|Illustration By Đàm Minh Chí|
A social media campaign supporting children with cancer last week triggered debate among users.
It is part of a bigger campaign run by the Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper and sponsored by pharmaceutical company Eco Pharma.
Inspired by a strong-willed cancer patient who passed away in 2007 nicknamed ‘the sunflower that does not need the sun’, the Facebook campaign asked users to draw sunflowers with messages to cancer patients, take photos of their drawings, and post them on their personal accounts.
Users were also asked to include the two hashtags #ngayhoihoahuongduong2018 (Sunflower Festival 2018) and #uocnguyenhong2018 (The Pink Wish 2018) and tag three friends in their posts to spread the word.
Eco Pharma said they would count the number of posts on December 2, and for each post that did all of the things above they would donate VNĐ30,000 (US$1.3) to support children with cancer.
On the one hand, the campaign received positive responses from hundreds of social media users. They drew sunflowers, used the hashtags, and shared the information with friends and asked them to do the same.
Some of them said they found the campaign meaningful as it helped raise awareness of supporting children with cancer. And as a lot of the drawings came from healthy children who were encouraged to draw by their parents, these parents said the activity taught their kids to sympathise with children their age that were less fortunate.
But others said the campaign was an advertising tactic from Eco Pharma disguised as charity to promote their business. They appeared to be suspicious of whether the company would actually count the number of sunflower drawings, and whether they would actually give money to the sick children.
Some even went so far as to say the company was “taking advantage of the pain of sick children to gain benefits for themselves”, kenh14.vn reported.
All debates came to a halt on Sunday as Eco Pharma gave VNĐ5.57 billion ($240,000) to the campaign’s organisers at the Sunflower Festival 2018 in HCM City, after announcing they counted 314,823 sunflower posts on Facebook.
Some 307,990 of them did not closely follow the campaign’s regulations – for they were not drawings but photographs, or that they did not include the hashtags – according to the company. But a representative said the company still donated VNĐ15,000 for each of these posts instead of disqualifying them.
Speaking on the claims that they were taking advantage of the children, a company representative said: “We have been providing sponsorships for the campaign in the past 10 years. If we wanted to make it part of our public relations plan, we would have done it a long time ago.
“Advertising is something we do separately. If you read the campaign’s regulations carefully you will notice we did not require participants to mention our company’s name in their posts,” he told kenh14.vn.
“Thanks to their enthusiasm the word was spread and we had more people posting about the campaign and more money to support unfortunate children. That’s the ultimate goal.”
I’ll have to say I side with him on this. Having majored in communications as an undergraduate and worked for some time in the communications industry, I know the difference between spending money to gain more money (marketing, advertising, PR) and spending money as a way to give back to community as part of a corporation’s social responsibility.
The former you do and expect a surge in sales. The latter brings benefits to society and is often done without getting anything ‘materialistic’ in return.
In the case of Eco Pharma and the sunflower campaign, I think not only has the company done something good for society, but they also know how to talk about it in a graceful manner.
Launching the drawing campaign on social media had a ripple effect as thousands of people had posted their drawings.
The sunflower drawing activities were in fact held in a number of schools in HCM City. But I doubt they reached as many people as the virtual drawings did on social media and had the same effect.
Even if it was a PR tactic, the company kept their word and donated a huge amount of money for children with cancer. It’s not like they promised to do something and never did it.
Speaking from an ex-PR practitioner perspective, there is nothing wrong with doing things to promote your own business. And if the campaign was really a trick to improve this pharmaceutical company’s reputation, I’d take my hat off to their communication staff as they have done it so well. — VNS