My friend Nancy Giordano has a wonderful newsletter called Cultural Acupuncture in which she explores many topics, mostly centered around the future of the modern, responsible corporation. You might like to receive it too.
Nancy and I got to talking this week about a theme in most writing about corporate responsibility that drives me bonkers – it’s about how much consumers care about the responsible behavior of companies they interact with.
So, for example, Cone Communications’ most recent Corporate Social Responsibility report claims that “nine-in-10 consumers [sic] expect companies to do more than make a profit, but also operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues…[and] Eighty-four percent of consumers globally say they seek out responsible products whenever possible.”
Yeah, uh huh, that’s exactly how people decide what to buy and not to buy.
Can we please, please put these sorts of nonsense statements behind us? Consumers say one set of things. They do another set of things. What they say and do are not mutually exclusive. But the amount of overlap, when the question being asked reflects directly on how morally a customer behaves, had better be taken with a heap of salt.
Statements like this one – which are everywhere – paint a picture of a much more engaged and active consumer than the one who’s really out there. Most consumers don’t dig deep. Most consumers aren’t willing to go out of their way. Most consumers don’t actually switch nearly as much as you’d expect. Most consumers don’t want to bother with all of this. And most consumers certainly don’t make “ethical” purchases most of the time.
Stating that they do suggests that we’re much further along than we actually are in building an economy in which the true costs of what we consume is taken in to account. We are at the very beginning.
Think about the question that leads to this “data” about 84% of consumers seeking out responsible products “whenever possible.” It is something like:
How often do you seek out responsible products when shopping?
- Whenever Possible
To me, this question essentially equivalent to:
Are you a total jerk?
- Whenever Possible
OK, end of rant.