Social Consumerism or Capitalism? You decide.

by Jeff Freedman

Social consumerism or capitalism?  You decide.This weekend, while on a walk with my family, we stopped at a coffee shop for a quick snack.  My wife and kids went in, while I stayed outside with the dog. Five minutes later, my daughter came out with a “pupcake.”  She told me that this tiny cupcake (literally smaller than a munchkin with a little peanut butter on top) was $1.25, and that $0.50 went to the local animal shelter.  She was very proud of her purchase – and I was proud of her, too. But, I had a different perspective of the coffee shop.

Today, there is a lot of talk about “social consumerism.”  In fact, my colleague, Monica, has used the phrase at least a dozen times in conversation with me since she returned from South by Southwest last week.  But, at what point is social consumerism really capitalism in disguise?

Is it really “giving” if you are just using it as an opportunity to “take”?  In the case of the coffee shop, these pupcakes probably cost less than $0.10 to make.  No one is going into the shop just to get a pupcake.  They’re making plenty of profit on the coffee, sandwiches and other baked goods they sell.  But, instead of giving 100% of the money from the pupcakes to the shelter (or at least 100% of the profit), they keep $0.75 for themselves.  Is that really giving back?

Since starting a cancer-related non-profit, I’ve come to learn that doing good actually helps you do well.  It was never my intent, but I’ve discovered that when you do good…

1.  You meet people you would have otherwise never met
You open yourself up to a new circle of people.  And, you never know who you may meet in the process.

2.  You form deeper relationships with people
The strongest relationships are built upon shared beliefs.  And strong relationships are the foundation of most any business.

3.  It builds a stronger culture in the workplace
Working together on a meaningful cause can be very empowering, satisfying and enjoyable – which leads to a much more collegial and pleasant environment.

4.  Everyone feels better about themselves
And, when you feel good about yourself, it shows in your work.

5.  You reap unexpected rewards
Whether it be a note from someone who you helped, or an article in the local newspaper, the rewards of giving back are endless.

With all of the above benefits, doing good will surely have a positive impact on your business.   But you have to do it for the right reasons.  The moment you do it for the wrong reasons, the opposite can happen.

Time to try a new coffee shop.

What do you think?  Please reply or comment on my blog with your thoughts and perspectives.

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Jeff Freedman is Founder and CEO of Small Army and Small Army for a Cause. In his own words: “We’re an ad agency but we’re really not. We have been sharpening our storytelling skills for confident brands since 2002. We are listed in the Boston Business Journal as the 14th-largest ad agency in New England. We’re a full-service agency. We currently have over 20 employees and have moved to a new, bigger space at 300 Massachusetts Avenue. We love hosting visitors, so come see the new space when you get a chance. “

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  1. Social consumerism is basically the same as ‘conscious consumerism’ where the buyer considers impact when making purchasing decisions. How a product is manufactured, the ingredients, the integrity of the company, or donations made by the company are all impacts considered by the purchaser. When a company professes to be environmentally friendly in the guise of making money, for example, is capitalism at it’s worst.
    What needs to be considered, and a trend on the upswing, is if the company advocates and practices the principles of “Conscious Capitalism”, where the business operates in an eco-system containing profits, employees, business relationships, and customers, all equal components collectively treated the same. It’s hard to distinguish which companies are operating in this mode, but these companies are beginning to come together to make the public aware of who they are, and to help spur more businesses to adopt this model.
    With the huge number of “green” companies emerging, we’ll be hearing another term not so commonplace. “Greenwashing” describes advertisements that make claims that are exaggerated, or not substantiated. Natural, recyclable, earth friendly claims will be coming from everywhere, many of them accurate, others simply trying to lure green friendly shoppers to buy their merchandise. But once labeled a greenwasher, a company will find itself in a bad position it won’t be able to recover from. And hopefully a domino effect will happen for more responsible, and accurate advertising.

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