Mark Ritson: Suspend your cynicism, Mark Zuckerberg has done an amazing thing

Cynical marketers are better marketers as they aren’t swayed by misguided enthusiasm, but the critical responses to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are unfair – they should use their money for whatever causes they want.

Ritson award winner

There is no doubt about it, enthusiasm is the enemy of good marketing. I’ve seen it too many times. The product manager so in love with his new device he cannot see its functional flaws. The account manager so in love with her agency’s “big idea” she does not realise that it fails to meet any part of the client’s brief. Or the digital strategist so enraptured with social media that he cannot countenance a world in which archaic tools like radio or outdoor have any place. No doubt about it – enthusiasm is a bad thing in marketing.

Ergo, cynicism and critical thinking are good traits. Show me a decent brand manager and I will show you a deeply paranoid, skeptical human being. The best marketers treat all marketing channels with equal disdain, all competitors as possibly deadly rivals and every aspect of their product or service as being potentially flawed. Steve Jobs spent most of his time undulating between misery and anger, rarely experiencing joy of any kind. That was because he was a marketer.

And yet even marketers of the most miserable countenance are occasionally vulnerable. It is possible, ever so rarely, to prick their thick hide of indifference and sway them with emotion. It happened to me last week, for example. I opened the paper to discover that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla had announced the arrival of a daughter – Max. To celebrate the birth, the Zuckerbergs announced that they were going to donate 99% of their Facebook shares, worth approximately £30 billion, to a foundation set up in their name.

Mark and Priscilla Zuckerberg with baby Max
(Photo: Facebook)

I read the article. I studied the letter that the new parents had written to their new baby daughter. And I looked for the longest time at the photo of the pair holding their new child, especially the bewitched, utterly disarming look on Mark Zuckerberg’s face. And then, dear reader, I must confess that I wept.

I bumped back into reality pretty quickly afterwards as I surveyed the response to the Zuckerberg decision in the media. No good deed, it would seem, goes un-critiqued in today’s cynical world. For many commentators the move was “questionable” because rather than a donation the shares would be used to set up a limited liability company (LLC) – one which could go on to invest money and generate profits. Zuckerberg countered that any profits would be reinvested in the LLC and therefore all support good deeds. Other critics suggested the new LLC was a blatant attempt to avoid taxes. Zuckerberg pointed out that his new LLC would pay tax and afford neither he nor his wife any tax advantages. Beaten to that punch others bemoaned the fact that Zuckerberg was setting up his own private not-for-profit to help the world, rather than having paid higher taxes on Facebook’s profits in the first place. Still others, bereft of anything other than hatred for billionaires who aren’t shits, queried why Zuckerberg had the right to spend his money on his projects to help others without consulting the rest of society.

The Guardian was the worst of the lot. “Although the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative isn’t a foundation and will pay taxes,” the paper conceded, “nothing about their project changes the fundamental contradiction of mega philanthropy: the wealthy have the power to impose their personal visions of the common good on everyone else while calling it charity”.

Sorry? I fail to see the issue here. He earned it and he wants to invest it in helping people. Isn’t he allowed to dictate where his money goes?

The problem, of course, for ultra-lefties is that when billionaire capitalists like Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet work their asses off to earn a fortune and then work even harder to give it all away to help their fellow man it totally fucks up all the anti-capitalist rhetoric. These megalomaniacs are meant to be selfish shits who trampled over others to get their ill-gotten riches that they now blow on property and ridiculous yachts. Some of them might still do that, but an annoying number of the really famous, extremely rich ones are devoting themselves and almost all of their worldly possessions to helping others. Back in 2000 most people gave Bill Gates an enormous amount of shit for setting up his foundation. Fifteen years and £25bn later, I defy you to find a more inspiring, wonderful or humble human being walking this earth. I’m serious.

I think Facebook is an oversold, fundamentally doomed operation. But, that aside, what Mark and Priscilla did last week was amazing. It’s good to be cynical but, fuck me, it’s Christmas. Mark Zuckerberg just gave us a beautiful nativity scene and an astonishing gesture of benevolence and generosity.

Mazel tov Mr Zuckerberg! You did good. Merry Christmas readers. See you in 2016.

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Comments
  • Stuart Maister 9 Dec 2015 at 9:41 am

    Hear hear. Just for once let’s applaud wonderful things and set aside the cynicism. It also transforms the Zuckerberg narrative, which helps, but even that is pedantic after an amazing gesture. Which of us would do the same?

  • Bob 9 Dec 2015 at 9:46 am

    I was with you until ‘ultra-lefties’ and the rest of that paragraph. What a simplistic and unsophisticated argument. Criticism for Zuckerberg et al probably stems from some of the dubious things Facebook (and by extension Zuckerberg) has done in the past and has nothing to do with ‘ultra-lefties’ wanting to tear down capitalism. Seriously, I don’t know whether to laugh at that argument or be embarrassed for you for attempting to make it.

  • dinger 10 Dec 2015 at 11:16 am

    enthusiasm and encouragement are worthless without commitment, and criticism and cynicism are the refuge of the impotent

    The Guardian is a student uni rag with pretentions

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