Oh dear… it’s that time of year again. Everywhere I turn, the supermarket shelves are full of Christmas spirit already. From puddings to gift wrap, the festive season is already unavoidable – and I don’t even teach my first class of the new academic year until tomorrow! Is it my imagination, or is the number of products claiming a donation to charity for each purchase made also higher this year? Used to be an approach confined largely to a few packs of Christmas cards, but it’s amazing the range of products now adopting this very worthwhile approach.
A recent paper by Chernev and Blair in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that this may not just be a nice thing to do, it also could have far greater marketing gains than we might previously have thought. Thanks to a phenomenon psychologists call the Halo Effect, the author’s experiments show that toothpaste sold with a charitable donation included in its pricing is perceived as making consumers’ teeth seem whiter, hair-restorer as making growth more rapid and natural, and (my own personal favourite!) wine tasting much better. The caveat, though, is equally important. This practice must be seen as genuine altruism for the product enhancement effect to work – if the consumer believes the 10% donation to charity is largely just marketing and PR, the product enhancement effect is blunted.
An interesting follow-up effect would be to see how long the effect persists after the charitable donation promotion ends. Is it a short-term influence, or could it be that the Halo Effect has a more lasting associative influence on brand perceptions and so the products consumed will continue to seem better? An interesting dissertation topic for a student into experimental work this year, perhaps. In the meantime, I shall nobly raise an extra glass of Zinfandel this evening, safe in the knowledge that I am both helping donkeys and enjoying a better-tasting tipple in the process!