May 22, 2010

Capitalistic footing

Have your prestige seeking teens asked you to shell out $58.00 for a pair of painted canvas shoes? Not yet? Soon….

The feel good feeling is that for every pair of shoes YOU purchase, a pair of shoes is placed on the feet of a deserving orphan in Ethiopia or other remote location. And then Tom’s will provide clean drinking water to people in Ethiopia. Boy, don’t you feel good about buying Tom’s shoes? It’s like tossing some coins into the Salvation Army bucket every Christmas, isn’t it?

NOPE, it’s you (we) being handled by the oldest marketing strategy in the book…catch a rising trend.

Ponder. You (we) buy one pair and another pair is provided to someone else….how is this any different than paying double for health care so that the slothy slouch unemployed crack head can walk in and get a gunshot wound taken care of pronto, while your(my) broken hip waits in the emergency waiting room? Well…. the orphans in Ethiopia aren’t crack heads, but you get the financial implications, right?

Note, that Tom’s is a FOR-PROFIT entity. You get that part, right? Do you wonder where Tom’s shoes are manufactured? Uh-huh. w/e

We are surrounded by people pursuing “social entrepreneurship” as making a mark in the world. Social entrepreneurship is often a cover for any business that catches a rising trend and capitalizes on same. The trends that Tom’s enjoys? Green, sustainability, cause related marketing. The best business schools in the country now offer fields of study and academic majors in social entrepreneurship! These are the same business schools that create CEO’s and MBA’s and Enrons.

Think PINK lids from Yoplait. Send in your lids, Yoplait gives some cash to the Susan Komen Breast Cancer foundation. They can write that off as a charitable contribution, you member that from Accounting 101, then they get what? (oaky, lots of envelopes of sour stinky pink lids with crusty yogurt)the asset - Goodwill!

Then Robin or George from GMA calls them to be featured on a satellite media tour to publicize all their feel good work. In the end, they take the lids to the incinerator/recycle bin and the profits to the bank. ..Additional profits, because those pink lids increase sales.

Most social entrepreneurships will categorize themselves as Not-for-profit. Better. Still not selfless.

I once sat rather uncomfortably in the home of a director of a Save the Bay not- for-profit. Yep, this home sat squarely in the heart of overpriced historical homes in Annapolis. It was flawless, decadent, ostentatious and overflowing weekly with thousands of dollars of fresh flowers. The stay at home mommy required a full time nanny so she could volunteer for the world’s work in the Jr. League –not the soup kitchen- . I recall the director’s salary was somewhere to the tune of $350,000 per year, not to mention ALL those sailing trips he took around the globe to see how other commercial waterways were able to stay pure what with all the cargo ships pulling in from China. Be sure to tally up the numerous speaking engagements where his honorarium fee was, well, you start to see his financial sacrificing for the better of society.

So, I just placed a couple of pairs of Toms’ shoes in my cart and they should be on their way to Cincinnati very soon. And somewhere in the world a couple of people I will never meet will get shoes. But I didn’t buy them to feel good about that, I bought them because my friend gave me a tip that they are the latest must have teen fashion accessory and I am a conspicuous consumer, who, when I can afford it, likes to buy things that elevate social status. Tom’s knows this too.

Clearly I envy the Save the Bay Dude for being so convincingly selfless- or confession, his wife’s ability to improve her tennis doubles game-she was prob a debutante double major in the romance languages from Dartmouth- He’s probably sailing in Australia right now, taking some water samples.

I don’t admire Blake Mycoskie because he puts shoes on people’s feet or encourages people to walk around for a day without shoes; I admire Blake because he is one hell of a capitalist and readily admits he is in business for profit.

After all, business is a metaphorical amazing race.


  1. A pal just suggested that these cause related marketers offer consumers an opting out of social responsibility list price...that would be an interesting study for an ABD.

  2. I completely agree with your larger point, that cause related marketing is brilliant marketing but an inefficient way to support your favorite cause. If I want to support breast cancer research, I can make my own donation to the Susan B. Komen foundation, rather than buying a bucket of KFC.

    However, I want to address the aside on health insurance, because it sounds as if you owe thanks to the Democrats in Congress who passed the Affordable Health Care Act. Our insurance payments have ALWAYS covered the uninsured. Emergency rooms in public hospitals have always been required to serve patients regardless of whether they are insured -- so you and I have always been paying for that. Now, everyone who can afford insurance is required to purchase it, AND insurance will be required to cover preventative care, both of which attempt to relieve you of the cost of care for the uninsured.

    On the other hand... I can assure you that even at University Hospital, on a Saturday night when the emergency room was so full that people were waiting in the hallways, a middle-class girl with a broken hip got treated so quickly that the breathless nurse was still taking her medical history as the orderlies wheeled her to the operating room. I'm guessing THAT won't change.