Thursday, October 27, 2011

Advertising and the Occupy Movement

Adbusters, the media watchdog publication, initiated the idea of Occupy Wall Street as a means to bring to light the inequalities in social and economic forces, specifically with commerce, financial services and government influences on these sectors. Although they are not the driving force behind the movement, the momentum that has been generated by it brings along a variety of various advocacy groups. Unfortunately it's blurring the line between what the movement is intended to bring to light, to being a general catch all for all sorts of inequalities.

Recently, a set of offshoot Occupy movements propose that we question where we spend our money and to which corporations. A Black Friday movement where one day in November (November 25th - the traditional retailer's Black Friday after US Thanksgiving), consumers are asked not to make purchases at any of the major big box stores. It has also evolved to the whole idea of not making any Christmas purchases at any of those same stores. The idea behind the movement is to extend the message that consumers want corporations to change their attitudes towards the inequalities within their organization whether it is pricing, staffing, or profit distribution. However there is a real distinct possibility that this would backfire, as the people that the movement is supposed to help may find that their corporate management will respond by trimming their staff and any inefficiencies they felt were necessary to maintain their profit margins.

The movement certainly is suggesting to buy local and more importantly to those boutiques and retailers that do not have a large corporate umbrella over them. This certainly poses many interesting challenges from an advertising point of view, and whether one might find this an opportunistic time to advertise, one cannot ignore the opportunity for small businesses to take up the charge and be part of this.

Advertising has always been an opportunistic medium to deliver a message that covers the needs, desires and wants of the public and their interests. However, a business who's interested in taking advantage of this must consider carefully how they advertise. Here's some of my thoughts on this specific subject that could be considered:

Selling local, means supplied locally.
Every business whether small or large, has many channels of suppliers and vendors. If you're a retailer considering methods to support the movement, think about your product offerings before you begin your campaign in this socially sensitive environment. It would be far more damaging to your business if it was later highlighted that you're merely another channel to funnel the consumer's funds to a corporation that they are protesting against. Look at alternatives, and a supply change that is more local, or at least more socially sensitive to your customer's concerns.

Buy low, sell for the same price as big competitors.
As a small business, you can also put pressure on suppliers to give better deals and better margins to you. Be honest to the public about any savings. A consumer is likely going to deal with a store for the same price of a product where you might make a larger margin on a product over a bigger retailer. This isn't something you can advertise easily, but if you're able to pressure your suppliers as the alternative retailer then through your sales force you're able to educate your consumers and also have more room too negotiate price with them.

Of course small retailers generally don't have the same kind of purchasing power as a big box store. A buying group is an option for them to consider and they could consider teaming up with other similar businesses to garner better pricing. For suppliers, if this movement truly hurts the big box stores, are going to be looking for other channels to distribute their products and will look to these smaller retailers to redistribute their products.

As a distribution company, reconsider your current pricing strategies.
As the Occupy movement gains momentum, preparing for those that will flock to local smaller businesses will be important to your distribution model. Look at how you can support those smaller retailers not only in pricing strategies, but also in cooperative advertising. If you cannot reduce price, then assisting smaller retailers in their advertising efforts can increase the awareness of the availability of your product through those channels. By shifting your co-op dollars to the smaller vendors, you can certainly redistribute the supply to meet the changing locations of demand.

Advertise your sustainable practices.
Sustainability is the perfect opportunity to outline the fact of where and how a consumer's purchase is being impacted on both the environmental front, but also on how both your business and the product is sustained financially. Consider your disclosure policies and also how your products are distributed. What green practices are played by each supplier, and what measures are being taken to ensure that the business channel is being sustained through their best practices for the environment and for the financial well being of the companies involved. Are supplies using a low carbon footprint model of distribution? This fits very well with the idea that supplies are local and local distribution has the lowest impact on the environment, but high impact on the local economy.

Advertise your local suppliers and support.
If you're a big corporate entity (or a franchisee of a big corporation), you're best to advertise and express your efforts and support in the local community. Consumers are generally driven by strong socially conscious retailers, especially those that support local efforts and communities. As the Occupy movement continues to garner support, big companies need to clearly define what they do to support the markets they sell into. Social marketing is very important in this regards and must be expressed in a genuine fashion.

Don't use a supplier that believes in price fixing.
Although price fixing is something that usually benefits the consumer, this is something in this condition may be more damaging. Because each retailer may have different margins over others, the companies that are more likely to benefit from price fixing are those retailers that have larger buying clout. Because of this, a retailer should never agree to a price fixing strategy. Even if a small retailers has to sell slightly higher than a big box store, with the Occupy movement in mind, consumers will be more likely to ignore the subtle price differences to support a smaller local shop.

Don't expect this to last long.
Eventually, this movement will either create the damage it intends on doing, or it will diffuse itself. The strategies you employ today will certainly change after the movement is over, but also does not mean you need to go back to the old ways. By carrying the momentum that is generated, and also by developing stronger & better relationships with suppliers and retailers, consumers just may continue to shop this way for a while. However consumers are always driven by convenience, which is something that smaller retailers are challenged by. Don't expect that consumers will stay away from shopping malls or big box stores for long, but if your business employs a strong campaign to get these consumers into the door and maintain a good customer service program with them, then expect that loyalty will go a long way after the Occupy movement has come and gone.





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