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Carrotmob: Digital activisim – the capitalist way

16. March 2011 – 10:06 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

We have seen countless examples of digital campaigns interlocking with offline activities aimed at protesting against something or the other. And even though I agree that protest campaigns can be very important we have seen far less examples of digital activism for a particular thing. I would like talk about one initiative that makes use of the net and our role as consumers to facilitate actual positive change in the offline world.

The Carrotmob initiative was started in San Francisco in 2008 and wants to make use of strategic consumption to change businesses behaviour. The video below shows how this approach works:

How Organized Consumer Purchasing Can Change Business from carrotmob on Vimeo.

The key aspect is that all participants, consumers and businesses, can achieve their goals without damaging the other. The buycott (as opposed to boycott), as it is sometimes called, does make use of core market principles and therefore is a “capitalist friendly” way of activism.

Even though the actual actions or buycotts are very local the initiative has spread to many countries all over the world. The internet is used both to communicate on the worldwide scale and to organise the local events. The organisers make use of their own websites and platforms like Facebook or Twitter to, in the end, organize offline activities.

Form this point of view the net is just a tool which helps to globalize and organize a creative form of activism. But I would argue that this kind of coordinated action and the quick spread to this many countries would not have been possible without the use of the net a tool for communication.

Thanks to Thore for introducing me to the idea.


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  1. 3 Responses to “Carrotmob: Digital activisim – the capitalist way”

  2. Avatar of Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei / Pedro Prieto-Martin

    By Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei / Pedro Prieto-Martin on Mar 17, 2011

    Thanks Bengt, for pointing out this kind of activism, which is indeed very relevant and connected with e-Participation.
    But I’m afraid Carrot-Mob should not really termed be as “digital activism – the capitalist way”, but “digital activism – the pro-capitalism way” ;-) .

    The real capitalist way… would be much more based on sticks than on carrots.

    One-shot actions where you say a business: “be good and we’ll buy a lot from you”… is like petting a wolf. As soon as the caresses finish, or stop being pleasant… the law of the jungle would return.
    For sure: a “wolf” may like the petting for a while, but if you want him to stop biting the dogs and kids around him… you better put him on a dog muzzle, or even better… cut his neck.

    The whole approach of Carrot-Mob shows a very naive understanding of how the “corporate beast” thinks, and which kind of incentives better influence its action.

    As Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop puts it: “Governments should regulate and they don’t. Businesses are useless at selfregulating. I think where the
    regulation is coming from, is from where perhaps it is least expected: from the vigilante consumer”.
    What is the most efficient tool for the vigilante consumer to carry out his task: carrots… or sticks?
    Anita has no doubt, she thinks it is sticks. As a Shell executive told her once: “We don’t fear regulation, we only fear consumer revolt”.
    Bettina Farrera, the CEO of Ogilvy in Spain (Ogilvy is a very knowleadgeble international advertising, marketing and public relations agency, with more than 16.000 employees worldwide) recently declared: “Consumers are getting a new power. They have become interactive, very demanding, they communicate through Internet, they organize themselves and are able to ruin a brand”.

    This is what really motivates business. FEAR! And consumers are about to learn… how to become persuasive in regards to setting standars that go much further than the current Public Relationships trend toward exhibiting a (frequently just faked) “Corporate social responsibility”.

    e-Participation is going to first flex its muscle, in the next years, attemping to influence the actions of “politicians”, by pressing “there where it hurts” to politicians: PR and votes. Once this works… the next aim will be the corporate world, with pressure being exerted… again, where it hurts: PR and money.

    Fascinating times lie ahead of us. Long life to the e-Participation of citizens… and consumers!

  3. Avatar of Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

    By Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH) on Mar 22, 2011


    I would like to give reactions to your statement:

    1.) Your view on capitalism is a very bleak one. And one I do not agree with. Businesses are run by people who can be good or bad. Business decisions can be motivated in many different ways – not only though fear.

    2.) I think the Carrotmob idea is interesting because it does accept the rules of the economic system and does not fundamentally reject it. Its activism through consumption not through NON-consumption and might therefore be beneficial to the consumer and the business at the same time.

  4. Avatar of Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei / Pedro Prieto-Martin

    By Asociacion Ciudades Kyosei / Pedro Prieto-Martin on Mar 22, 2011

    Hi Bengt, it’s always a pleasure talking with you.
    You are right: in order to offer a clearer contrast with the “naive” and partial view of capitalism used in “carrotMob”, I addopted a somewhat unbalanced “bleak” perspective. :-)

    But please don’t get me wrong: My view does not reject capitalism at all! Possitive and negative reinforcement are both part of capitalism: “make us happy (to win more)” and “do not make us angry (to win more)” are the two sides of the same coin. Companies react to both kind of stimulous, and both of them help thus capitalism to blossom, and companies to produce better products and policies.

    What I’m proposing is to adopt a comprehensive understanding of capitalism and “companies’ psichology”, which acknowledges their capacity to react both to positive and negative feed-back from their customers. This kind of understanding is missing in the CarrotMob approach, which seems to rule out anything but “possitive feedback”. I also consider CarrotMob an interesting idea; I’m just trying to build upon it to make it even better.

    The reason why I put the emphasis on the “stick” over the “carrot” is not ideological, but practical.
    Positive reinforcement tends to work only for as long as it is sustained. And actually: because of the growing threshold of perceptions… probably stimulous needs to keep growing through time, in order to maintain its effect.
    This kind of approach would thus require a long term mobilization of customers… that I think is difficult to sustain. How would you keep people continuously remembering virtuous companies “we are buying from you, and not from your competitor, because we like that you are GOOD”. It’s… very difficult, as you know. People does not seem to have energy or time for that.

    Negative feedback is different, it is somewhat more “reactive”. You exert localized pressure… that forces a change to good behaviour. Then you can relax the customer’s pressure, and the change tends to be sustained. Because as soon as the misbehaviour returns, an even more intense boycott could be quickly summoned.

    So… Bengt, to summarize: It’s both kinds of actions that should be tried. In fact: it seems the best approach is to combine both: to send the message “I’m not buying from you, and in fact I’m buying from your competitor, because of your not-enough virtuous behaviour. Others companies: please take note or be the next!!”.
    Best regards, Bengt!

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