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Don’t Underestimate Your Power as a Consumer.

2 Heart it! Kirsty Gordge / Identity K 60
June 13, 2018
Kirsty Gordge / Identity K
2 Heart it! 60

The close-knit collegiate life of university means big groups of friends and something fun always happening. It’s like living in a herd of sheep, taking turns to shepherd each other. Without really thinking about it, there’s always cool stuff for us to do/see/buy/drink/try and an abundance of places for us to eat/explore/hang-out/live/laugh/love.

When I graduated, I stayed in town and worked for a company that marketed directly to students. It was then that I realised just how much power we had as a mass of kids just waiting to be targeted, and how lots of the decisions we thought we made were really made for us. I came to understand that we were not just shepherding each other, we were part of a bigger field under constant surveillance and scrutiny, being herded by much larger forces, and mostly completely unaware.

I realise now, that even though I am no longer a student, we – adults – have a huge amount of power as individuals. We are presented with choices every day, and the decisions we make aren’t just based on what we think we want; a lot of them are rigged for us.

At the time, it’s not uber obvious that lots of effort has been exerted behind the scenes. Did you make a lovely Mexican-style dinner last week? The marketing manager at the supermarket who organised the ‘taco deal’ had several item options, aisle locations, store locations to consider, as well as taking into account time of day, week, and weather forecasted. The fact that you picked up the corn chips, guac and tacos and put them in your trolley means he nailed it. Did you stop to consider how many other people in your neighbourhood also enjoyed a sunny ‘Mexican Monday’?

Every time we scroll on our social media newsfeeds, we are making choices: what to stop and look at, what to laugh at, what to tag friends in, what to pop a comment on. Facebook algorithms work in such a way that businesses want you to ‘like, comment, tag and share’ as much as possible so they can get boosted up the ‘importance’ list. Therefore, they strive to make their content as ‘thumb-stopping’ as possible. By agreeing with a ‘ban plastic bags’ kind of post and tagging a friend that you know would agree, you are choosing this page’s success, and helping to spread their message. By not caring about what type of food your birth month makes you, your silence and ignoring of this equally gives weight to what you want to see on your newsfeed, and the likelihood of what other people will see.

What did you have for lunch at the weekend? Where did you buy your coffee from yesterday? What did you spend Saturday night doing? Let’s just stop and think about all the marketing that was out there for these different options, targeting you and trying to succeed by ‘winning’ your decision.

But all this preparational work and influencing your choosing isn’t even scratching the surface. The best part? The fact that they respond. These people not only cater to you, but they watch how you respond and continue to cater to you. Did you consider that what you ordered for lunch (and when and how) became a statistic and is being analysed before the advertising is approved for next weekend? That the reason you’ll see another deals bin in the same corner of the supermarket next week is because the suggestive ‘Mexican Monday’ was so successful?

It’s simple supply and demand, really. They supply. We demand. They focus their supply better.

Which underlines, capitalises, and italicises one thing.

You, as a consumer, have the world at your fingertips.

Back in one of my third-year PR lectures, the lecturer put a slide up that I didn’t know at the time would change my life. It said something like: “every time you spend money, you are making a choice about the kind of world you want to live in”. It really got me thinking. If we know McDonalds is doing nothing for our nutrition, our mindset, or our sustainable values, all we have to do is not spend money there. If we love to see local produce at the farmers market, all we have to do is invest our money at these stalls instead of overseas produce in the supermarket. If we don’t agree with vegetables being wrapped in plastic, all we have to do is choose the ones that aren’t.

Think about it: if you see a couple of school kids with a table on their street selling ‘homemade lemonade’ for $2 a pop, you’re likely to invest in it because you want to reward these kids for being entrepreneurial, working to understand the value of money, and make their day. We are ultimately investing in the future of their dreams, shaping how they see the world, and giving them reason to run inside and say “Look, Daddy, it worked!”. I’d wager a lot of us stop and buy the lemonade regardless of whether or not we want it, because we see it as investing in our future generations. What we need to realise, is that it’s the same with every transaction; we are investing in our futures.

Although your individual actions might feel small and insignificant, they couldn’t be more loudly-spoken. Adidas recently announced they are no longer offering plastic cups at the end of their Auckland running club runs, and that people should use their water bottles for the tankards of sports drink at the end of the race instead, and that the banana skins will be composted instead of put in the general waste. Why did they do this? Is it because the top person at Adidas has just become conscious of the environment? Maybe. But realistically, it’s more likely that they’re listening to what people talk about, what is trendy, and what people want. It’s likely a PR stunt as a ‘forward thinking’ company giving an edge over Nike and other top brands. But more importantly, it’s a response to people because they want to keep their customers, so they are being the change that people want to see.

So, if there’s something you should take from this article, it’s this.

If you believe in something, stand your ground. Don’t think ‘oh well, everyone else does it, so it’s fine’, or ‘how will one person make a difference anyway?’. Think about supply and demand and remember that you’re contributing to a statistical sales analysis (even at the lemonade stall). Think about what kind of person you are, what you personally support, what you want to see more of, and what kind of world you want to live in. Internalise this concept, and never again feel insignificant at the point of decision-making. Every plastic container not chosen is a statement. Every vegetarian meal choice, every time you use your keep cup, every time you share something on Facebook, it’s a statement. So, give your support to what you believe in. What kind of a world do you want to live in? Together we can design the future course of this planet. You might just be one person; but the world is listening. Choose wisely.

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2 Heart it! Kirsty Gordge / Identity K 60
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