Citizen Activism in Social Cause Brands: Selfish or Altruistic?

This is really not so much about a brand taking up cudgels for a cause, but brands getting created for a common cause. Today, many such cause-led initiatives (brands) activated in cities often build up their momentum in the social media space. And as each cause gets a fan page, it needs the multiplication of fans to make itself a success.

Can we with few measurement tools evaluate the correlation between the number of fans and those that implement the cause they sign up for? Do these causes qualify to be run again and again? Does it matter how many fans are on the page as long as people take action?

With social cause initiatives, there is only so much that one can gather to understand their sweet spots.

Curiosity on another upcoming movement (dated 12th August 2010 in Mumbai) got me thinking. So I started browsing through the many initiatives. I picked up 2 other interesting concepts that have been implemented in the last couple of years. It brought some clarity to my thoughts. I just checked their Facebook fan pages (not necessarily the ideal measure) and read through their  fan scribbles to get a glimpse of how the common man/woman reacts to such initiatives.

I decoded two motives that drive traffic to join and possibly even implement them.

METER JAM (Message: Say no to rickshaws & taxis on 12th August, as they often randomly refuse to carry passengers, charge extra etc)

CAR FREE BANDRA (Mumbai Suburb / 2008 onwards) & BATTI BANDH (Switch of electricity for 1 hour / 2007 onwards)

On a cursory glance we can get a whiff of which cause accumulates maximum activists. Disappointments & the need to correct prevailing gaps, speaks louder than the altruistic need to start giving back to the environment. Undoubtedly both the Batti Bandh & Car Free Bandra initiatives evoked many interested people in the offline world. It possibly also did hand hold people who were looking for a motive to finally take positive action & break inertia. They may have felt really good at the end of it too.

What’s attracting large followers though, seems to be a cause linked to ‘self’. So possibly ‘cleaning up one’s home before we clean up the environment’, is most likely the chosen path. Of course a mere glimpse of some social media data, is not enough to come to such sweeping conclusions. But what does emerge is that, the age-old ‘role in life’ question needs to be asked irrespective of whether one is marketing a product, service or social cause brand.

‘WHAT IS IN IT FOR ME’ deserves an answer?

I could assume then that scores of Indians may have asked the same question before they aligned themselves to the Salt Satyagraha movement (& the march that followed) with Mahatma Gandhi. And as if it were the handiwork of some celestial being, millions of these strong-willed Indians seemed to have wanted one thing in common: LIBERATION.

Was it Selfishness or Altruism? Or both?

What could have have been the Facebook fan following for this movement way back in 1930 I wonder?

Today channels of communication abound. People are unafraid to speak their mind. If citizen activism needs to swell up for a social cause brand, then possibly it’s important to dissolve a deep-seated fear/angst or then celebrate a deep-rooted virtue.

Both can drive action. But what turns a spark into an inferno is anyone’s guess. I think it’s often something that causes that ache in the heart and fire in the belly.

What do you think?

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  1. Cause led branding has fronted many companies born out of the capitalist regime long before the explosion of social media. Some fine examples dominated people and their consumption habits. Many of these causes were not linked to their lives. So is altruism linked to people’s progress and affluence as opposed to countries which are still developing? Where accumulation of wealth means looking outward to assuage a guilt versus seeking a solution for self.

    One of the most successful brands that was built on a cause was Body Shop. Most women took comfort as they made up. Kraft used social media last year to get traction on their facebook home page. Their bait was a donation of 6 meals to hungry families for every user added. Apparently they managed to donate millions of meals. Now that’s the catch. Body Shop kept their promise through its independent life cycle. Kraft was a short drive for consumer advocacy. Resurrected sometime back.

    I think more than the cause itself, sustainability is key. All cause-led marketing must mobilize business and be long term. Else it stays a selfish initiative. Undertaken by the marketeer’s completely selfish move to become a case study.

    • freshbrew team |

      Thank You Richard. I find the point on wealth comparison quite insightful. It’s true that scores of social cause led brands, have kept themselves in the news merely with a whiff of ‘goodness’.

      I would like to throw in another view, on the fans who sign up for these initiatives. Are they sending a message out to create a space for their egos or fulfilling the need for purposeful living. I guess it works both ways right? Need to finally get a solution to a tiresome angst AND the need to chest thump.

      At a societal level it needs real passion to get started. But at a brand level the above two sides that play the mind, may have to be noted to ensure business success.

  2. Social causes like MeterJam have more followers because yes, it’s something that directly affects a way of life and causes angst,frustration and is a pain point on a daily basis. Yes, it is true when it comes to altruistic causes, it’s a choice issue and does not ignite the same kind of raw emotion that personal (not selfish) causes do.

    • freshbrew team |

      Raw emotion is quite personal I do agree. In this case I meant selfish as a contrast to altruistic. It’s the time when personal turns into an unadulterated need for self fulfillment. And giving hardly matters.

  3. Personally speaking to me its neither altruistic nor Selfish but something which is borne out of our inability to stand up in the real world and express our point of view or protest.In the online space all that one needs to do is just register online and viola you are also counted as somebody who has registered their protest. But it needs courage and grit extraordinary to really stand up in the real world. If this were to be organised offline how many of us will take the trouble to go and participate in protests ? Fundamentally all of us break rules … how many of us jump signals, drive or ride on the wrong side of the road, take a U turn right under the nose of a direction board which says No U Turn etc etc ? So whats the big deal of Taxi’s not downing the meter ? Will one day protest change things ? Nobody is bothered after that. The same guys who registered take the taxi / autos without arguing the next day….. And what you get is a sarcasm from the drivers. So whats the difference it brings to the table ? Unless there is perseverance and the courage to face all obstacles no social brand can bring about a change. Dandi March is a case in example. Inspite of Lathi Charges our freedom fighters stood firm… they faced the brunt of the attack on ground not virtually and thats what made a huge difference and created a ripple effect across the nation.

    • freshbrew team |

      Agreed that such initiatives are effective only when implemented. I can’t comment on the numbers but I did read about the success of Batti Bandh & Car Free Day albeit among a select populi. Whatever be the outcome, what’s worth evaluating is the apparent difference in the numbers given the same online space.

      The reality may be just that in our world today, no cause-led brands have really touched the rawest emotions. The ones that managed to shake us up a bit, atleast found a decent fan following to begin with. Or then maybe we are just too selfish & self obsessed to care about what doesn’t directly affect us.

      Altruism or then the Dandi March needs a powerful trigger to get started. That is, once we are tired of the mirror.

      Looking forward to 12th Aug in the real world. Will keep you posted.

      • freshbrew team |

        Hi Anbu. As promised I’m posting an update. I can’t decode exactly how many people participated in the Meter Jam effort. I heard murmurs at an evening out today, that it had good PR. But I am impressed with the Minister meeting these young folks who started this. Also it did get the Taxi & Auto Assoc to notice and give sound bytes to media, that acknowledged the existence of a problem. Good starting point I think.

        I am also given to believe that this could be used as and when there is a some serious issues posed by these drivers. We just wait and watch I’d say.


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