This week’s topic is one of those things that could never have existed without the Internet. In fact, it seems so far-fetched you can be forgiven for thinking it’s one of those hoaxes from last week.
This week’s topic is one of those things that could never have
existed without the Internet. In fact, it seems so far-fetched you can
be forgiven for thinking it’s one of those hoaxes from last week.
Visitors to the Hunger Site (www.thehungersite.com) are greeted by a map
of the world on which different countries flash on and off - one flash
every 3.6 seconds. Each flash represents someone dying of hunger in that
country. Visitors are then invited to simply click on a button to donate
food to the hungry. That’s right: all you have to do is click.
You don’t actually have to give anything; this is charity where you dip
into someone else’s pocket instead of your own.
So how does it work? The food is actually paid for by sponsors. There
are usually between four and six sponsors for the site at any one time,
and each donates a quarter of a cup of food each time someone clicks on
the ’Donate Free Food’ button on the home page. The food is donated
through the United Nations World Food Program. ’There is absolutely no
charge to you for the donation; it is fully paid for by the sponsors and
is completely free for you,’ the site tells you reassuringly.
Clicking on the button took me to a page that told me: ’You have just
donated 1 1/2 cups of rice, wheat, maize or other staple food to a
hungry person, adding to over 100 tons weekly.’ It also listed the
sponsors with their logos and links to their own sites. On the day I
made my donation, the sponsors included Proflowers.com and
GreaterGood.com - not exactly household names. Still, there were
4,823,556 donations in total - the number of people who clicked on the
’Donate Free Food’ button - during October, amounting to 6,341,680 cups
of food or 792,711 pounds. And for ’donations,’ you can also read
Those millions of people have at least seen those companies’ names and
their logos. And the half a cent per click that the companies spend on
donating food compares well with the cost of buying a similar audience
using conventional advertising. It’s more expensive than buying
impressions using banner advertising online, but those impressions are
gained in a context that reflects very favorably on the participating
companies - a nice bit of PR. It overcomes one of the great challenges
of online advertising - getting people to care enough, in the clutter of
banners, buttons and general clamor for your attention, to click on your
And there’s spin-off publicity to be gained as well. The Hunger Site has
been written up everywhere from The Washington Post and Family Circle to
El Mundo in Spain and Norway’s Aftenposten.
The Hunger Site has even protected its sponsors against
charitable-minded individuals who might decide to sit and click 500 or
1,000 times on the button in order to increase their donation - the site
will only register one click a day from each unique Internet address.
The site does try to maximize the networking capabilities of the Net,
though. People are invited to put links to the Hunger Site on their own
sites and there is a collection of downloadable banners to use for
The catch? There doesn’t appear to be one. Amazingly, it’s not a big
media organization or other publicity machine behind the site but a
private individual, a computer programmer from Indiana called John
Breen. He started the site last June as his own way of helping to
alleviate hunger, and since then it has paid for more than 825 metric
tons of food. And he makes no money from it - the sponsors write their
checks direct to the UN relief organization.
It’s not often that I get to write about something that deserves every
column inch that can be thrown at it. But I think I just did.