An old association of mine, Craig Smith, used to publish the Journal of Strategic Philanthropy — a title which never failed to make me cringe.  And it was brought to mind when Gary Belsky wrote an article on Time on the shadow of corporate giving this week.

Worth a read.

Probably the first lesson on media criticism I can really remember distinctly was my dad and me sitting on the ratty old couch upstairs in the “TV room” — really a wide hallway with the couch and a TV making life difficult for anyone passing through.   We were watching some science documentary, and a commercial came on for DuPont with white men in white coats in a clean white laboratory:  “Better living through chemistry!”

I was probably seven years old.  The year would have been 1966.

My dad said, “Shava, what are they selling you with this advertisement?”

I blinked.  “Chemicals?”

My dad shook his head.  “Uh uh.  People like you and I, we don’t buy chemicals from DuPont.  We buy products that big companies have made from huge vats of chemicals DuPont sold them, and they turn into cleaning products, or plastics, or something else we buy that is made out of chemicals.  DuPont sells materials that are made into other things.”

He pointed at the screen.  “They’re paying thousands and thousands of dollars a minute to show us men in white coats looking important.  Why would they spend all that money if they aren’t selling us something?”

I looked up at him.  “I don’t know.  Why?”

He looked at me conspiratorially.  “They are selling us TRUST.  Because they’ve done something wrong.  We don’t know what.  But when we find out?  They want us to already feel good about them — so good we won’t want to punish them for whatever it is they did that was bad.  They are buying our goodwill.  At thousands and thousands of dollars a year, cash on the barrel.”

And I have kept an eye out for that my whole life — and of course, it came in useful later when I was an executive director of my own nonprofits, I have to say!

But think about it.

“Better living through chemistry.” (Bhopal.)
“We bring good things to life.”  (Atomic bombs, for example.)
“ADM: Supermarket to the world.” (Monoculture, stripmining topsoil, displacing small farms, price fixing,…).

You could practically go through your memory of the taglines on PBS in particular, in the 80s and 90s and create a rogues gallery.  Those costume sagas were expensive productions.  Blood money.  It’s pretty impressive.

Gosh I miss my dad…