Behavioural Economic Look at Altruism

Thanks to Gunther Sonnenfeld for bringing this video to our attention:

Gunther Sonnenfeld: The Memetic Web & the “Internet of Products”

Memetic Pepsi: Somewhere between Mintos & A Cure for Cancer

UPDATE, April 2010:  Could it be?  Is Pepsi listening?  What do you think of Pepsi foregoing the traditional Superbowl ad and stepping up with its REFRESH program?  For details on REFRESH catch this series by a group of my HumberPR students.  Kudos to Pepsi and Weber Shandwick.


Hot selling book authors Seth Godin & Jonathan Salem Baskin, who both released manifestos in ChangeThis’ 50th issue (I was fortunate to have my manifesto released @ along with theirs), have picked up on Pepsi’s recent announcement that they are going to “pour some $1.2 billion over three years into a push that will include sweeping changes to its brands“.

Seth’s “punchline is: take the time and money and effort you’d put into an expensive logo and put them into creating a product and experience and story that people remember instead.”   He has a corner on the whole idea of making products remarkable that is well worth following.

Jonathan finds it “stunning that nobody is asking these businesses why they aren’t focusing on making cola relevant again.”  It is a great post.  Check it out. The bit that really got me noodling was:

“Use or need cases are used in technology development to identify the places and times  people might require a software product or widget.  That approach to the mechanics of consumption is based on actual experience, not imagined desires or emotional associations, so the strategy doesn’t start with brand…but certainly impacts it.”

Can we use this notion of memetic brand to get more prescriptive if we are sitting in boardrooms with folks like Pepsi?

The money quote from Introducing Social Capital Value Add would probably be a bad place to start:

“Social capital means far more to Coca-Cola than Coca-Cola means to social capital.”

Ah, that might just get you the door before you had a chance to get the account!  So perhaps it would be good to start with a little illustration of the difference between being “viral” and “memetic”.

I bet the traditional brand folks over a Coke have been counting all that “free advertising” they have been racking up since someone discovered what happens when you drop a mintos into a bottle of diet coke.  That is, after they took weeks to stop hand-wringing about what such an image does to “the brand”.

Now that is entertainment! I love it! Millions of views. Probably billions now that dudes like me are clipping it into web pages all over the internet. But is it selling Diet Coke? Hmmm …. maybe a little bit. That awareness and repetition is not likely hurting any. But I am pretty sure that this isn’t the stuff that is going to effect market share, or share of stomach or any of the other fun ways to measure soda pop.

So how about something that can be remarkable, address needs and mobilize the entire Pepsi ecosystem towards something amazing?

I am certain that there are many memetic approaches and I would very much appreciate it if you could jot down your thoughts below.  I admit it.  I am a bit stuck on this idea of a relationship between altruism and corporate motivations.

I think that I would like to present the folks at Pepsi with some case studies and trend analysis of approaches like the one the folks at TripAdvisor are taking.  I have some criticism of the execution and if TripAdvisor is still burning VC money, god bless ’em.  The trick is to go beyond feel good CSR tactics and tie this into your mission and maybe even your business model if possible.

Then maybe we could get some serious new thinking about how to change the game with Pepsi.  How about a crazy idea like committing Pepsi to being a cure for cancer?  That just popped into my head as something provocative to help reboot thinking and then, as I sifted though my reader while procrastinating on writing this post I picked up this link from June Avila on the MaRs Innovation & Commercialization Blog:

Better Beer: College Team Creating Anticancer Brew

Yes.  Still seems off the wall, but somewhere between mintos & the cure for cancer there is a better way.

A Worthy Request: Signal of Altruistic Type

Check out this post by Collin please. You should do this because he is a great guy and his sister is doing something cool.

From a memetic branding stand point, you might want to think about how altruism is important to everthing that you do in this new era that we live in.

“Economic theory suggests at least three mechanisms which induce the decision-maker to treat the partner more generously when there is a prospect of future interaction. First, the decision-maker can grant favors because she expects the partner to repay these in the future (enforced reciprocity)… Second, the possibility of future interaction gives incentives for the decision-maker to signal her altruistic type to the partner (Benabou and Tirole 2006). Third, psychological game theory has modeled preference-based reciprocity where decision-makers behave generously because they expect the partner to behave kindly towards them in some future interaction, and because they derive utility from rewarding kind behavior (Rabin 1993, Dufwenberg and Kirchsteiger 2004)” (Leider, Stephen, Mobius, Markus, Rosenblat, Tanya and Do, Quoc-Anh, “How Much is a Friend Worth? Directed Altruism and Enforced Reciprocity in Social Networks” p.1, October 2007)

The definition of social surplus that most “iPod killer” strategies employ is greater “utility.” They seek to beat iPod by building a better mousetrap with better product features and better design. Rebate strategies and typical loyalty programs (earning points for rewards) are also widely tried methods.

It is a social surplus defined as greater signal of altruistic type that may be the most interesting to study further as the link between social capital and corporate earnings comes to be accepted. There is some evidence that social Causes are the kind of maxim behind which business may align their activities as they develop memetic brands. For example just the top 5 causes on the Causes application on Facebook reach about 7.5 million people.

It brings with it the possibility of new motives for corporate social responsibility. Not only will the corporation be asked to be more accountable for its actions, perhaps the corporation can be encouraged to invest in ways for its social connections – consumers, suppliers, employees, investors, owners, analysts and value added resellers – to move beyond feel-good CSR tactics towards a relationship in which the opportunity is seized by each forging identities based upon greater social contribution.

UPDATE: More on memetic branding & altruism … Memetic Pepsi.

Please check out the cross-post over at for the corporate implications beyond memetic branding of this thinking.
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