Case Studies

Mastercard: A Priceless Lesson In CSR Failure

6 months ago


Mastercard: A Priceless Lesson In CSR Failure

I’ve often said that you can learn more about CSR by watching companies fail than watching them succeed. Just a few days ago, Mastercard became the latest case in point.

Mastercard CSR | Jason Wicks

Goals That Save Lives

For those of you that don’t know, Mastercard have recently launched their ‘goals that save lives’ idea. It’s part of their ‘start something priceless’ campaign.

At first look, it seems pretty straight forward. Between now and March 2020, Mastercard will donate 10,000 meals to malnourished children in Latin America and the Caribbean every time either Messi or Neymar Jr score a goal.

Considering these two players are from Latin America and are two of the best footballers in the world, this seems like a sizeable gesture. So how did people react to the announcement?

Not well.

Twitter Reacts

As is the case with most modern CSR initiatives, companies are effectively rolling the dice for social media approval. If they get it right, they’re instantly recognised as one of the corporate ‘good guys’, but get it wrong, and they’re the subject of viral condemnation.

For Mastercard, they’re having to endure the latter.

While some people have welcomed Mastercard’s gesture, the vast majority of comments are incredibly negative.

Now, whilst I find myself agreeing with the majority, I do disagree with some of the arguments being made.

Not Just The World Cup

As I’ve mentioned, this campaign will run between now and March 2020, with 10,000 meals donated for every goal scored between that time. It’s hardly much of a gamble that two of the most prolific goal-scorers in the world will find the net multiple times in that period.

The problem is, by just looking at the tweet, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s only relating to the World Cup, which makes it far less impressive.

“Just Give Them The Meals Anyway”

Undoubtedly the most common argument I’m seeing against Mastercard is the idea that, because they have the resources, they should just donate the meals anyway.

It’s a perfectly valid argument, but unless you’re also angry with every company that isn’t doing anything at all, it’s a tad unfair. After all, most multinational companies have the resources to help solve problems, and it’s probably more useful to be angry at those that do nothing than those that try and help, but just make a mess of it.

At least they’re trying, right?

Why I Think Mastercard Have Failed

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a terrible CSR strategy.

I just think there are better arguments than the ones circulating Twitter.

Mastercard Messi and Neymar | Jason Wicks

Related: We need to change the way we solve problems. Read More.

The Gamification Of Hunger

For me, the main reason this has landed flat on its face is due to the gamification of hunger.

Extreme poverty and malnutrition is a serious problem, and it is sadly responsible for an enormous amount of suffering. By turning it into a game, Mastercard have completely trivialised something innately serious and, in doing so, have created a harrowing boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

The idea that certain outcomes of our entertainment have any influence over other people’s lives is truly shocking.

CSR is inherently all about people, and this ruthless dehumanisation of those in need is a truly terrible concept.

What’s even more frustrating though, is how easy it would’ve been to make this idea better. Instead of linking the meals donated to goals scored, what about linking it to Facebook likes or Twitter retweets? This is exactly what Expedia did several years ago, and it went down really well.

For every like, Expedia donated a certain amount of money to help take disadvantaged children on holiday. It worked because the donations weren’t linked to something random. Ordinary people could hit the like button and the company with the resources would donate. As a result, Expedia’s social media posts were widely shared and the charity raised loads of money. Everybody won.

The idea of linking donations to external events isn’t inherently bad, but Mastercard made a huge error in their choice to use goals scored. After all, goalkeepers are now effectively costing children 10,000 meals for every time they save a shot. It’s pretty ridiculous.

Celebrities Over Solutions

The second reason I think this counts as a CSR failure relates to Mastercard’s focus. When you watch the promotional videos or look at the social media posts, it becomes pretty clear who it is they care about.

No, it’s not the starving children, it’s Messi and Neymar.

Don’t get me wrong, using famous people to generate attention can be super useful for companies. However, they still need to be secondary to the problem at hand.

By making it all about them, Mastercard have come across as pretty insincere and it’s all just looked like a sponsorship gimmick.

Related: CSR communication – How to do it properly. Read More.


In short, Mastercard have massively missed the mark with this campaign.

In a way, it’s frustrating to see. When you delve into the details of their work, you do get the impression that they’re dedicated to helping solve the problem at hand, they’ve just gone about it terribly.

For me, it just goes to show how important effective communication is when it comes to CSR, and how necessary it is to truly think about how an initiative should be put together.

Personally, I hope that the widespread condemnation of Mastercard doesn’t put other companies off launching CSR programmes. Yes, this one idea has been a failure, but if companies follow the right steps, they should be able to avoid a similar fate.

For now, what Mastercard needs is a PR genius that can somehow make this all blow over.

Sadly for them, there are some things money can’t buy…

Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.

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