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Holiday Brand Philanthropy & Why It Backfires

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

The holiday season is the time of year when companies pull out all the stops and try to look as generous and philanthropic as possible. The Salvation Army is giving you dirty looks, everyone you've ever met is sending you cards and candy canes (or chocolate if you're lucky).

However, not every brand pulls off that warm fuzzy feeling due to increasing consumer skepticism.

Why Brand Philanthropy Backfires: Generosity, Loyalty, and Trustworthiness

Generosity from your brand begets generosity from your customers, but brand philanthropy backfires when consumers see through it. Generosity can come in the form of free gifts, matching a donation, donating proceeds, and more. These can also increase brand trust. People like buying from brands that have a nice personality and make them feel good. However, sincerity is of utmost importance. For example, only 44% of people think charitable chief executives are trustworthy this is considered as untrustworthy as bankers. These days, it is very common for good causes to be seen as mere marketing ploys. Everybody is trying to look good because it is an important marketing move, but being coming across as disingenuous will hurt far more than some mediocre philanthropy will help.

As far as holiday marketing goes, however, giving a free gift to your customer or donating some proceeds is a pretty safe way to get people to think, "oh that's nice," and your giving will quite possibly incentivize them to give more to you. Make sure it's subtle and not overdone, especially if you are donating. When it's overdone this is called "causewashing," and a great example is the pink breast cancer ribbon being placed on foods that contained carcinogens. Yikes.

In today's market, we are oversaturated with choices and products. So what is the tipping point as to whether we will purchase from one brand over the next? Brand personality is a big deal, especially to the younger generation. When given a choice, many young consumers are opting for the more charitable, eco-friendly, or humanitarian option. Being charitable and conscious as a brand can increase loyalty. You want purchasing from your brand to make a consumer feel good. Buying from a local charitable brand feels a lot better than not, so it is essential to be an upstanding brand and to truly embody that.

Tips for Authentic Giving as a Brand

1. Find a cause you and your coworkers passionate about. If you have a strong "why," it will come more naturally

2. Industry relevance. Support a cause that not only makes sense to you, but makes sense to your audience. It will likely be a cause that they too want to support since it is of similar interest.

3. Show dedication. Do sufficient research into the cause, and come up with creative ways to give back that go beyond just donating.

4. Create lasting partnerships. If your brand helps out a charity longer term, it is clearly a sustainable relationship and not a farce in the eyes of customers. Not to mention, over time you can make a really big difference to that organization, which can be really amazing to see.

This is also not meant to discourage giving by any means! The objective is thoughtful giving. After all, brand success can go hand-in-hand with philanthropic success. If a brand has a partner they donate to, but nobody believes that it is authentic, the brand will suffer but so will the recipient. Happy Holidays!


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