By guest blogger Lindsay Szymanski
I noticed something disturbing the other day at the grocery store. Pink. Everywhere. I was in the frozen-food aisle, picking out some breakfast treats, when I picked up a box of waffles. Emblazoned with pink ribbons, the box implied that I too could fight the battle of breast cancer, if only I bought . . . waffles.
I could see maybe buying a pink bra or even some pink lipstick or eye shadow to help the cause, but waffles? As a cynical shopper, I wandered around the store looking for more pink products. A cure was so close! Just buy the pink frying pan, pink kitchen sponge, pink stand-up mixer, pink garbage bags, pink deodorant, and pink laundry soap.
What I find appalling is that there is no precedent for how much a company has to give to a charity to be able to use the cause for marketing. As long as a “portion of the proceeds” goes to charity, it doesn’t matter how much or how little is given. You pick up the waffles, put it in your cart, glowing proudly that you have made a contribution. You get something out of it, they get something out of it. But is it ethical for companies to rank their product as a charitable donation even if the amount of funds given to charity is nominal? Nope, but that pink ribbon will induce many to throw that Lean Cuisine meal into the cart, or take home a shiny pink vacuum.
So-called “Cause Marketing” is definitely on the upswing. According to the Cone Millennial Cause Study in 2006, “89% of Americans (aged 13 to 25) would switch from one brand to another brand of a comparable product (and price) if the latter brand was associated with ‘good cause.'” Companies have caught on; since 2005, more than $4 billion has been spent on “cause-marketing” initiatives.
Sometimes, though, it takes a while to recognize a good bad thing. The world was first stunned by the outbreak of the HIV virus in 1981, but it wasn’t until 2005 that Bono decided it was high time to do something for people affected by the disease. The Product (red) campaign, launched in 2006, quickly became the premier way to cause-market. Companies aggressively jumped on the bandwagon, and before the year’s close more than 30 businesses had signed up, including American Express, Converse, Motorola and, most notably, The Gap. Gap’s Product (red) garments come emblazoned with such vaguely evocative phrases as “inspi(red)”, “mothe(red)” and “discove(red)”. (You don’t know what they mean, you just know they mean something.) While the campaign may be doing a lot of good for people afflicted by AIDS in Africa, it’s also doing a lot of good for The Gap, which gets 50% of the net profits.
Then there was the GREEN scheme developed by the Weston family in the mid-80s to push their Loblaws stores. Featuring a selection of products that would have minimal impact on the environment, at affordable prices, it turned out to be a marketer’s dream. Buy our product. Save the environment. Feel good about yourself. Spend, spend, spend.
At the time, the term “carbon footprint” had not even been coined. However, the idea of using someone’s good ethics and guilt as a marketing ploy was too good to pass up. Now, almost 20 years later, it seems as though everyone is jumping on the “Green” bandwagon for the purpose of making some “green” of their own.
You can’t open a newspaper or turn on the TV without being bombarded with advertisers telling you to “go green” with their merchandise. I can’t help but feel like I am being shamed into buying “Green” products. For instance, I was in need of a notebook, and stumbled upon one with a funky green cover and nice, smooth pages. On the front cover was a big tag that said: “Green Notes: Made with 5% Recycled Materials.” Five percent? Big whoopty-doo. Was I really making that much of an impact by buying a product with only five percent recycled material? How much damage was being done producing the other 95 percent?
This also reminds me of the new surge of “eco-ganic” fibres popping up in clothing stores. Although the garments are made out of organic cotton or bamboo fibres, they are still manufactured in sweatshops, still freighted overseas, and still produced on the same carbon-unfriendly machines that regular cotton is loomed on.
The only way to truly be “Green” is to not fall into the trap of consumerism, and live your life simply. Sure, it may take longer to get from point A to point B without a car, and you may not look as stylish as you could in brand-new garments, but consider the benefits: you’re not wasting money, and you’re leaving the earth alone. As for making charitable contributions through consumerism, I’d rather make the donation directly. Why should anyone benefit from another’s misfortunes? Next time I go into a store and I’m bombarded by invitations to be socially and environmentally conscious, I’ll think twice and wonder if the items are really doing good, or just making fat cat businesses even fatter.
This article first appeared in slightly different form on bobalicious, our social network