Did you know that International Buy Nothing Day is on Saturday (November 24, or 23 if you live in the US or Canada). Launched by the team behind Adbusters in 1992 to examine the issue of over-consumption, it has spread to more than 65 nations and calls on people to abstain from buying anything at all on one day of the year.
Coming as it does more than seven years after Naomi Klein’s renowned No Logo, it’s part of an enduring and increasingly vocal trend critiquing over-consumption and brands in general. This year has seen the publication of Bonfire of the Brands, and acres of coverage by commentators and journalists about their own attempts to rid themselves of the “curse” of brands.
But the whole point about Buy Nothing Day and other initiatives of its type is that it’s simply another way of people expressing themselves through their buying behaviour; in this case satisfying an emotional need to reject consumerism. In this respect, Buy Nothing Day is a brand in itself, albeit a non-profit one. It has a strong emotional message, it markets itself using modern techniques the same way many brands do – it has a website, a story, a Facebook group, downloads and other “badges of membership” (I wanted to buy a Buy Nothing Day T-shirt but they don’t do them. Surprising that) and it gives its “consumers” an emotional benefit – the feelgood factor of having “bought into” not buying anything.
Buy Nothing Day lumps together brands and shopping behaviour and positions them as evil. Brands aren’t evil. They can’t persuade us to do things we don’t want to do. They can’t manipulate our behaviour. The evil, if there is one, is the excessive consumption behaviour of many individuals.
If anything, Buy Nothing Day represents a significant trend that has evolved considerably from the No Logo days. We are seeing a lot of sophisticated anti-consumerist behaviour at the moment, whether it’s celebrities seeking a spiritual break from their luxury lifestyles or the growth in the thrift and second-hand (pre-loved) market. And the green movement is helping drive a re-evaluation of our need to consume. Buying something, from a pint of milk to a new handbag, comes with an in-built responsibility to use and dispose of it with more care than we might previously have done.
Oxfam recently announced that it would not be accepting cast-offs from Primark and other “disposable clothing” brands, the point being that the clothes, even after a couple of wears, were such poor quality that they had lost all resale value. We are used to seeing £10 toasters, the inference being that as soon as they stop working (which is likely to be quite soon, all things considered), we just chuck it out and buy another one.
We live in an excess economy that offers us more choice than we need. One reason is that there’s a huge demand for individuality. We don’t want to be seen to be wearing the same thing, drinking the same drink, driving the same car as the next person. It’s an urge to express our individuality that can only be met by ever-more variations on a theme. A growing aspect of individuality is about convictions, which is partly being satisfied by the emergence of brands like Modern Appealing Clothing (MAC).
MAC is on “the cutting edge of San Francisco’s slow clothing movement” and combines new ideas about beauty with old-fashioned concepts of utility to create clothing from materials used economically (sparing the extra petroleum products), “sweatshop-free dresses, more expensive but longer-lasting items, dance-worthy mix-and-match lines and naturally dyed designs”.
If manufacturers and brand owners learn anything from Buy Nothing Day, it’s that we’re looking for something more meaningful. Quality and durability are taking centre stage once more and will become a major trend that manufacturers will have to address. Brands that tell a story, that have conviction, resonate more with an audience jaded with hype and bling.
Buy Nothing Day is wholesome in its intent. The messages are becoming mainstream. And it’s a great opportunity for brands to develop products that we want and need, and are proud to look after and treasure. But instead of encouraging people to buy nothing for one day, would it not be more wholesome to encourage people to celebrate Appreciate What You’ve Got Day?
Mark Wickens is chairman and creative partner of Brandhouse