Georgina Guedes

Such a thing as a free breakfast

2012-01-20 09:36

There is an incontrovertible link between a company’s charitable or environmental endeavours and its marketing. While I do believe that there are companies out there that quietly do good simply because someone in charge believes it’s their responsibility, a far more relevant motivator is public perception.

Most of us would prefer to do business with companies that do good. If we’re spending our hard-earned cash, we’d like it to go somewhere that doesn’t compromise us with shoddy ethics.

At the same time, for us to know about our preferred companies’ products or services, we have to be advertised to. It has been proven, time and again, that advertising is a necessary evil – even for well-known, apparently ubiquitous brands like Coca-Cola.

To people outside of the industry, the amount of money that a company spends on marketing itself can seem insane. When I was working as an IT journalist and was sent on five-star, first-class press junkets to the United States, some friends couldn’t believe that companies would take a gamble on a couple of pages of coverage for such great expense.

When I pointed out that it was still less than the costs of paying for advertising on those pages, the friends remained suspect about some kind of dodgy mathematics governing the whole deal.

So, it’s always worth remembering that while there may be some overlap, most companies run their corporate social investment (CSI) budget out of a completely different department to their marketing one. Both have to exist, both spend lots of money, each has its own purpose.

So, when Wimpy advertised a free, no-strings-attached bacon breakfast to anyone coming to sit down between eight and nine in the morning yesterday, lots of people leapt at the notion. In the current rather bleak economic climate (who knows why the JSE is doing so well), free anything is not to be sniffed at.

But there was a hardened group of naysayers who said that it was tasteless to give away something that some people so desperately need - food - to people not desperately in need of it. And the funny thing is that although I understand the marketing/CSI distinction, I’ve had a flutter of the same disquieting response to the promotion.

On the face of it, why shouldn’t Wimpy give away food to its customers or potential customers? It’s great marketing. To say that they shouldn’t is like saying that no shop should run three-for-the-price-of-two specials - they should just give the third item to charity.

For some reason, this kind of special is more palatable to us because we feel that we’ve had to work for the reward. We’ve spent the money, we’re getting a little something extra. So why are we then suspicious or even critical when something’s completely free? In the final analysis, the money’s coming out of the same place - the company’s bottom line.

Perhaps we were also wary of what kind of a bun fight the Wimpy special might bring on. If bands of homeless people were made aware of it, would they be turned away? Would they be allowed to walk through “ROAR” shopping centres to claim their free food?

By all reports, there were queues and Wimpy restaurants around the country were full to capacity, but it was a successful and pleasant initiative for everyone involved. I’ve also heard reports of Wimpy staff telling the local car guards to come and get their gratis grub, which made some of the critical fluttering go away.

Without knowing stats or figures or having heard any official report back, I would say that the free breakfast was a success for Wimpy, and that public perception of the brand was enhanced.

Now, if someone in their CSI department were really clever, they would take the same amount spent on advertising and stocking the breakfast special and donate it to a worthy hunger-alleviation programme, so that no one is left with a bitter taste in their mouths. Oh, and because it’s a good thing to do.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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