Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Even the most relatively egalitarian of Thanksgiving weekend’s big three shopping days — Small Business Saturday — is, for retailers, about profit (just like the other two). Good deals, good products? Sure. Good feelings (beyond the brief high of shopping)? Not so much.
As the dust settles on that triumvirate of full-scale retail immersion, consumers may awake in the dawn light of the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving with pangs of regret for their own spend-heavy behavior … and also not look too kindly on the brands that were complicit in it.
Launched by the 92nd Street Y in New York in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, Giving Tuesday was born when Henry Timms, the Y’s executive director, sought to rectify the disconnect felt by consumers between the wholesomeness of Thanksgiving and the buy-buy-buy onslaught in the three days following. The solution was to dedicate a day immediately after Cyber Monday (ergo, the first Tuesday of December) to focus on giving — and going big with it, utilizing social media to make the generosity being enacted by individuals and groups as visible as possible, spreading the word — through the hashtagged name itself — about the very event in the process.
It’s been a successful venture, having grown to include more than 30,000 partners in 68 countries, with charities of all sizes available for consumers to donate to and, ideally, cure some of their ills related to the preceding three-day spending spree.
But while it’s all well and good for holiday shoppers to undertake a little soul-cleansing by giving money to charitable causes rather than exchanging it for shiny new toys, don’t forget that brands themselves — the ones that, in all likelihood, reaped serious profit from selling those shiny new toys on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — could be well-served by getting on board with #GivingTuesday and showing the world, through social commerce, that they care about more than just their cash registers.
And this year, a number of big brands did exactly that.
Through Dec. 7, Old Navy will donate $1 to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America every time a consumer shares an #UNselfie (a selfie of a person with his or her favorite charitable cause) on social media (and tags it with @oldnavy). PayPal, meanwhile, will add 1 percent to any donation made through its platform until Dec. 31.
Retail TouchPoints shares an additional number of examples whereby companies took the opportunity of the most recent Giving Tuesday to put a little shine on themselves:
Kohl’s promoted its line of $5 Kohl’s Cares items, 100 percent of the profits from which go toward children’s health initiatives in the U.S., while also donating $1 for every purchase made in-store or online on Dec. 1 to Toys for Tots (up to $100,000).
Walgreens doubled down on its year-round Get a Shot, Give a Shot program for the day, wherein getting an immunization shot at a Walgreens or Duane Reade pharmacy was matched with two equivalent vaccines being donated to a child in need (the rest of the year, it’s a one-to-one ratio).
JC Penney straight up donated $100,000 to Boys & Girls Clubs of America this past Tuesday, as well as hosting shopping sprees for more than 500 children from local chapters of the organization at events that featured prizes for the children and appearances by local celebrities and athletes.
Even the founder of a social media brand itself — arguably the original social media brand (no offense to any MySpace purists) — took the opportunity to promote his (and, by extension, his brand’s) altruism on a day that represents a conversion of charity and social commerce, with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, folding into the announcement of their daughter’s birth the fact that they will donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares (“currently about $45 billion”) to charitable endeavors during their lives.
Still, not everyone is viewing brands’ participation in Giving Tuesday as genuinely selfless behavior. “Don’t Use Your Child As A Business Opportunity” was the title of Deadspin’s retort to Zuckerberg’s open letter, while outlets such as NPR and The Huffington Post have openly questioned the validity of the charities involved — as well as the timing of the event, given that many people make donations in December because it’s their last chance to get the resultant tax deduction — and it’s a skepticism that is not without legitimacy. After all, the act of donating money is something that, objectively speaking, puts an individual in a positive light, and the same goes for organizations. Could it be said that such a result is sought by a brand acting charitably? Perhaps. At the very least, it’s certainly not unwelcome by those parties.
Whether brands participated in #GivingTuesday out of sheer altruism, or if they are seeking to reposition themselves — so soon after the biggest commerce weekend of the year — as “good guys” (as opposed to “money-hungry corporations”), what cannot be denied about the event, now in its fourth year, is how it speaks to the power of social commerce.
Social platforms are fueled by the fact that users — individuals and brands alike — want to share with the world what they’re doing — and that often involves spending money (being at a concert or event, going on vacation, or buying a new pair of shoes). Intentional or not, that kind of business begets more business — and charity, even though it’s only a one-way transaction, is still a form of commerce. And if sharing that kind of transaction is going to get you more “likes” and reshares — or, in the case of brands, more attention that translates into sales — who can really be faulted for it?
After all, it’s the season of giving.
Or … at least it was the day of #giving, that one day of the year, earlier this week.