Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Annual Canadian Crass PR Stunt

I've mentioned in the past that I don't agree with the Bell Let's Talk program.  That post was more on the grounds of I my disagreeing with Bell detracting from a concerted effort by everyone else for their own crass publicity stunt.  What they do with their campaign is, to me, the same as if I created a second Christmas in March and then made the population do all the hard work of populating bins with toys for the less fortunate, and then make a big whooping noise about how much I've accomplished.

Today, though, I want to concentrate not on the ethics of advertising disguised as philanthropy, but on just the numbers.

Bell has a bucket of about $3.5m that it contributes to the campaign.  Right off the bat, you can calculate a 29% reduction in taxable income, so really that's $2.85m in donations that it's really costing them.  What happens to that other $1.015m then?  Well, that's money that could have gone to the tax man and then be distributed to social welfare programs including things like, say, mental health.

You might think that I'm being a little harsh on Bell here, so here's a reminder on something from the not so distant past where they wanted to avoid paying all tax by converting themselves into an Income Trust.  Yes, that would have put about a $1bn hole in the same tax coffers that fund mental health and other social programs.

The other problem is (and I mentioned this in the first link above) even if you don't tweet a single thing, that $3.5m was on the books as part of the CRTC Tangible Benefits clause - so any and all tweets don't actually "raise money" - it just goes against the same money that is already pledged - so you're now effectively acting as an unpaid advertiser for Bell Canada.

The final thing I want to add is that whilst tweeting doesn't exactly raise money, the call to action of making long distance calls and sending SMS's allows Bell to raise money on dying revenue channels.  If you spend $4 on a long distance call to the UK, 5 cents of that Bell will give to mental health (actually costs Bell 3.55 cents due to the taxable income reduction)... That's not a bad sales margin on something that garners this much PR.

Just imagine that same number being applied to a PR stunt by a different company like, say, Ford or GM.  If you scale those numbers up, buying a $4,000 upgrade package for your car would cost them $35.50 in donations. Woo!

This is why I can't help shaking my head at why people join in, instead of being angry about this.