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Marketing Matters: Give Thanks, Give Back, Get Hot!

Recently, it seems we have to dig deep for good news that might elicit thanks, even at this time of the year when giving thanks is a long held tradition. As tighter credit and a faltering economy caused consumers to cut spending, U.S. retailers saw a record drop in sales in October. The gross domestic product fell 0.3 percent at an annual rate during the third quarter, the strongest signal yet that the country has fallen into a recession. All of this as retailers anticipate sluggish holiday sales and non- profit organizations sit in fear of how the bottom line may be impacted by tightening wallets.

Even as it seems the financial situation can’t get much worse, this is the time of year, as it has been every year since the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621, when we are reminded to honor the tradition and express our gratitude for a bountiful life.

In spite of the rather pessimistic view of things, with forecasts calling for possibly mid to late ’09 before we start to inch our way out and up again, still, we must pause to remember that we have been granted many a gift, and this is the perfect time of year to reflect on the good fortune we have had.

Though it may be more difficult these days to enumerate materially, we are still compelled by a sense of goodness and gratitude to consider how we might share our bounty with some of the important organizations who count on donors each year, particularly at this time of year, to help them continue their myriad of relevant missions and callings.

Just how the current economic strife will impact donations this year is hard to measure, but this is when most of us reflect on our assets, resources, profit and our ability to give and the urge we may feel to give back. Since 88of the donations in this country are from individuals, apparently many of us are so compelled. Our donations of time and money, large and small, are critical to many an organization. But why we give and how we respond to others who donate their resources is the subject of some rather intriguing neuroscienctific studies recently conducted.

Those studies shed some light on why it feels good to give by examining how and where altruism originates in the brain. In a study conducted by Dr. Jordan Grafman, of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), MRIs taken during certain activity showed that the cerebral cortex, the area of the brain responsible for our most advanced cognitive functions, is involved in altruistic behavior.

Decisions about donating or taking a payoff from a video game elicited similar brain activity in the midbrain, a deep region known to be involved in primal desires (such as for food or sex) and the satisfaction of those. The study gave credence to the “joy of giving” and showed an anatomical connection to the part of the brain associated with more selfish longings and their rewards.

Exactly how the brain represents and processes information helps marketers better understand the motivation for buying. Advances in brain imaging techniques now allow neuroscientists to directly study the frequency, location, and timing of neuronal activity. The application of neuro-imaging to marketing research has come to be called neuromarketing and is still a relatively new field, but offering interesting findings.

For example, we know that being willing to help unrelated individuals and the causes they represent is a common trait. Now, there’s new neuroscientific research that suggests altruistic behavior makes one attractive to the opposite sex. In a study carried out by biologists and a psychologist at The University of Nottingham, which involved more than 1,000 people, Dr. Tim Phillips and fellow researchers discovered that women place significantly greater importance on altruistic traits than anything else. The effect was more pronounced in women evaluating men, but men also exhibited an interest in altruistic behavior.

There has been some discussion that this might be a sort of “peacock tail” effect, i.e., an indicator that an individual who has the resources to help unrelated individuals is well to do and therefore makes for an appealing mate.

Non-profit organizations are advised to keep this in mind when they recruit volunteers and solicit donors. Some experts have mused that the peacock tail effect is evident as “showy” altruism such as we may see during competitive bidding at charity auctions. Items often sell for far more than their value when individuals keep bidding to see who gives in first.

So helping others makes us feel better and now it apparently makes us look better to the opposite sex. Get out your wallet to “get hot” is the message. There are many organizations that need and deserve your support. My personal favorite right now is the Center for Birds of Prey at the Avian Conservation Center, a client for whom we have worked but also have donated a fair share of time to help launch their public tours via national media outreach this past June. Jim Elliott and his team are passionate about the care and protection of raptors who serve as harbingers of our environmental influences and their work is a “turn on” to many.

Here at E. Boineau & Company, other worthwhile organizations such as American Heart Association, Coastal Community Foundation, Coastal Conservation League, Charleston Stage, Spoleto Festival, Historic Charleston Foundation, Humanities Foundation, Edisto Island Open Land Trust, Junior League of Charleston, Lowcountry Children’s Center, Roper St Francis Hospital Foundation, among others, have turned our heads and opened our wallets.

These and hundreds more deserve time, dollars and support. And now that we know giving adds to our sex – appeal, it looks like there’s a whole lot of fun in store, and non- profits could be about to get a windfall, too. So there you have it, at least a few small reasons (and hopefully many more) to give thanks this time of the year.

Elizabeth L. Boineau runs E. Boineau & Company, a strategic marketing communications and public relations firm based in Charleston. You may reach her at eboineau@eboineauandco.com.

Originally published Charleston Regional Business Journal – Nov 24, 2008

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