Here's a quote from Derrick Max, executive director of Compass, the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security, He is also the executive director of the Alliance for Worker Retirement Security. "I underestimated the impact that individual companies would feel for lending their name" to the personal accounts cause.
In fact, given the controversy that the issue engenders, he is considering inviting only trade associations to join his organizations because they give individual companies a buffer.
"If you are a CEO, you don't want your product bought and sold based on a political issue," he said.
When elections are possibly rigged, when democracy is rigged, the only remedy becomes economic voting i.e. not purchasing goods and services.
You can withdraw your labour (strike) or withdraw your vote (boycott), but the most powerful weapon in the Consumer Society is the withdrawal of purchase.
It is a powerful weapon because, for most companies, even a 5% drop in sales is a significant hit. Higher than that and companies start to take action. More than 20% drops in medium-term periods (like 3 consecutive quarters) will bring boardroom panic.
Of course this goes on all the time: companies adjust product and marketing strategies according to consumer purchase patterns. But these patterns (from the consumers' point of view) are unstructured. And, of course, most of the time, the marketers influence these patterns of purchase. How else would you explain the success of the SUV?
Historically there have been some slow, long-term adjustments to corporate policy as a result of consumer action: the withdrawal of British banks from South Africa during apartheid for one. There are plenty of other examples. Often consumer advocacy groups have driven such campaigns forward. Nader v Chevrolet for example, way back in the Sixties.
But we have, right here, a tool for true consumer democracy: a way to utilize the connection of tens of thousands of people into Internet communities to form powerful non-purchase groups.
Just a threat of withdrawal of purchase may be enough to change corporate policy. I often read here that someone is going to cancel a subscription to the NYT or whatever. That is an individual statement. It won't affect anything except the canceller's peace of mind. But thousands of threatened cancellations will. You don't need a majority - that is the power of it. This is real minority power. And I'm talking about a tiny minority, not the 41 votes out of a hundred for a filibuster. 5% may be enough.
I realize that in the case of SUVs that 5% would mean the non-purchase of 5000 a month. (but see below) That is a tall order, especially in communities such as this where, I suspect, compacts may be de rigeur. But in other consumer areas there may be possibilities. If it is possible to organize a lot of people to call their Representatives in Congress, it surely must be possible to organize the mass calling of corporate consumer departments. What is needed is to make it easy:
- Identify the issues and the targets
- Publish the contact information of the targets
- Standardize the message
- Get feedback on success to promote further campaigns
People WILL take the trouble if they think their `vote' counts.
The first stage that I have just described is the PR attack. It registers an `audible' complaint level at the target company. Depending on corporate sensitivity, it may have only a limited effect on actions, but it will certainly register on corporate consciousness.
Stage 2 is a statement of possible withdrawal of purchase. "If you the company don't change your ways, then I am going to purchase elsewhere". They don't even need to know that you ARE a customer or a potential customer. It will cost them too much to correlate the complaints against their marketing intelligence.
So, for instance, "I was actively considering the purchase of your new (product/service) until I recently noted that your company is supporting the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security, through your membership of a trade association. In the circumstances, I have decided to purchase (the product/service) of another company that is not a member of the trade association.
What I am suggesting is nothing new. What is new is the idea of using blogging communities to organize such movements. Or is it? You tell me.
But let me repeat the quote: "If you are a CEO, you don't want your product bought and sold based on a political issue."
Politicizing consumerism could be a powerful tool.
BTW while checking Compass, I came across this. Try it...
where are you politically?
I turned out to be in the same spot as Ghandi, and it made my day.