Care2 members sometimes ask me about our corporate advertising policy. In an attempt to provide more transparency and an open forum for discussion, I’ve outlined (in a rather lengthy post...) our approach below. Fundamentally, I see two important opportunities with respect to advertising on Care2:
1. Support the transition to more sustainable business models.
2. Pay the bills.
Let’s face it, corporations have tremendous power in society – but only as much as we as a Society give them – so Care2 has a great opportunity with our 8 million members (as “Conscious Consumers” ) to help move companies, and society, in a more sustainable direction. We can influence both Supply and Demand, through who we choose to work with, as well as by supporting more informed personal actions and empowering collective action. While advertising is just a piece of the overall puzzle, it’s important because it has direct impact and it also reflects our values.
How does advertising help Care2 make the world a better place?
Our advertisers make it possible for Care2 to provide free services (such as email, e-cards, newsletters, healthy living tips/recipes, opportunities to connect with people who share common interests, petitions, click to donate races and many other ways to make a difference) and open our doors every morning. Keeping our services free is key to achieving our goal to reach and engage the broadest possible audience to live healthier, sustainable lifestyles.
The role of corporate advertisers on the Care2 website is very similar to advertisers in other forms of media: newspapers, magazines, radio and television. However, where we differ is that we seek out companies with products that are better for personal health and more sustainable than what is typically available in the market. While accepting a sponsorship is not an endorsement of the product or company, we strive to find products and services that are appealing to our members who are looking for healthy and sustainable options and are consistent with our (collective) values.
Note: An underlying premise you’ll see throughout this post is that we believe Care2’s “Big Opportunity” to change the world is to engage mainstream society. There are many organizations doing fantastic work helping the greenest folks be even more green – and we applaud, and support, many such organizations. But we believe our particular model will have its biggest impact by embracing the hundreds of millions of mainstream consumers and helping them live more sustainable lifestyles.
Are all Care2 advertisers Environmentally and Socially Responsible?
Yes and No. I believe the notion of “Environmental and Social Responsibility” is really an ongoing journey rather than a destination.
The definition of “responsible” is both ever changing and highly subjective, so by that standard no company (or nonprofit for that matter) is 100% socially and eco responsible. So, if not 100% responsible, then where does the boundary lie? 95%? 90%? 80%? And by who’s standard shall that be judged?
Thus, I believe the only practical answer is to judge companies by their commitment to the journey toward responsibility. i.e. Is the company demonstrating a genuine commitment toward making products and services more sustainable? If they are, I think it’s appropriate to recognize this, and support such progress.
What about companies that are in polluting industries or are not demonstrating a corporate-wide commitment toward responsibility?
This is an area where I tend to see fairly divergent views even among well-informed, highly committed people. It’s basically a carrot vs stick debate. The carrot folks believe that by working with a corporation, you can help pull it along in the right direction. The stick folks believe that you boycott and basically shame a company into doing the right thing. There are “success” stories on both sides, and of course organizations often use a combination of both strategies.
The third approach, common even among our colleagues in the socially responsible business space, is to be entirely neutral – i.e. accept all advertising – because few of us have the means to effectively screen all companies and products. While I appreciate the realities of business, that’s not the approach we at Care2 want, and we’ve heard loud and clear from our members you too expect us to be more than just “neutral” participants.
Thus, we use the carrot approach on the advertising side for three primary reasons:
1. I’m a big believer in engaging / communicating, but it goes beyond that. Businesses are major contributors to the problems we face – and thus they are also uniquely powerful in their potential to effect positive change. I call it “the jujutsu approach”: rather than try to block companies head on and stop them, we try to pull them forward to redirect all of that energy toward a positive outcome.
2. I’ve never met a corporation that is all good or all bad. In fact, I’ve never met “a corporation”. Corporations are made up of individuals, and within every major pollution spewing company there are usually some very good people working from within trying to move the company in a more responsible direction. I believe we should support the sustainability champions within these corporations to help them prove there is strong demand for a more sustainable direction.
3. Consumption of resources is where the rubber meets the road. So, if we can focus primarily on the product and secondarily on the Company, we can strip out most questions of intent and so many other factors that complicate the picture. All things equal, I’d rather buy a more sustainable product than a less-sustainable alternative, even if the supplier isn’t my favorite. And, no, I’m not someone who believes the answer is to simply say “don’t consume.” Of course consuming less is part of the solution, and Care2 has lots and lots of information and actions related to that, but if we don’t help consumers purchase more responsibly, I believe we’re not going to have as profound an impact on mainstream society.
At the end of the day, big corporations are going to move toward the profits. And that’s often a good thing when it comes to reducing costs, using less resources, creating superior solutions, etc. And if we can help educate and inspire consumers about greener alternatives, companies will follow the money and move in that more sustainable direction.
What kind of companies does Care2 not allow to be advertisers?
One of our most important commitments to our members is to not allow deceptive advertising or harmful products on our site. We will not accept advertising for gambling, pornography, alcohol, firearms or tobacco products. Nor will we accept advertising that we believe is unsafe, discriminatory, or spam-like. We also do not accept advertising from companies we believe show egregious disregard for sustainable practices. While we don’t publish the list of companies we blacklist, we will and have turned down advertising requests from these companies. Bottom line, we listen to our members’ feedback, we consult with our nonprofit partners, we listen to our hearts, and we modify our approach as appropriate to maintain our standards.
While our sales team finds many of the advertisers you see on Care2, a small percentage of our inventory is usually dedicated to advertising networks (such as Google). The benefit of these “contextually relevant” networks is that even the smallest, local companies can advertise on Care2. The downside is that we cannot screen these ads before they appear on our site, so sometimes we end up with some doozies. (My favorite example is when Red Lobster restaurant ads started showing up on our Race for the Oceans. Ouch.) Since Care2 has a higher standard than other sites in these advertising networks we are not always able to proactively implement our criteria with them. We limit the amount of advertising inventory for such networks to less than 5% of the total on Care2 and remove inappropriate ads as necessary.
What should you do if you see an ad on our site you think is inappropriate?
If you feel that an advertisement on Care2 doesn’t conform to the principles outlined above, please use our Feedback form to send us a link to the site advertised, a link to the page on Care2 where you saw the ad, and an explanation of why you believe the ad is inappropriate. We will review all suggestions and take action as needed. We may not always respond as quickly as we’d like, but we do pay close attention to the feedback we receive. We’re a small team with big goals and a lot of members, so sometimes we do get a tad behind on our communications…
Thanks for taking the time to understand our thoughts on corporate advertising! I’d love to hear your comments and would be happy to continue this conversation in future posts.