website, making you feel like part of a greater whole and allowing you the gratification of "seeing" your contribution (extra Smart Marketing points for seamless real-to-digital integration.)

Sigh. Microsoft, Sometimes I want to root for you and I don't even know why I try. Maybe your motto should be "do no stupid."


Casey said...

Enlightening article, Liz. This Do Good marketing has become quite popular in recent months. In the environmental vertical, this kind of "fake" or insincere marketing is known as "greenwashing."

There should be a broader term for it to encompass all fake do good marketing - maybe "goodwashing" or "charity-taking-advantage-of" or perhaps just "false advertising" is sufficient.

Catsandbeer.com said...

Liz, all your points are well taken, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter because Parker (aka Da P-Whitt) is just so LOLtastically awesome (and 20-somethings slacker hip!)!

And look, he's branched out (to other sites - but never fear, he's still doing good and fighting the good i'm Initiative fight):

Guest Blogger: Parker Whittle!!!1


Liz said...

Hah, read the article--nasty. Oh, the wit! it cuts deep. Now the REAL real question is: where did he find that douchey hairstyle?