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The City Crier – Editorial for the second issue of Consious Consumer Magazine

| Lewis Akenji

In the market economy, our social, cultural and political habits are influenced by economic conquest. It is therefore fair to say that nothing drives the pop lifestyle more than advertisement, the corporate tool that relays their brand presence to us.

As far as opportunities go, there’re probably enough
out there to satisfy everyone’s needs. This is the information age. 1,000,000
new books published per months, thousands of new products developed each week,
new methods of doing old things, new ways of seeking spiritual ease, news, news,
news. There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there, so much that it
is almost discouraging to filter through the junk to get to what we
need.  Likewise for producers, the big question is how to get the
right information to the right person. In today’s business language the term is
advertisement – Targeted Advertisement.

In the market economy, our social, cultural and
political habits are influenced by economic conquest. It is therefore fair to
say that nothing drives the pop lifestyle more than advertisement, the corporate
tool that relays their brand presence to us. As the playfield for corporations
has grown bigger with economic globalisation, so have techniques of getting
consumers. Global spending on advertising grew to $446 billion in 2002; Nestlé
alone burnt above $2 billion targeting potential consumers that’s more than the
budget of Hungary that year for health care. There are internal races within
industries not only to reach consumers first but also to outplay competitors and
establish cartels and monopolies that engulf the market. At the exorbitant costs
involved, a few dominant market players monopolize popular advertisement
channels, reducing the number of available product choices that reach consumers.
Big companies squeeze out smaller ones and alternatives cannot afford start-up
costs, further cutting down on choice. The same worldwide brands get advertised
over and over, creating a global culture that undermines local markets,
traditional products, and infiltrates cultural indigenousness.

Secondly, this might not cause much alarm had it not
been for the dysfunctional methods deliberately employed to seduce consumers. An
example is to create and amplify fears, psychologically manipulating potential
consumers. Whole industries have been built around the image that women have to
be slim in order to be sexy.  Parents and researchers have expressed
growing alarm at the adverse effects of adverts of brands targeting children,
using their innocence to coerce parents to buy advertised products. 
Education has not been left alone to maintain its objectivity and independence
from businesses. In the United States Coca-Cola and Pepsi have had to defend
their aggressive strategy to seek exclusive contracts with local school systems
allowing them to supply soda machines and products in exchange for
million-dollar deals. Branding of indigenous cultures, controlling scientific
research, lobbying against proper legislation, etc, are but a few other
examples.

Yet, advertising is almost indispensable today.
Strike it out and we’re back to the problem of how to educate consumers
of opportunities and products available.

In the days when local populations could easily be
summed in three or four figures, the town crier would easily have done it. Or,
given that you were also likely to know your next-door neighbour, he or she
would have whispered it to you at the community meeting. Such methods counted up
till just some decades back, and still go on in small indigenous communities.
But, for the modern global society, town criers and local bonding are already
archaeological topics; now every continent and ocean is everyone’s terrain and
niche. No matter that we cannot access what is in our own neighbourhoods, we
still want to stretch thin across the globe and touch the surface of everything
without going deep on any. With corporations leading the way in our
economy-centric world, we’ve been pulled along to adapt methods to match our
fast lifestyles, large appetites, and unaccountable spending.

This is not a campaign to stop advertisement. It is a
call for producers to face their responsibility of being truthful and ethical
when educating consumers, for policy makers to ensure that corporate appetites
are regulated not to take over and corrode traditional human institutions, and
for consumers to exert their influence when an advertiser crosses the economic
line. It is call to protect ourselves from profit seekers that misuse a good
tool and abuse the people that are supposed to benefit from it. We live in a
world of conventions; systems only work because people have trust in them. If
this trust is allowed to be manipulated and abused by some, there is a risk of
collapse due to collective withdrawal.  It is a worldwide acknowledged
problem. Individual action, local communities, civil organisations, state
legislation are all taking part with different approaches to fend off
trespassers. And, by the way, it should be consumer education, not
advertisement.

Read on to find out…we will also be interested in
hearing about your own actions or ideas.

This article first appeared in the magazine
Tudatos Vasarlo issue 2.

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