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The psychology behind disliking do-gooders
Brand purposeBehavioural research
Feelings of scepticism when a person (or organisation) talks about their virtue go to the heart of human psychology, with implications for brand communications.
Why it matters
At a time when purpose-led organisations and marketing are in vogue, the lesson that people (even infants of 5) will tend to read self-serving, competitive motives into altruistic acts, should worry marketers.
Generally, it boils down to problems for those who talk the talk without walking the walk. Broadcasting one’s good deeds tends, also, to ask to be judged by higher standards.
What’s going on
An Observer piece by the UCL psychology professor Nichola Raihani explores why from humblebraggers to vegans, people judge the motives of do-gooders harshly.
It boils down to humans’ unique ability among animals to look at the world from the perspective of other people; from here emerge ideas of reputation, which certain studies indicate that children develop between the ages of five and eight.
Double standards toward brands have been observed before. 2019 research by Edelman found that 81% of consumers consider brand trust when making purchase decisions, but only 34% trust the brands they buy from. Additionally, 53% of consumers think brands “trust-wash”, meaning they aren’t as committed to society as they claim. Edelman concludes that such a strategy only yields results if brands nail fundamentals like quality and value first.
The idea in action
In the case of the (for-profit) fundraising platform JustGiving, an A/B testing exercise revealed that asking people to share their donations to social media was least effective when the prompt read “You’re an amazing person. Share your donation!”
Conversely, the most effective prompt read: “Help your friend raise even more money by sharing their page!” Raihani suggests it is because this allowed people to talk about their good deed while demonstrating that they were doing it for the right reasons. Per JustGiving, this change led to a 28% increase in the tendency to share to Facebook.
“We say we think it is good to raise money for charity or protect the environment, but we rail against companies that try to achieve these aims if they also derive a profit in doing so.” – Nichola Raihani.