Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Let's Talk about Buyral Marketing #BellLetsTalk

Bell Canada has declared today (Feb 12) as "Bell Let's Talk Day." It's a corporate responsibility outreach that encourages Canadians to Tweet share messages to raise awareness of mental health issues. Furthermore, they're donating 5¢ " help fund mental health initiatives across Canada" for every text or long distance call made on their network, as well as for every sharer of their campaign images on Facebook, or Tweet of their hashtag #BellLetsTalk.

Great, eh? Well...

As I wrote earlier on Osocio, I have an issue with campaigns like this. Not about the issue, which is important and very close to home. It's the underlying strategy, something I call "Buyral Marketing."

I made up the term to describe the kind of social media campaign in which a major brand attaches itself to a popular cause, creates branded content, and provides an incentive — in the form of a small donation to that cause.

As an adman, I can't deny that the strategy can be extremely successful. My Facebook feed is full of Bell's facts about mental health, shared by good people who want to do something to help. Their ticker is almost at 10 million shares.

But you know what? Most of these people would share campaign material like this anyway. Bell isn't paying people (through a donation) to share facts about mental health. People on social media have shown that they can be motivated to share a feel-good campaign with very little incentive beyond a desire to belong to something good. It's paying them to overlook the fact that they are sharing branded advertising for a for-profit corporation.

Consumers aren't stupid. Many of my friends are fully aware of the ulterior corporate motives involved, and choose to participate anyway. Social media movements like Condescending Corporate Brand Page make it hard to let yourself believe that Bell is in this for anyone but themselves.

But I hope brands engaging in Buyral Marketing are aware that this tactic has its limits. The cynicism will grow, a little, each time consumers are asked to work for a brand's CSR department. 

Don't get me wrong. "Let's Talk" is great branding, highlighting the natural association between a telecommunications company and the need for a public conversation about mental health. Perhaps next year Bell will take a higher road, committing those nickels to the cause without requiring shares (or use of their paid products!) to do so, simply because their message is highly sharable on its own merits.


  1. I agree, but to give credit where it's due, I don't see any evidence on their site that this campaign is capped, the way that most "buyral marketing" ones are.

    As you've mentioned before, typically, a company will decide to donate (say) $20,000 to a cause, but instead of just donating, they'll bargain for publicity by offering to donate (say) $0.25 for every [insert meaningless social media metric] *up to maximum of $20,000.* That means that they don't risk losing more than they were willing to give anyway, and that if the campaign is successful, most of the participants won't actually cause any additional donation. The real meaning of a campaign like that is "Unless at least n people do X, we won't donate all the money we were planning to."

    If Bell's not doing that with this campaign, let's at least give them a D- rather than the usual F.

    1. Agreed. Although you'll note the absence of a cap makes the individual pay-for-play donation particularly small.

  2. I disagree with you. I would feel fine with sharing branded stuff, but precisely because of the stigma I would feel less okay with sharing it without it.