Buy Nothing Day and the marketing of anti-marketing

buynothingday20071.jpgIf you were hoping to purchase some Buy Nothing Day swag from Adbusters today, you’re out of luck. Adbusters’ Culture Shop is one of the few stores, online or otherwise, that is closed for business today.

That’s because Adbusters is practicing what it preaches. At least today.

While many Americans, thanks to plentiful reminders from local and national news outlets, celebrate the advent of the holiday shopping season today, the opposite is happening in the anti-consumerism movement. Today is Buy Nothing Day. Adbusters, the culture-jamming magazine behind BND, describes the annual event as “a 24 hour moratorium on consumer spending” and urges would-be shoppers to refrain from buying anything at all today — to “participate by not participating.”

New York Times blogger Andrew Revkin writes that the BND proponents’ goal “is to get as many people as possible to buy nothing at all over a 24-hour span on Friday in the United States (and Saturday elsewhere around the world), as a small blow against what they say are the destructive efforts of advertisers and corporations to fuel the deep-rooted human tendency to want the next new thing.”

buynothingdayshoes.jpgThe irony of BND’s “anti-consumerist” approach is that it relies heavily on the same promotional and marketing techniques as the very culture it seeks to strike a small blow against. True, many of the techniques — posters, stickers, demonstrations and the like — originated with do-it-yourself underground movements and were appropriated by the corporations, so maybe the culture jammers are just reclaiming what they see as rightfully theirs. But if you take a good look at the Adbusters website, you’ll find a healthy dose of good old consumerism, proceeds from which ostensibly go to help stick it to The Man. There’s the Blackspot Shoes, the Corporate America T-shirts and the 2008 Adbusters calendar, all prominently displayed as for sale under the “Culture Shop” banner.

Then there’s the “latest news” headline about how MTV has refused to run a 30-second ad for BND. Why would the culture jammers complain about being refused airtime from one of the monolithic corporations that help to “fuel the deep-rooted human tendency to want the next new thing”?

I have nothing against Adbusters or the idea behind Buy Nothing Day. In fact, I’m actively participating by not buying anything today — with the exception of some needed groceries. (Hypocrisy, thy name is Andrew.) I just find it odd that so much of this activity relies on the techniques that drive and feed consumer behavior in our culture.

I also should point out that these aren’t necessarily my original ideas. My view has been informed recently by a new book from Anne Elizabeth Moore called Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity. It’s a decent critique of corporate culture’s use of indie/DIY/underground methods for the purpose of marketing the “next new thing.” But Moore also critiques activists’ reactions and approaches. It’s an even-handed analysis of consumerism and I recommend you read it.

Just don’t go out and buy it today.

Now playing: Bruce Springsteen – Devil’s Arcade
via FoxyTunes


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

2 thoughts on “Buy Nothing Day and the marketing of anti-marketing”

  1. I too participated in Buy Nothing Day, although as I said on my own blog, it probably had more to do with the fact that (1) I didn’t have the day off work and (2) I wasn’t tempted by all the big-name U.S. retailers that haven’t yet set up shop in Canada. Of course I could have shopped online so I can feel proud of that, can’t I? And I think you can cut yourself some slack for groceries.

    Next day did indeed turn out to be Buy Something Day, for me and thousands of other shoppers who jammed parking lots all across Ontario. The “holiday shopping season” has indeed begun! For every new thing that comes into the house, though, I have pledged to get rid of an equivalent by donating to a charity.

    Thanks for the inspiration to write about BND and Black Friday. I would have credited you in the post but lost track of which of many blogs the thought came from! (And thanks to Judy for the prompt.)

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