“We have stopped to gather glittery trinkets from an apparent admirer. The admirer is the market place, and the trinkets are the bounty of a commercial culture, which has deployed the language of liberation as a new and powerful tool of subjugation.” Susan C. Faludi, American humanist, journalist and author (Theguardian.com, October 3, 2014)

“Shoppers today have strong opinions and want to feel like they’re heard, Yarrow says. “It makes them feel powerful.” Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow in her book Decoding the New Consumer Mind (Jossey-Bass, 2014)


Description

Current social climate displays a reconsideration atmosphere in which a radicalised generation of consumers is more proactive in claiming its discontentment and being more compelling about what they want. Not only do they inherently interact with brands but they also deal with big corporations and institutions to make their voice heard at a higher level.

As traditional institutions are still losing authority and trust from society, people feel the need to empower themselves and take matters into their own hands.

Factors driving this momentum include improved educational opportunities, health and medical care and reform, personal safety, gender and sexual equality, food safety, environmental concern, financial security and work/life balance. As traditional institutions are still losing authority and trust from society, people feel the need to empower themselves and take matters into their own hands. Empowered by ubiquitous information tools as well as enhanced means of communication, individuals are coordinating efforts so that their voices be heard. The infatuation around social and consumer protestation has been largely reinforced by grassroots technologies and social media – particularly Twitter, Instagram and blogs – which represent an easy and quick way for anyone to claim their rights or wishes. Twitter has become a socio-political super tool and was also a powerful force in trials, during elections and other legal and political situations. Such collective requests and claims deal with the political arena, technology and media, education, brands and goods. On the opposite side, brands and governments are using those movements when they need to get a better reality awareness.

Social activism

Whether solemn, reverential, reflective, or more activist, forceful and passionate, big events are the opportunity for anyone to point out a social issue. Individuals find strength, influence and reassurance in the force of their collective action that allows them to express their opinions behind a unified voice. Speaking and acting together helps draw attention and reinforces the power of their conviction. There is a growing awareness of the power that people have and use in order to break their silence, raise a unified voice and challenge standing institutions. Furthermore, what has changed is that now, voices can be heard in an individual way. Consumer-citizens, empowered by social media tools, are collaborating to break the silence on issues that are difficult to gauge and are all too often ignored. The challenges of social issues today are motivating new activists to revisit past revolutionary tactics with a digital twist. In the U.S., for example, young African Americans are using technology to fight racial injustice.

Consumers-citizens, empowered by social media tools, are collaborating to break the silence on issues that are difficult to gauge and are all too often ignored.

In Europe, film student Sophie Peeters shed light on the issue of everyday sexism and harassment in her 2012 documentary Femmes de la Rue (Women of the Street), showing insults she suffered while walking around Brussels, while French cartoonist Thomas Mathieu drew satirical cartoons illustrating the issue on Tumblr’s Crocodile Project. In a similar vein, Paye Ta Shnek compiles comments women hear on the street. Following the success of the project, which received 93,000 likes on Facebook, a book version of the Tumblr page was published in 2014.

Consumer activism

Consumers are speaking up as they aim to challenge the brands they purchase, aiming to make reality better fit their own needs. Today’s global consumers are more likely than ever to take action against companies they’re not happy with, through online petitions or letters of complaint addressed directly to the faulty brands. Major brands are increasingly facing pressure from consumers who pay closer attention to ingredient labels, prices, or gender targeting. As a consequence, several major food makers – Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Subway, Starbucks, Krafts, and McDonalds among many others – have recently changed their recipes or policies to cater to consumers’ requests. These consumer-citizens are able to obtain results that only official institutions could get in prior times, as they now have enough strength and influence to reach several thousands of people at the same time. According to a nationally representative survey carried out by ICM Research, there were 38 million complaints about products and services last year in the UK – equating to a complaint every 1.2 seconds.

The most common sectors for complaints were energy (17%), retail (17%) and Internet telecoms (14%), with transport (5%) and holidays (6%) also attracting consumers’ ire.

And Britons are keener to take action when they have a problem, with 32% saying they are more likely to complain about poor service now than they were a year ago. The most common sectors for complaints were energy (17%), retail (17%) and Internet telecoms (14%), with transport (5%) and holidays (6%) also attracting consumers’ ire. Also, an ever-growing number of consumers are selecting and supporting brands who respect their views, voicing their opinions on controversial topics and becoming leaders themselves in order to effect change in their communities.

Featured examples

Chanel’s runway show

Credit: Chanel’s Twitter account

Credit: Chanel’s Youtube profile

At the end of Chanel’s Spring 2015 runway show in Paris, Karl Lagerfeld sent his models down the runway carrying signs with provocative feminist statements on them. Gisele Bündchen, Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevingne marched as an army down the street, which had been transformed into a runway carrying signs that read “History is Herstory,” “Women’s Rights Are More Than Alright,” “Feminist But Feminine!”, “Boys Should Get Pregnant Too!”, “We Can Match the Machos!” and “He for She” and yelling into Chanel-branded megaphones bearing quilted leather and double-C logos.
France France, September 2014

Million Mask March

Play video

Million Mask March rallies are social protests organized by the Anonymous movement that are “The Most Influential Group in the World” with “The Largest World Protest”, according to the organization. Rallies, both peaceful and confrontational, protested austerity, surveillance, corporate greed and corrupt governments. Members of the hacking activist group Anonymous called for street demonstrations in more than 450 locations around the world, with people wearing Guy Fawkes masks. Some rallies had a sense of carnival, where whole families with kids marched in protest, while other gatherings – like in London and Washington – turned more intense, with people not hiding their rage.
Worldwide, November 2014

Istanbul Feminist Collective

Credit: Istanbul Feminist Kollective’s Facebook account

Credit: Istanbul Feminist Kollective’s Facebook account

Turkish women have been publicly calling out men who abuse their personal space on public transport with an innovative social media campaign called ‘Close Your Legs’. Created by the Istanbul Feminist Collective (IFK), the campaign aims at displaying images of everyday public harassment. Pictures of men’s legs taking up too much space (and thereby invading women’s personal space) on buses and in the underground have generated many reactions on social media in Turkey, with hashtags such as #bacaklarinitopla (“Stop spreading your legs”) and #yerimisgaletme (“Don’t occupy my space”). These images rapidly spread on the web, resonating with many women abroad, who shared similar experiences.
Turkey Turkey, April 2014

Brominated vegetable oil removal

Credit: Coca Cola’s Instagram account

Credit: Coca Cola’s Instagram account

Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo decided to remove brominated vegetable oil from their soft beverages, including Mountain Dew, Fanta, Powerade and Gatorade, bowing to pressure from online petitions. The ingredient has been the target of petitions on Change.org by teenage American consumer Sarah Kavanagh, who noted: “the ingredient has been patented as a flame retardant and isn’t approved for use in Japan and the European Union”.
United States of America United States, May 2014

Subway

Credit: Subwayfrance.fr

Credit: Subwayfrance.fr

American sandwich brand Subway recently promised to remove the chemical azodicarbonamide from its bread products in the U.S., after a consumer petition raised over 60,000 signatures in a week. The chemical – which lengthens the shelf life of bread – is approved by the USDA and FDA, however it s not allowed to be used in food products in Europe or Australia. Advocacy groups claimed that the chemical is converted into carcinogens when baked.
United States of America United States, February 2014

Happy meal’s toys

Credit: SocImages’s Twitter Account

Credit: SocImages’s Twitter Account

McDonald’s decided that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without being classified as ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’. This decision was prompted by a letter written by a 11-year-old customer to the CEO to complain about the policy and reinforced by findings from hard data gathered over the years. Research included sending a team of 7- to 11-year-old girls and boys into 15 McDonald’s restaurants to order Happy Meals and testing employees’ attitudes. A similar claim followed earlier this year, when a 7-year-old girl who wrote a letter to toy brand Lego asking it to rectify the fact that there are “more Lego boy people and barely any Lego girls”.
United States of America United States, April 2014

Rapadura Bar

Credit: Rapadura Bar’s Facebook page

Credit: Rapadura Bar’s Facebook page

Brazilian consumers are smartly using the web to communicate brands their dissatisfaction and negotiate reductions on high prices. Complaints deal especially with bars and restaurants and the results have proved to be effective. In Rio de Janeiro, Rapadura Bar responded to complaints by reducing the price of its draft beer by 15% while São Paulo bakery Santa Etienne lowered the price of its Coca-Cola 2-liter bottles from R$18 ($7.80) to R$9.8 ($4.20).
Brazil Brazil, March 2014

#tisaluto

Credit: Twitter

Credit: Twitter

Blogger Giorgia Vezzoli has launched a web awareness campaign against sexist comments called #tisaluto (#goodbye). The core idea is that socially aware web users should quit discussions if they meet chauvinistic comments, just typing #tisaluto to express their dissent. Many other Italian bloggers (not just women) have joined the campaign, posting Vezzoli’s declaration of intent on their blogs.
Italy Italy, May 2013

B. Super Utility Belt

Credit: The B Super Utility Belt’s Facebook Page

Credit: The B Super Utility Belt’s Facebook Page

B. Super has imagined a world where participants can feel “equipped” for speaking out. The B. Super Utility Belt is a product designed just for protesting purposes. Taking the form of a tongue-in-cheek utility belt, the product provides of a variety of tools that “allow you to hope for the best, yet be equipped for the worst.” It has a gas mask, a sign-making kit, a roll of duct tape, a credit card-sized first aid box, and a moustache disguise – because of the presence of cameras. American designers Damon Ahola and Richard Clarkson became intrigued with the trope of the iconic superhero, along with the personality and styling elements of street culture and the underground world of skateboarding.
United States of America United States, February 2014

Business & Marketing guidelines

1

Try to address people’s social concerns by proving you are sharing the same values and principles.

2

Be careful to fit the tone and spirit of the occasion, as these kinds of subjects are inherently particularly sensitive and people feel very strongly about them.

3

Bear in mind that social networks and review platforms have greatly empowered your consumers to proclaim their discontentment about your brand or your products – so stress the importance of your community managers.

4

When attacked by a consumer, never ignore them nor contradict their arguments too frontally. Instead, try to understand what the issue is about and always show a cooperative attitude.

Summary

  • The current social climate displays an atmosphere in which a radicalised generation of consumers is more proactive in declaring its discontentment and being more compelling about what they want.
  • Empowered by enhanced communication means, individuals have access to quick and easy ways to claim their rights or wishes: ubiquitous information tools, bottom-up technologies and social media such as Twitter, Instagram and blogs.
  • Today’s global consumers are more likely than ever to take action against companies they’re not happy with, through online petitions or letters of complaint addressed directly to the faulty brands. Major brands are increasingly facing pressure from consumers who pay closer attention to ingredient labels, prices, or gender targeting.
  • According to a survey by ICM Research, there were 38 million complaints about products and services last year in the UK – equating to a complaint every 1.2 seconds. And Britons are keener to take action when they have a problem, with 32% saying they are more likely to complain about poor service now than they were a year ago.

Experts that we recommend

caroline-delboy Caroline Delboy
Founder of the Disco Soupe movement aiming at raising food waste awareness
francois-dorleans François Dorléans
Co-founder of participatory democracy platform ClicknSign
ricken-patel Ricken Patel
Founder & CEO of International non-governmental organization of online activism Avaaz