Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Consumer Print

By Anamita Gall, Summer Intern at the Kirwan Institute

Last weekend I was faced with an interesting choice. As a part time employee at a flourishing retail company I could sign up 15 friends for a discount at any of the 4 stores of my company and 5% of their purchase would go to a charity sponsored by my company. I had about 6 choices, among which included providing medication for AIDS victims in Africa. With the 5 minutes I had to complete this, I instantly chose the RED campaign, recognizable due to its heavy media promotions. However that short process stayed in my mind through the week.

Media has helped establish a growing trend of “charitable consumerism”- product promotions which declare that a portion of the sales goes to charitable causes. Very few people will tell you they don’t want to make the world a better place, so this type promotion thrives with those of us in the privileged ranks of society. While these campaigns often do support their claims, it generally oversimplifies the problem, while negating other dilemmas that arise through the manufacturing of the product.

In under 5 mins I had decided that helping AIDS victims in Africa was more important, than the other nameless/faceless causes- because I didn’t recognize them. I also inadvertently decided that it didn’t matter what other human right violations may have occurred in production. I had taken a few courses on marketing and graphics, and used to believe I was above the influence of marketing tactics, yet I found it amazing, how much the choice I made was influenced by marketing campaigns. The irony is that these campaigns are generally part of a company’s social responsibility plans to assuage the negative publicity they receive from the global misdeeds they commit elsewhere.

Thus charitable causes are becoming evermore “consumerable” through media especially for our younger generations. Our consumption has now conveniently been tied to our causes, thus linked to our identity, to leave what I’d like to call a consumer print- a sad reality of our consumption practices. Today we can proclaim our liberal/ conservative identities and claim ties to causes without even having to do more than swipe a credit card. It would seem we are grooming a generation which likes the idea of change, progress, and equality, but really has little clue how to go about it, especially when simpler options are presented in impressively packaged products.

My consumer print-- AIDS victimsupporter/ environmentlover/global warming enabler/childhater, what’s yours?


  1. very insightful and honest. Another example of how the American middle and upper classes are able to pat themselves on the back while in reality contributing to inequalities

  2. Well said! I myself (a self-proclaimed liberal) have a growing aversion to "causes" that people are collecting money for.

    I know one local cause that purports to "SAVE THE CHILDREN!" and sends people out onto streetcorners with a spiel and a clipboard to collect money. Folks who have done this say it's a racket, the organization is just into it to collect the money. When I see these solicitors (usually college students who've been promised big money for doing this), I want to respond, "Geez, I just HATE the children." Just to see what they'd do.

    I'm trying to find a way to make a REAL difference in a global way. Signing a petition or giving to some nebulous organization thinking I've done my job, just doesn't do it for me. I've been involved in too many causes and political campaigns, and know how organizations/personalities are in the business of marketing themselves, while the real issues get buried.