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Is there such a thing as a free lunch?

Jane Priest, Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

Gift Wrap Patterns Galore

Gift Wrap (Photo credit: Premier Packaging)

Happiness gurus have all sorts of advice up their sleeves: live in the moment, engage in an absorbing task or commit a random act of kindness? With all the doom and gloom about due to economic hardship, this last option seems particularly appealing.

The theory goes that selfless acts of generosity (in other words, being nice to each other) makes us more fulfilled and happy. When was the last time you did a good deed? Was it rewarding? This is a question many marketing managers would be able to answer enthusiastically.

In fact, random acts of kindness (or R.A.K. for short) seemed to be an industry buzzword last year. All sorts of sectors were up to it, and had been for some time. Back in 2010 Swedish furniture company IKEA spruced up Paris metro stations with comfy sofas.

According to, L’Oreal skincare brand Biotherm searched Twitter for people claiming to be tired and offered them free samples from the anti-fatigue skincare range.

Orange juice brand Tropicana even launched a mock sun in an artic town whose residents faced a month of winter darkness.

Transport for London celebrates acts of kindness on London Underground by sharing stories of generosity, and there are many more examples of organisations embracing kindness and empathy as a key brand attribute. says R.A.Ks are not about rewarding customers for spreading the word. But they are about encouraging people to spread the word. In marketing, word of mouth is an essential form of communication (discussed in module 10 of the Consumer Behaviour course text). We’re more likely to trust non-commercial sources, and everyone likes to share a happy experience (as well as a bad one).

With more people than ever before sharing their lives in social media, marketers can better understand consumers and tailor their offerings, as well as enjoy the spread of information online.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been offered a personalised gift or been given a random hug on the street. In fact, the R.A.K. buzz seems to have simmered down. Are random acts of kindness just a form of publicity? If they are something new and different, are they a fad or here to stay?