Everything I Know about Marketing I learned from Google

Chapter 16: Altruism Sells

Executive Summary:

Why did Google choose “Don’t be evil” as its corporate credo?

For one thing, it’s a great public relations spin. “Don’t question our motives when it comes to user-privacy, etc. – we’re doing no evil!”

Nowhere has Google’s motto been put to the test more than in China, where, most recently, Google has stopped censoring results at the demand of the Chinese government.

Over the years, Google has donated generously – money and manpower — to various philanthropic efforts ranging from wind energy R&D to disaster relief.

GE has touts “ecomagination” as an altruistic endeavor to “market new technologies that will help customers meet pressing environmental challenges.” It’s earmarked over $1.5 billion towards clean technology research.

Scott Kier has launched Mosaic EcoSystems to help companies capitalize on the triple bottom line – people, planet, and profit.

Restaurant.com launched “Feed It Forward” to let people share free restaurant gift certificates and generated over 60 million PR impressions.

SocialVibe helps consumers raise millions for charities by interacting with brands.

Green marketing and selling altruism can be more than just an effective PR ploy. To fully exploit… er, leverage it, brands must fully embody the concept of sustainability and show consumers the impact you’re having at the local level. It’s ok to brag if you have the bag to back it up.

Select Quotes:

“Green Marketing isn’t a fad. It’s not a two-year-plan. It’s an underpinning of commerce moving forward.”

– Mark Goldstein, Vice Chairman and Chief Marketing Officer, BBDO North America, @MDGoldstein

Final Thought:

When it comes to altruism, all of these truisms must be taken into account.


Jan. 30, 2010: Apparently not everyone is buying Google’s altruistic angle. Today, Wired reports that  Steve Jobs told Apple employees that he thought Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra was “bullshit.”

April 15, 2010: It’s all aboard Altruism Air for Proctor and Gamble (P&G) as the company expands its Future Friendly initiative to “consumers save water, waste and energy at home.”

July 9, 2010: In this chapter, Lawrence Wan of Omnicom Media Group is quoted as saying, “it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when, the Chinese government starts blocking and slowing down access to google.com.hk from within China.” Looks like that when has been pushed off a bit. Today, Google announced that the Chinese government renewed its ICP license.

Aug. 19, 2010: “Don’t be evil” is being tested again in the context of the net neutrality debate. Shared my POV in this blog post about the recent Google/Verizon net neutrality proposal.

Aug. 29, 2010: Puma is selling altruism by making sustainability sexy with its “clever little bag.”

Sept. 28, 2010: Per Cone in AdWeek, “Cause Marketing’s Still All to the Good.”

Nov. 13, 2010: More green marketing from GE. “GE Campaign Turns YouTube Videos and Flickr Photos into Clean Energy.

Mar. 15, 2011: Google has carved out precious real-estate on its homepage to promote to this page with information on the recent earthquake/tsunami in Japan and ways to contribute. For what it’s worth, I’ll be donating 25% of my first royalty check from the Japanese edition of this book to the Japansese Red Cross to help with the relief efforts.

  • Scott K

    Let's jump to page 252 in our texts… :)

    What our irrepressible tour guide is describing when he speaks of not merely issuing press releases and not over-promising is a concept in green marketing referred to as “greenwashing”.

    In fact, over-promising is one of the Seven Deadly Sins of “greenwashing”.

    Back in the “Sex Sells” chapter, the issue of relevance came up – that you should only sell sex if it's relevant to your brand (AXE) and not when it isn't (GoDaddy). Making claims of sustainability that are irrelevant is another of the sins. For example, you often see that some material in a product is said to be recyclable. That may in fact be true – usually is. However, it's not relevant because in most cases the technology to recycle that material may not be well distributed – bringing our attention to the fact that just because something CAN be recycled doesn't mean it actually IS recycled.

    Another example of an irrelevant claim of greenness is claiming a product is CFC-free. CFC's have been illegal in the US for decades! Coke might as well put “Cocaine-Free” on their cans…

    Another sin is the “hidden tradeoff”. Buying a new plug-in Toyota Prius is great for the environment, right? Well, not necessarily. You power your car by plugging it into the grid. Well… where is your grid power coming from? If it's from a coal-fired power plant, your car is still running on fossil fuels. Not to mention the fact that when you trace back the supply chain of any new car and add up the fossil fuels and natural resources used in transporting a car across the Pacific, and the extraction, fabrication, and transportation of the thousands of parts in your new car… you're actually helping the environment more by spending that same $25,000 on a certified used BMW.

    BMW has also been a leader in taking ownership of their products at the end of life, as well. Between their ability to sell used cars and their acceptance of end-of-life responsibility, BMW – despite not making a hybrid – is actually the most sustainable carmaker.

    A new reality underpinning our economy is going to be reuse, because on many fronts, the world's population has already passed the planet's carrying capacity.

    And this is really what people need to understand about sustainability: it's not about altruism or the sale thereof. It's about self-interest. We're all passengers on this rock, and in some way, shape or form, we're all going to pay for it if we use it up.

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