Cynical altruism?

So, American Express is planning to donate a bunch of money to preserve major landmarks in your region, and they’re asking you to vote online on which ones should get the money. And the best part is that you can vote multiple times, once per day until the deadline. What do you do? Email all your friends and get them to vote for your favorite landmark, of course.
That’s what lots of folks in the San Francisco Bay Area did last month, and I got plenty of email from friends trying to get me to support our beloved Pigeon Point Lighthouse. And they received plenty of encouragement from American Express.
But it turns out that a panel of experts was doing the real deciding and that the vote-winning landmark was merely guaranteed an undetermined share of the “$1 million in preservation grants” that was being dangled before us.
So, it wasn’t exactly a sham vote, but with everyone allowed to vote more than once and invite their friends, it was clearly as much as word of mouth marketing as it was about historic preservation.
I’m torn on this one. The cause is worthy. But the voting seems like a placebo. The money is real. But is this the best we as a society can do to support our historic sites? Is word-of-mouth marketing on a grand scale possible without manipulation? If American Express was able to keep the marketing expenses low, this is certainly a lot better for the community than a billboard campaign.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.