In his blog today, Seth Godin writes about polite fictions, where everyone agrees to a story so they can go on doing what they are doing.
For instance, many of us like Ben & Jerry's ice cream so we applaud them for all their cleverness and devotion to social causes. But the truth is that ice cream is really bad for us, especially eating too much of it. Eating Ben & Jerry's (or other ice cream) can lead to being overweight, getting diabetes, developing heart disease, etc. But with Ben & Jerry's, as compared to many other ice cream brands, we can feel somewhat good about it because Ben and Jerry are so nice.
Now, if Ben & Jerry really wanted to do some good, they would lead the fight against heart disease (which, if they were honest with themselves, they might actually have a hand in creating more instances).
If they were to embrace true cause-related marketing, they'd get behind and support heart disease research -- AND they would encourage people to eat their ice cream in moderation. They would create an entire campaign encouraging people to watch what they eat. It's hard for them to condemn McDonalds (I don't know if they do) when they are selling high-fat, high-calorie ice cream that can do as much damage as eating at McDonalds.
Of course, with the polite fiction that many of us participate in, we can feel much better about eating Ben & Jerry's than eating at McDonalds. That's why a man can make a movie about McDonalds (Super Size Me) but I doubt anyone would make a similar movie about Ben & Jerry's. They're some of the good guys, while McDonalds is simply a big, evil corporation.
The truth is that both foods are terrible for us in excess, but probably okay in moderation. But try telling that to people who attack McDonalds while happily eating their Ben & Jerry's. Polite fictions, they are a way of life.
What polite fictions are you living with? What have you agreed to ignore?
How does this all relate to book marketing? Well, if you're going to get involved in cause-related marketing, make sure that the causes you support are ones you can live with, ones that lessen the damage you do to your body, your environment, or your society.
For instance, I believe that book publishers and authors should support associations that help to reforest our land or preserve the wild areas that are left. Why? Because books use a lot of paper -- and that, right now, means lots of trees. Until we as a society begin using hemp for paper, book authors and publishers need to support reforestation and nature preservation.
Check out some of the groups I support. I list them all on my website at BookMarket.com.