A portion of this purchase will make you feel good

I’ve just about had it with “worthy” product tie-ins ( “a portion of this purchase will go to charity”) but I’ve felt like it’s such an obvious point that I’d let it lie.  And then today I came across a giant 6 page Bulgari ad in Vanity Fair.  I flip through six beautiful, stern, black-and-white photographs of movie stars I admire, starting with Isabella Rossellini, and quotations like “Let’s give children a chance for a better future,” and “Every child deserves and education.”  OK, you’ve gotten my attention.

On the 6th page there’s the heavy silver Lord of the Rings-esque ring each moviestar is wearing.  Buy a Bulgari “silver ring created especially for the campaign to support kids’ education…A portion of the proceeds will help to rewrite the future for millions of children” with money being given to Save the Children.Willem da Foe and Ben Stiller for Bulgari/Save the Children

A similar, recent charity tie-in that comes to mind is Product(Red), which,the NY Times reported last year, spent $100M on advertising to raise $18M for the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Malaria, and Tuberculosis.

Obviously I don’t have a problem with big companies donating to charity, nor do I think Save the Children is to blame since they do wonderful work and are absolutely worth supporting.  And kudos to the movie stars themselves for supporting a worthy cause.

It’s the “portion of the proceeds” piece that gets me.  Bulgari is apparently donating €1M and raising €9M through this campaign, and €50 out of the 290 cost of the ring will go to Save the Children.  They are also auctioning off an estimated $3M worth of jewelry, all of whose proceeds will go to Save the Children.  This from a company with more than €1 billion in revenues in 2008.

Yes, it’s a lot better than nothing.  But it is so much less than what we could do.  It’s a “no sacrifice” mentality.  Sure, it’s good for Save the Children, for awareness about the importance of education, and good for Bulgari.  But when I look at all the resources that went into this one Vanity Fair ad, I feel pretty sure that Save the Children is getting the crumbs left on the table.

For starters, as far as I can tell, the 6-page ad in Vanity Fair cost around $85,000 a page, or a total of $510,000 (this is my first time reading a rate card…someone correct me if I’ve got this wrong).  So I can’t help but worry that the donation will be a small piece of a much bigger pie.

Plus there’s something that doesn’t feel right about Bulgari customers, who by definition are ultra-wealthy, wearing a €300 ring to say “I am doing something to improve education for poor kids in the developing world,” and the total value of their donation to Save the Children is €50.

Finally, there’s a gut check question here:  It makes me queasy to think about a halo effect for an ultra-premium brand like Bulgari on the backs of poor kids in the developing world.

I’d like to see us set a very different bar, and charity:water gives us the example.  They allow you to buy a $20 bottle of water, with 100% of the proceeds going to charity.  Pay 10 times as much, because we all could do more and give more, and all the money goes to charity.  Giving is important, it’s not a free pass or a rounding error in your latest purchase.

If the 10x the price sets too high a bar, at the very least, let’s ask all the charity tie-ins to give the full cost of the product to the charity.  That should be the minimum.  It’s 100% transparent, it is more honest, and it forces the multinational to put some real skin in the game.  Plus, imagine what happens inside the company when they’re promoting the heck out of a product that doesn’t earn them one thin dime.  I bet they’d get more, not less, energy, enthusiasm, creativity and sacrifice.  People would be fighting to work on that project.

Could someone out there please create a “100% to charity” logo/brand/standard to set the bar here?

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