Stories From The Past: Consumers Of All Countries, Unite!

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International Workers’ Day. We already know more or less everything there is to know about it. It has been celebrated as the International Workers’ day in the world since 1889. as a reminder on labour workers’ demonstrations in Chicago at the beginning of May in  1886. Namely, after the demands for eight-hour working hours by the trade unions were rejected, more than two hundred people were killed in clashes with the police, and later eight of them were sentenced to death.

During these 125 years, the International Workers’ Day has grown into one of the most powerful symbols of the struggle for labour rights in the world and in general the symbol of the struggle for freedom. In our former country, while the region still had its own name and was still one country, the celebration the International Workers’ Day had a clear ideological dimension. For, it was, as you know, a country of workers in which all labour rights were fully practised, and therefore the workers had no further request. The government reminded people of this achievement every year and boasted about it, just in case. Labourers and the general population used to celebrate it in proper fashion, all over the forests and valleys of our proud land by gathering around barbeques and fires.)As the ideological framework loosened, so, too were there less of those appropriate official meetings in which the government bragged, but the celebratory euphoria of those other gatherings was not diminished. On the contrary. Little by little, International Workers’ Day evolved into a spring festival – a people’s holiday meant as a celebration of good cheer. Working and non-working days were diligently added up before the holiday, with creativity demonstrated in coming up with a formula for using less working days to get more days off, where linking the weekend before the holiday with the one after it was a given. The only factor of uncertainty was the weather, which resulted in the adoption of a mantra to be repeated fervently before the holiday in order to achieve the desired effect – “hopefully, the weather will be good”!

Essentially, nothing has changed in the past twenty years or so that we’ve all been independent of each other. The only thing that has changed is a strong marketing support for this national holiday. And so, a few days before this International Workers’ Day, we were showered by irresistible offers – buy a six-pack of beer and you’ll get two packets of barbecue kebabs for free, or buy a brand new grill and you’ll get two free charcoal bags. There were many similar offers, but, realistically speaking, they could’ve been better. Why didn’t anyone offer a complimentary badminton set for the little girls, along with the beer and barbeque, and a disposable football for the little boys, guaranteeing the satisfaction of the whole family (This having been said, I’m volunteering for next year, and if they remember me, then it’s all good…) Even those who had no idea what to do and where to go that day were taken care of. There were mass gatherings organized for them in squares, parks and picnic spots, and even the slightest dilemma of whether to go or not, was eliminated by an offer too good to refuse – come and you shall receive, free of charge of course, a serving of beans, which you will calmly, with thousands of others, consume sitting under branded sun umbrellas, surrounded by branded bars carrying branded beer and branded soft drinks. The free beans were accompanied by an appropriate cultural program which took place on the branded stage, and seasoned, as tradition would have it, by all colors and shapes of politicians, who put on their best concerned face, perfected to a fault, and bravely told those gathered that precisely today’s holiday was the perfect opportunity to highlight unemployment as a burning issue of our society, which we must fight ruthlessly, and announce that the most decisive steps would be taken towards enabling the pre-requisites for creating the necessary circumstances for the system institutions to yackety-yack…

Is it not somehow touching that capitalism simply stole the Labor Worker’s Day and turned it into another consumer holiday? And it happened in the same way as it twisted the point of Christmas, invented the Valentine’s Day, Black Friday, Blue Monday (well, it’s not blue, but I know it’s one of the colours). Isn’t it genius how the eight-hour day movement demands – eight hours for work / eight hours for rest / eight hours for what you will – were toppled and turned into 24 hours of shopping. Instead of sleeping, we now have “shopping nights” every now and then, instead of free time and culture events, we have “shopping and entertainment festivals” at shopping centres, we already routinely do a quick shopping-on-line shopping during our working hours!

This shows the invaluable contribution of a well-oiled media and marketing machine. It’s still doing everything in its might to create a new age man whose guiding principle and identity status will be reflected by the slogan “I buy, therefore I am”. It cannot be said that this trend not a success and that the results are not very good. Shopping is an essential part of our lifestyle and what we are – “tell me where / what you are buying and I will tell you who you are.” Brands reveal our system of values and define our place in the social scale. By buying a “real” brand, we are also buying the desired place on that social scale. Freedom, success, appearances, youth, beauty, power… If you miss any of these, don’t worry, everything can be purchased, all you have to do is just select the right brand. That’s why we buy what we cannot afford. Appearances are crucial; we’ll get around to the essence somehow. And even if we don’t, we’ll just buy some more of the correct brand, or we’ll change the brand, and then maybe we’ll get around to it. If that’s what they say, then that’s how it must be.

If shopping has ceased to be the purchase of necessities and has become a social phenomenon through which, we define ourselves and evaluate others, then is the following question appropriate: Can we, as customers, change the world and make it a better place?

You probably never heard of Australian bottled water “Thankyou”. Behind this water, there is a company with the same name which was founded in 2008 by a 19-year-old student Daniel Flynn with three of his friends from university with the idea that a certain amount of money from the price of each bottle sold will be used to finance water supply projects in Central African countries, in which thousands of people, especially children, die due to lack of drinking water. Their message was simple: Make your contribution and help someone live better by making the right choice in doing what you do every day – shopping. On July 29, 2013, the largest Australian retail chain “Coles” included bottled drinking water “Thankyou” in its offer. This news is nothing special itself. What’s special is that “Thankyou” had posted a video on social networks two weeks earlier and invited its followers to leave their posts on “Coles” Facebook page asking for “Thankyou” water to be a part of the offer. The video had 70,000 views, and “Coles” page was cluttered with messages to put “thankyou” water on their shelves. The campaign produced a stronger echo than imagined and during those two weeks 13 million people found out about it through various media. “We were told to be happy if we put our water on the shelves of “Coles “within 6 months! We did it in two weeks “, commented founder of company David Flin. Today, the company “Thankyou” defines itself as a movement of consumers who contribute to the financing of over 100 projects in nine countries through the purchase of water which aims at improving living conditions in the poorest regions.  Each of these projects has been described in details and can be read on their website. In addition to water, they included food and personal hygiene items in the offer.

An American Blake Mycoskie travelled to Argentina in 2006. He joined a humanitarian organization that distributed aid in the form of free shoes in the villages. He met families where there were not enough shoes for all the kids, so the children alternately went to school every second or third day when it was their turn to wear shoes. On return home, in the same year, he founded the company “TOMS” in his apartment, which started selling shoes with the promise that each pair of sold shoes, will provide one pair which will be given for free to a child needs them. This idea was clearly stated by the slogan “One for one”. So far, more than 10 million pairs of shoes are given in over 60 countries. Blake is the chairman of the company, and his position is “Chief Shoe Giver”, which is the most important position (there are professional managers for other activities). TOMS is not a shoe-selling company, but a company that helps people in need and make their life easier and this is all possible thanks to people all around the world who  – shop on a daily basis. They join the movement “One for one” and give an example of good practice to the world. I had the opportunity to listen to Blake speaking and I remembered the following words: „First of all, I am responsible for people on both sides and my ultimate task is to keep my promise “One to one” I made at the beginning. Products can be different, but the model “One to one” has to be the same. The “One for one” model was also used for eyewear in 2011. For each pair of purchased TOMS sunglasses, one person would receive prescription glasses or surgery to restore his eyesight. In this way, 200 thousand people in 13 countries have gotten their sight back. Starting from this year, 2014, you can buy a bag of TOMS Premium coffee and enable access to drinking water to people in 5 countries.

One of the people who was inspired by the TOMS project was a Canadian Tal Dehtiar, who founded his company for the production of shoes “Oliberte” in 2009. His goal was a bit different and he had a slightly different concept in his mind. He promised that each pair of “Oliberte” shoes would always be manufactured in Africa. By doing what you normally do – buying – you can make your contribution. If you decide to buy his shoes, you will enable people in the least developed African countries to work in normal and decent conditions and earn the secure existence for them and their families. Tal believes that the creation of solid economic foundations for the development of one region is a more effective way to help people live better lives than giving a charity. He hired local producers and expanded their business. He purchases leather from local cattle breeders in Ethiopia, rubber for soles in Liberia, and wool labels and other materials from Mauritius. He made his assortment wider by producing bags and other leather accessories. He purchases leather in Kenya and produces in Zambia. Last year, he opened his own factory in Addis Ababa, where he plans to relocate his entire shoe production. From 200 pairs of shoes sold in 2009, he made 10 thousand pairs of shoes in 2011. Moreover, his factory is the first shoe factory in the world that has the “Fair Trade” certification.

The development of the companies mentioned above will depend on the expansion and strength of their consumer-based movements and consumers’ awareness to make a tangible contribution to the better life of the other people. Now you’ll say – so when I buy some other pair of shoes or a bottle of water, I help someone who makes it get paid and live better. The essential difference is in the motive. In the case of “thankyou” water, “TOMS” and “Oliberte” shoes, your predominant motive for buying that particular product, and the real concern is helping someone. In other cases, this is a price, a discount, a free gift, or your need to show off. In the first case, you are attracted by the story through which the product was made, in another, it is the advertisement you saw. In the first case, you will tell someone the story that inspired you to buy the product, in the second you will show someone the product you bought. And it’s nothing new. What is new is that each of us today has various channels to spread this story faster and more efficiently than ever before, and that’s why this story is incomparably more powerful. For each movement – whether it is of social, spiritual, political or consumer kind – the most important figure is not the founder, but the first followers, because they are the ones who believe and want to be part of the story, through active participation, in this case by shopping.  When you bought one of these products just because you wanted to help someone, you have joined that movement. You did it consciously and you give example by inviting others to do the same thing. Thus, after the first follower, others join and the movement begins to live and spread.

Time in which the new power of consumers will be a criterion for success is coming. Traditional business parameters do not matter anymore – quantity sold, income, profit, dividend – but the contribution that its business has on the life of the local community, the prosperity of society and survival of the planet is what counts.

Does this sound like some kind of utopia? Probably! Is it less worth the effort? The answer to this question depends on whether you think this is the reason to join one of these or similar consumer movements? Or even better – to start one yourself!

International Workers’ Day is over. No more. Never mind, let’s celebrate! Happy VICTORY DAY, May 9!

Source: Media Marketing

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