What Did #BellLetsTalk Really Achieve?
Bell Canada is this country’s largest communications company. As part of their social responsibility roster, they designated February 12th as a day to talk about mental health, calling it “Bell Let’s Talk Day.” When Bell users make a long distance call or send a text message, or anyone shares the above image on Facebook or uses the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, Bell will donate 5 cents to charities dealing with mental health.
As a social media campaign, there is no doubt that #BellLetsTalk achieves some important goals. It does help open the door to talk about mental health and communication around mental health within our families, communities and society at large. This is something that is very, very necessary. At the time that I write this, Bell has already committed almost 2 million dollars to charities that aim to reduce the stigma of mental health disorders, based on the previously mentioned shares, hashtags, text messages and long distance calls.
A big corporation tossing around big money to charity can be a good thing.
But the ethical challenge arises when Bell explicitly ties in their good deeds with you advertising for them. By stating that they will give X number of dollars to charity, but only for pay up based on the performance of those who use a hashtag, share an image, “like” on Facebook, or use their services, they miss the mark on real corporate responsibility.
In a fantastic article about international aid fails, Richard Stupart talks about “ransoming” children in exchange for likes on Facebook. He uses the example of rapper and energy drink mogul 50 Cent:
If you Like the (now defunct) Facebook page for his Street King energy drink, he will provide a meal for a child in need. If the page received a million Likes before Sunday, he would donate an additional million meals.
So let’s break that down.
- If you Like Fifty’s Facebook page — without even buying the drink — a child, presumably in Somalia, gets fed.
- We can infer that there is a pot of dollars somewhere earmarked for feeding needy children. Two million meals worth of feeding if you count the million Like-meals plus the potential million bonus.
- Those meals, while they could be donated, and have presumably been budgeted for, will not be, except to the extent that you give Street King props online.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is called extortion. Dramatically photographed, concealed-as-humanitarian-activism, extortion(…) When a humanitarian issue becomes a platform for pushing an energy drink on the back of people’s suffering, we should be ashamed.
Users are not actually generating the money that Bell gives to charity through some kind of magic machinery that turns tweets into dollars. This money already exists, but Bell is only going to give it away if you send a text message or use a hashtag.
Many social media campaigns rely on likes, shares, retweets and so on in order to achieve relevance and to maximize viewership and/or engagement. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count all of the times that I have BEGGED for likes and shares of Hey Receiver posts. But when a large corporation is tying their good deed (giving money to charity) to the performance of their audience and in particular, the performance of their audience in providing advertising for the company, then something is fishy.
Bell is doing a lot of different things here, but actually raising awareness about mental health and how those facing mental health challenges are treated in our society is very very low on that list. It could further be argued that Bell is capitalizing on faux internet activism, where simply using a hashtag replaces real action, like challenging Steven Harper’s proposed legislation that further criminalizes those who are found not criminally responsible for the crimes that they’ve committed due to mental “disorders”. Mental health and mental illness is a very political issue, but Bell has managed not so much to say “Let’s Talk” but rather “Let’s talk very vaguely about a hugely important issue affecting millions of Canadians.”
It’s good that Bell wants to raise money to end stigma against those dealing with mental health issues. And I would even go so far as to say that it’s understandable (though not exactly charitable) that Bell would like to see some return for their good deed. But by making their own brand central to this campaign, they just look greedy, and Bell Let’s Talk Day looks an awful lot like another sham corporate charity endeavour.
Big thanks go to Darren Barefoot’s post Why Today is About Bell Canada and Not About Mental Health