Consuming as Advocacy?

People are going to love this.

Especially on this Labor Day week, because we feel so uncomfortable, often, talking about working for a living, but so very much enjoy talking about our lives as consumers.

We love buying things, right? Even I, who hasn’t seen a television commercial or a magazine advertisement in two years, can’t run to Target to pick up generic diapers without seeing 12 things that I swear I’ve been meaning to get forever.

And, so, because Americans are awesome like this, someone has invented Carrotmob, which is a totally American idea:

Feel good about changing the world, just by buying things.

No, this isn’t one of those “embedded giving” platforms, the much-debated practice of companies packaging their products with charitable organizations’ endorsement, with a small percentage of the sales going to support that cause.

This is much simpler, and, I think, much cooler.

Basically, companies compete to see how socially responsible they can be, and the winning companies get the support of a “mob” of consumers, spending money to reward the company with both higher sales and a lot of good publicity. There’s a real social component (the mobs are literally big groups of people, and the website content is written in a very personal style), which we of course love too, and it’s very “new media”–the website is filled with videos of actions and ways for people to get alerts sent directly to their medium of choice.

So far, “social responsibility” has mainly focused on environmental sustainability, but there are plans for campaigns focusing on labor rights, too.

They’re very open about the limitations of such a strategy (first and foremost, people buying too much stuff is part of some of the very problems they hope to address, and yet their campaigns fuel that), but there’s a real potential to bring in activists who wouldn’t normally engage in petitions or even boycotts, and that’s a part of their model of change.

Check it out, sign up if it appeals to you, and let me know what you think. Is this an exciting example of how to connect people to actions for the social good, or a gimmick that people won’t ultimately pay much attention to? How do you feel about the whole ‘mob’ concept? And about consuming as advocacy? Should we be encouraging people to forego consumption as a political act, or can strategic purchasing be part of our repertoire of tactics?

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