Johnson & Johnson: New Digital Charity App

A lot of people think that “Digital Activism” doesn’t accomplish anything.  By digital activism, I mean the idea that sharing a viral message on twitter or facebook can directly support a noble cause. I could probably write a whole post on the subject of successful digital activism campaigns and other attempts that were total failures… but instead, I’m going to talk about Donate a Photo, a cool app just released by Johnson & Johnson.

It enables you to have a direct monetary impact on important charitable causes, by donating to charity in exchange for donating a photo. Very easy to do, and has enormous potential to change the way we think about raising capital for good causes. Read on for my review of the app and my thoughts on digital activism’s place in the next generation.

App Design: I downloaded the iphone app, and was very impressed.  The UI was clean, and intuitive. the branding is unique, yet distinctly J&J.  I plan to use it for a while.  I recommend it!

So how does this Donate a Photo thing work?  Why is it that Johnson & Johnson is taking time and effort supporting digital activism? Would it not be better to donate directly to the causes? What do they gain?  They state very clearly that they can use your donated photos for no commercial purpose, and will only be used to market the app. How does this affect their business? Can it even be considered a marketing strategy?


First and foremost, J&J has a rich history of being a global citizen, trying to be a positive force for the communities in which they do business. I don’t fault them for spreading that message, because employees of this company live that message, and it truly sets them apart.  Besides, it does give them some publicity in their donations.  But I suspect that there is a deeper goal to the experiment, one that J&J could really benefit from.

Let’s take a step back, to the primary business of many industries – to make a product. Many studies are showing that mass marketing giants in every industry are having trouble marketing to the youth of today. Millenial generation statistics suggest that we are less brand loyal than our parents, and more inclined to heed the advice contained in a review of a product, whether it be written by a friend or a stranger. In a sense, we are throwing a wrench in the well-oiled branding machine.  Companies that can figure out how to most effectively market to the next wave of consumers will most likely have a leg up against their competitors.

By asking for us to share on Facebook and Twitter, I think that Johnson & Johnson will gain insight from the causes that are most supported by my generation, the primary users of the facebook and twitter platforms, and what we care about. They will also gain access to basic information from both accounts, giving them  mine-able  access to my likes, my tweets, what I follow… All of these things can be used to develop insight into a new market of consumers.

These permissions are not new to apps in general. Many apps give you the ability to share your app interactions with your friends, so long as you allow them access to post on your behalf, and usually some other things that they want. Hmm.

So is this Slactivism?

Most people mock digital activism, pejoratively calling it “slacktivism” , because if it is too easy to support, then the supporters must lack the fervor of older generations… That in their day, they had to travel far and wide to stand united, shoulder to shoulder, to prove a point about what they believed in.

You could make a case that DonateAPhoto is a form of slacktivism. The app user uploads a photo, that has nothing to do with the charity (which they would have likely done anyway), and at the push of a button, someone else’s dollar is donated to the cause. In that sense, you could make the argument that the user of the app is not directly making the impact on the world akin to if he had donated to the charity directly.

You could also make the case that it is raising awareness organically using social media about a cause, and that many people that may not be aware of those charities may see, learn, and contribute on their own.  There is not a ripe set of data yet to justify this view.

In the interest of space, look forward to two new posts in the near future:

  • Visualizing Slacktivism: exploring the opportunities behind this form of protest through analysis of the Facebook “Equal” Profile Pic protest.
  • Charitable Giving in the US: a deeper look into some interesting data from the IRS on the State of Charitable Giving as a factor of Disposable income.  I stumbled across while researching for this article.

Check out the app, and donate a photo.  If you were going to do it anyway, may as well make an impact. If you feel strongly about the causes, go and donate some of your own time to helping them!


Posted in Activism, Charity, Shifting Perspectives.

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