Soylent And The Case For Cause Marketing

skeptical chihuahua CC Ylie Soylent And The Case For Cause MarketingPeople don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Soylent founder Rob Rinehart wants to end world hunger. In the process he’s served up a steaming plate of controversy, pitting foodies, nutritionists and poverty eradication advocates against one another. Intentionally or not, he’s hit on the perfect recipe for viral PR.

Soylent is dangerous! It won’t stand up to scientific scrutiny! And Soylent just might be the devil, his critics claim.

What’s all the fuss about Soylent?

Soylent is a dissolvable powder that provides you with your total daily intake of calories and essential nutrients at a cost of 50 cents per day. That’s it.

“Are you working on a truly disruptive technology?” asks Douglas Crets from Microsoft BizSpark. “Here’s one sign that you are — people who hold incumbent positions in the industry express frustration and skepticism at your work,” he says. In that case Rhinehart is definitely onto something huge.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

I met Rob a few months ago. We were at a vegan night at a house in San Francisco’s Mission District. He told me about his quest to end world hunger, and that he had gone 51 days consuming nothing but Soylent. I was skeptical.

But my friend tried Soylent, didn’t die, and so I tried some. Soylent is sweet, light in texture and had a sunny vanilla taste to it. Reinhart said the vanilla was added to enhance flavor, and was not a biproduct of the mineral mixture. While I couldn’t actually imagine living off the stuff indefinitely, its taste was good enough that I had a second sample.

I would venture to say that most of the people who are the most opposed to Soylent haven’t tried it.There are 50 beta testers who are helping Rob improve the formula, mouthfeel and product experience. A handful of journalists have also been invited to sample Soylent, including the kind-hearted folks at Gawker and i09. But everyone has an opinion. People tripping over themselves to be the one to condemn Soylent most vociferously.

People who support Rob see the need for real solutions to global hunger, and want to be a part of the change they desire. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

The problem Soylent solves

There are 870 million people today who are chronically malnourished, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Program. That’s one out of eight living humans. In America 40 percent of the food we produce is wasted, and 25 percent of all fresh water consumed is used to create this food waste. It’s disgusting.

There is more than enough food to feed our planet. Even in times of drought and plague, the problem of feeding starving people comes down to logistics. Soylent could allow aid organizations, governments and other concerned folks to rush life-sustaining nutrition to people in conflict areas without fear of spoilage, or food aid theft.

Why Soylent is a cause and not just a product

Will Soylent end starvation and solve our food waste problem? Maybe.

A successful crowdfunding campaign has already helped Rinehart raise more than $1,000,000 to improve his testing methodology, scale production and distribution. It’s too soon to know if it will work, and what the unintended side effects may be, but this is irrelevant. Starvation, obesity and bad diet are problems bigger than any one man. People gladly give their money to Rheinhart because starvation is a problem they want solved.

People want Soylent to succeed because they believe in the mission. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why do do it.

What is your company mission?

Every startup has a story. Often the founding team was united around a common problem, and they found the problem affected many more people than they thought. Founders who solve a painful issue for which no other solution exists have the best stories to tell about their business, and find success enrolling others in their mission. Whatever the case may be, people are drawn to help you when your product has “self-transcendant value,” and is a story bigger than you and your team. This is the root of cause marketing.

Watch the TED Talk from Simon Sinek below to understand how many of the companies you admire wrap themselves in a cause.

Rhinehart is a credible spokesman for the product, because he created Soylent, and is living off its sustenance. He’s committed to sound science, and researches his product tirelessly to ensure that it will one day be ready for the masses. In short, he no con. But that hasn’t stopped people from lashing out at him with ad-hominem attacks, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), and boundless skepticism.

The genius, of course, is that all the controversy is the best public relations money can buy. While people may not be saying nice things, at least they’re talking. You can easily turn negative attention into something that suits your aims. You can’t turn no attention into anything. In marketing and sales it’s better to be hated, feared, reviled or ridiculed than to be ignored.

The jury is out on whether Soylent will end world hunger. Even if it falls short of its goal, and can keep 1 million people alive for cents per day–or even one starving person–then it can be judged as a success. That’s not just a protein powder. It’s a cause.

Learn how your story can change the world

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