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Tide's iPod absurdity

Posted by: Jessi Hempel on May 24, 2007

Rob Walker says he makes a real effort to avoid aggressively logoed merchandise. I don’t. But here’s something we have in common. we think this is hot:

Tide's iPod

I’d carry this anytime over U2’s branded iPod. Maybe it’s because the iPod is prominently situated next to hip-looking vintage t-shirts on Tide’s Web site. Maybe it’s because the iPod giveaway (and it is indeed yet another iPod giveaway) and t-shirt sale is for a good cause: Give loads of hope to New Orleans Today, says the site. (Though I’m not sure what that means on first read.) But more likely, it’s because this iPod is so absurd that it is seemingly making fun of itself. And that’s fashionable.

Rob’s writes the Consumed columnn in the NYT Sunday Magazine, and he keeps a smart blog.

Reader Comments

Pete Mortensen

May 29, 2007 1:03 PM

I have to admit, I'm pretty torn about the Tide iPod (a nano, from the looks of it). It's stylish, and the intent of a project to bring new homes to New Orleans is one I can get behind, but something about it feels a bit too much of a put-on.

Call me cynical, but the maximum output of buying Tide vintage T-shirts will be 10 houses in New Orleans. To me, this reflects something deeply wrong with a lot of corporate social responsibility efforts. Rather than making a donation of a share of profits to a cause a routine part of business or, better still, part of the business plan, companies mark a donation to charity as an extraordinary event.

In this case, it's worse. The donation is framed up as dependent on the actions of ordinary people to buy these houses, but then an artificial limit is placed on the money that can be raised. No matter how many t-shirts get purchased, 10 houses will be built in New Orleans. Why involve outside people in that process at all. It's a mistake Fox executives recently made on American Idol. They vowed to donate 10 cents per vote on the "Idol Gives Back" episode -- up to $5 million. Well, what about the extra votes? I think they ended up with nearly 80 million phone calls, but the company grew no more generous on behalf of their eager callers.

I don't know if this is cynical, exactly, but it implies that companies take contributions they could manage on their own anyway -- we can build 10 houses, we can afford to donate $5 million -- and then come up with a game so that people feel like they're part of a social cause. I imagine, at some point, this kind of ruse will lead to a backlash. If I'm buying a shirt that will have a social impact, do I get upset and demand my dollars back if my purchase comes after the cap has been reached?

People can sense when they're being manipulated, and this strikes me as a dangerous line to walk. When contrasted against the business model of the Product RED lines or of Tom's Shoes, which sends a free pair of shoes to a needy child in South America every time they sell a pair to a well-off customer, it's pretty clear that these one-offs reflect a very constrained view of the potential for social good to lead to good business.

Still, I do like the Tide iPod. Anyway to get a partnership with Apple going ala the (iPod)RED so that every purchase means dollars for New Orleans, not just up to the first 10 houses?

(Originally posted to Better Than New)

Jessi Hempel

May 29, 2007 5:06 PM

I agree with you Pete. Not sure if I made it clear in the post, but I'm OVER cause-marketing at the moment. Too much. Even the kids in my Park Slope neighborhood hawk their lemonade on hot weekends to the cry of "Lemonade for New Orleans!" or some such. I don't pay attention to the details anymore. I assume with every product promising social good these days that the "good" is a marketing scheme. And I'm not into it.

(I like the iPod because it's orange and that's hot. And it says "Tide" and that's weird.)

Pete Mortensen

May 29, 2007 6:28 PM

Teaches me to post without coffee. Orange iPods with the Tide logo are hot. It's a shame they can't just come out and sell it, but that's trademark law, I guess.

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