Buying Shit Is Not Activism

Millennials have embraced cause-related marketing like no previous generation. This is when a company pulls the heart strings of a consumer to manipulate them into thinking that they’re not just buying shoes, they’re doing something to help people too. It’s tying the company to a specific cause.

For every pair of shoes Toms sells, they give a pair of shoes to an impoverished child. For every pair of socks they sell, Bombas donates a pair to homeless shelters. Sand Cloud makes shitty beach towels “Crafted with a purpose” and gives a small portion of their earnings to environmental charities.

The list goes on and on, and the question persists, do you think the impoverished children receiving Toms shoes, which cost between $3 and $5 to make and retail for between $50 and $100, are pissed they’re not getting Nikes?

Thinking you’re making a difference by buying products is a naive notion. The term is cause related marketing. A word meaning the targeting of consumers. If you want to give to charity, why not just give to a charity? Why bring crappy shoes into it? It’s the least efficient method you could possibly conjure up.

Any company who engages in these shenanigans has one goal: Sell you shit. If they cared about the rain forests they’d be in the Amazon, not on Amazon.

The notion going shopping is going to exact social, political, or environmental change is inherently lazy and narcissistic. Much like not going to work for a day, not going to school for a day, not standing for the National Anthem, not wearing a bra, not wearing makeup, or not voting out of protest, this form of activism takes minimal to zero effort, and is ultimately not beneficial to any group, but is instead self beneficial.

Here’s the dirty truth: The whole world can’t live like you. Your over-consumption is, in part, what has brought such massive wealth inequality to the geopolitical sphere. Whether or not you agree with capitalism, you’re an active participant in it. For you to have an iPhone, someone has to manufacture it. If they manufactured it in America, you either couldn’t afford it or wouldn’t buy it, because it would be too expensive. There’s no system in which everyone in the world could have as many things as you.

Due to various tariffs, sanctions, trade deals, invasions, military occupations, wars, the foreign debt system, the sentiment of American Exceptionalism, and vestiges of colonialism, there is a certain percentage of the world that is going to be royally fucked, no matter if a Democrat or Republican is in office. Places where we ship our trash. Places where we write off our tax donations. It’s a simple equation. There are only so many resources to go around, and you’re using more than your share. Your life is easier because your government is exploiting people overseas.

Your best bet, if you actually cared, would be to consume less, or to buy products made in America and then donate to established humanitarian charities.

But you’re not going to do that, so it’s time to pretend. These cause related products are all show, very little substance. An excuse for you to post something on Instagram about giving back. To solidify your identity as a conscientious person. To make you feel good, not the wretched poor people. You bought a pair of socks and they gave another pair to the homeless? Fuck you, you’ve got a whole drawer full of Hanes. What is one pair of socks going to do besides provide you with an ace up your sleeve when you’re trying to impress that girl at the bar.

Jessica Alba’s brand is called Honest. How insecure. It turns out they’re not honest. They lie to their finicky nitwit yuppie spoiled non committal house marms. They put harmful chemicals in their products and label them Organic. If you ever meet someone who refers to themselves as honest, understand right away that they’re a sociopath. Also, if Jessica Alba is being honest, what does she treat her herpes outbreaks with? Almost certainly something from Big Pharma that’s not Organic.

The NFL gives 8 percent of its stupid pink jersey sales to the Susan G Komen Foundation. This is the same foundation that partnered with Baker Hughes Inc, a fracking company, to sell functional pink fracking drill bits in exchange for a $100,000 donation.

Take a look at the link between fracking and the life expectancy of those who live near fracking wells, because there is a definitively negative correlation. These companies kill people out of greed. They have the complacency of the government, enjoying exemption from most environmental regulations. This is because they helped get politicians elected.

The Susan G Komen Foundation has an agenda, and their CEO, who makes roughly $648,000 per year, has decided she can give you cancer if it means raising money for her own cancer. There are still a lot of people out there thinking they’re making a difference by purchasing a pink 49ers jersey. Ninety percent of that fifty bucks goes to the billionaires who own the teams and voted for Trump. The rest to this awful charity.

Ten is the standard percentage of  sales these companies donate. That means they take 90 percent of the profit. Looked at one way, these people are profiting off of the world being fucked up, which is ironic, because it’s people like this who have fucked up the world. They actually need tragedy for profit.

One cause related company called Musana appears to be guilt tripping you into buying their shitty jewelry because they are generous enough to employ women in Africa. What do you figure they’re paying these women? Could this be self beneficial from an operating standpoint? Since when is employing people to make a product you’re selling a noble cause? From their website:

“Musana is a social enterprise brand based in Lugazi, Uganda. They work to break the poverty cycle by providing education and stable employment to the women of Lugazi. Musana offers a line of simple yet bold statement earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, along with a new collection of notebooks.”
Cue the slow clap and Natalie Merchant. Perhaps the most insidious of these disingenuous promotions is Stella’s Buy a Lady a Drink campaign. The way this campaign works is, you buy a chalice. A chalice. Could you flaunt your excessive lifestyle in a more demonstrative way than owning a chalice? It’s a beer glass, drop the god complex. When you buy this chalice for $13, Stella donates $3 to a charity called Water.org. You could just drink your beer out of a normal glass and give Water.org thirteen dollars, but you’re an asshole.
This campaign is especially shrewd because it combines the prescient Plight of the Woman card with the Clean Water card, two causes in one!:
One in 10 people in the developing world lack access to safe water. This problem disproportionately affects women and children, who spend millions of hours a day collecting water instead of working, caring for family or attending school.”

It’s difficult to imagine how women are more aversely affected by unsafe water, it seems like a problem that would affect both genders equally. Is the man of the house sitting back watching Looney Tunes while the women are out searching for water? Are men hoarding water and secretly hydrating themselves behind women’s backs? Who’s actually putting in more hours of work? Don’t these family units divide up the tasks and share everything?

Never mind all that. According to Stella, that campaign is going quite well:

“Since the launch of the Buy a Lady a Drink campaign two years ago, Stella Artois has helped provide more than 800,000 people in the developing world with access to five years of clean water through the sale of more than 225,000 Limited-Edition Chalices, and by directly donating more than $3 million to Water.org.”

In addition, Stella has lined up a farm program to add a very slight charity tax onto the price of their beer in select stores and corporately owned restaurants, who in turn can promote themselves as being socially conscious:

“For every six or 12-bottle pack of Stella Artois sold in select retail stores, Stella Artois will help Water.org provide six or 12 months of clean water for one person in the developing world. For every pint or bottle of beer sold in select bars and restaurants, Stella Artois will help Water.org provide one month of clean water for one person in the developing world.”

That’s about an additional fifty cents to one dollar per 12 pack sold in select stores, and about ten cents per pint sold in select restaurants. I think we’re still going to have the water problem.

According to these stats it costs a little under a dollar per year to provide clean drinking water to a person in the developing world. That’s pretty cheap. You have to wonder why Stella chose this cause. Is it because it is dear to their heart? Do have a guilty conscious about water because it takes about 20 gallons of water to make one pint of Stella? Or did their corporate public relations strategists realize that they aren’t actually giving away very much money so they crunched some numbers and found the charity which would give them the most accolades for their buck?

It’s quite cynical actually. Stella is owned by inBev, a multinational booze conglomerate whose revenue was $45 billion last year, with $4.5 billion in net profit. In the last three years they’ve given $3 million total to Water.org. That’s less than a tenth of a percent of their profit, and that is probably a write off if not simply a cost of advertising.

You, yes you, can save peoples’ lives by drinking premium beer. Aren’t you the philanthropist, going through all of that painstaking effort. If you drink enough at this rate you’re going to need to consider joining the United Nations Human Rights Council. You’re more than qualified due to your buying new shoes and jewelry and walking around town drunk off your ass, for the children.

Imagine how confused the people in these countries must be when it is explained to them that someone from an advertising agency hired by inBev is going to be visiting their village and filming them enjoying their clean water for an ad junket:

So, a man buys a fancy cup to drink fancy beer from, and then they dig us a well? I don’t understand. That does not seem like a solvent solution to this problem. There are a billion people here in India, who is drinking that much beer?  

Much like the Susan G Komen Foundation is fine with supporting companies which give people cancer in order to raise money for cancer research, if Stella really believes that the more beer you drink the more charitable you are, aren’t they encouraging alcoholism? If westerners drank enough beer to give the developing world clean water, they’d all be dead.

To state the obvious, the numbers here aren’t quite adding up to making any meaningful impact. If it takes a dollar a year to provide clean water to one person, this issue could be solved with around three billion dollars a year in foreign aid, a paltry, insignificant amount which these countries already receive many times over.

Take Uganda, where that jewelry company so graciously pays their employees. It has a population of 47 million people and last year received $16 billion in foreign aid. All of the countries affected by water shortage receive enormous amounts of aid. If it were that cheap, that simple, there wouldn’t be an issue. So, Water.org is not telling the whole truth.

The biggest problem with charities is that there are too many charities. It leads to increased overhead and convolutes the solution to the problem. Politics get involved. It’s all ego, and it’s gross.

Like Stella’s assertion that water shortage can be eradicated by consuming a beverage of which it takes several gallons of water to produce per pint, much of these companies rely on dubious reasoning. Their strategies are not solvent.

Take the case of We Wood, a watch company which makes watches out of wood, and plants a tree for every wooden watch you purchase. Why don’t you stop making the watches out of wood if you’re that concerned about the trees?

It’s all so unbearably condescending. Dona Karan started something called the Urban Zen brand, a name carefully tailored to appeal to vaguely spiritual privileged yogi yuppie idiots. Karan, who is an obsessively materialistic elitist, founded this clothing brand “As a nonprofit organization to fund culture preservation.”

For this purpose, you may purchase a Cold Shoulder Kimono Dress for $2,700, or a cumbersome Leather Wrapped Prayer Necklace for $565. You’ll look like a fucking idiot, all while appropriating the culture of people who would despise you.

Since when do people who buy $3,000 dresses give a shit about other people? Having that kind of expendable income means you’re an aristocrat. It’s a system that hasn’t worked out to date. In France and Russia they killed them and paraded these people’s heads around on sticks. That was cultural preservation.

Don’t pretend you have $3,000 for a dress and also care about poor people. If you did, you’d just give that money to charity. You’ve got to respect a company like Nike. They’re honest in their goals. So are Republicans quite often. They’re well aware they are greedy assholes who condone raping the planet in the name of profit, but at least they’re upfront about it.

Believing your extravagance and consumerism can subsidize villages of subservients overseas is not only incorrect from a numbers standpoint, it’s arrogant, and it sounds a lot like colonialism.

What else do you call throwing a few bones to the poor in the name of charity? For this reasoning to make sense, the more excessive your lifestyle, the more charitable you are being towards the world at large.

The more you consume the more you care. You’re a bourgeoisie pig living in the lap of luxury. You’re Kim Jong un, his cohorts patting him on the back for so graciously upping the rice rations as he sips a Macallan single malt. The poor make your robes, and you wear them. And they should be grateful that you’re giving back.

People don’t want to face reality. They want to go shopping and drink beer. Don’t wait for the world to change any time soon.

* I just realized this applies to “adopting” a dog as well. You got a cheap dog, shut the fuck up.

About 

Matt Ralston is a comedian and writer based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewRalston

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