Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Monday, March 5, 2012

H&M and the Ethics of "Disposable Marketing"


On the eternal quest for the perfect pair of long-legged black flared pants, it seems I never have enough.

I have gone through hundreds of pairs of pants so far and yet still - dissatisfied.

Black pants are the first thing I look for in any clothing store.

One time in 1989 I worked as a temp for a female executive at a bank in New York. She said to me (noting my penchant for disposable fashion):

"Better to have three good outfits than three hundred that are not good enough."

Wincing at her cold-eyed, frank assessment I wondered, "Is she right?"

And then I thought, "She can't be. No!" Because then I would have no reason to go to the mall. Or (in later years) to H&M, or Zara, or any of the countless stores that sell disposable fashion.

The same rule goes for makeup, at least with me. How many tubes of red lipstick can you buy? And yet every time I walk into CVS, there go my eyeballs. Straight to the makeup display.

Disposable consumer goods seem wasteful, in a way. And yet if you're a marketer you need for people to buy more of what you sell, or you risk leaving potential profits on the table.

Let's talk first about the ways to encourage "disposable thinking." Then to some directions for sustainable thinking.

To me, here are the basic equations people make when deciding whether goods are more "permanent" or more "disposable":

1. Cost-convenience equation: As with paper plates - easier to buy and throw away than use and wash.

2. Social status equation: If wearing the same outfit over and over will make you look bad to others, you'll buy different outfits even though the ones you have look and fit just fine.

3. Social inclusion equation: Buying new things gives you something to talk about with other people.

4. Boredom equation: Buying things gives you something to do; changing your look stimulates the brain and gives you something to look forward to.

5. Functionality equation: A record may work well, but a CD works better, and an iPod works even better than that.

Looking at the above I recognize that it sounds like promoting wastefulness and we have a responsibility to be ethical when it comes to marketing even if we aren't technically required to do what we know is right.

We ought to think this way if only to spare our reputations. Ideally we would think about the lives of those who suffer from our carelessness and tendency to be exploitive.

Anyway, some thoughts -

1. Support the community: 

* Provide a discount for people to trade in their old goods (like Patagonia).

* Provide a dropoff point for people to donate goods they have never used (example: a grocery store can place a box upfront for sealed food items.)

* Provide a dropoff point to donate goods they have used, but that can be sold for the benefit of the community (e.g. Zips cleaners has a dropoff point at Goodwill)

2. Support the worker: 

* Pay workers a fair wage to produce these goods. 

* Provide workers with free or substantially discounted goods if they are producing them.

3. Support the environment:

* Produce disposable goods out of materials that are easily recyclable.

* Produce disposable goods in factories that are "clean" and don't give off pollution.

* When items can't be produced sustainably, encourage people to wean themselves off of them - don't perpetuate disaster.

I would be interested in any information regarding practices on the above, so please comment and share your knowledge, research and feedback.

Good luck!