More Musings on the Story of Stuff – Branding & Marketing

As I said yesterday, I’m currently reading this book:

Today, in the chapter on distribution I struck upon something horrifying. I guess I sort of knew this already, but seeing it in black and white is even more shocking. I’m sure we all know that most companies out there don’t actually make the stuff they sell, but they buy it in and have unknown manufacturers make it for them. We’ve seen this so much in the clothing industry where brands like H&M and Primark have clothes made up in India and take no responsibility for the working practices of those in their supply chain. This is all part of these companies plans to cut costs, basically by abdicating responsibility.

This efficiency driven, cost-cutting is pervasive. Companies don’t make the stuff they sell, they simply brand it. Apple don’t make computers, but they sure as heck have created a brand that people crave. H&M don’t make clothes, Nike doesn’t make trainers. They all simply buy the garments and items from producers, or the parts to assemble them and often not even from the same factory, but from multiple producers. It’s quite possible that one factory churns out the exact same product for multiple retailers.

So really, let’s face it – it’s often not the item we are buying, but we’ve been sold on the brand. The founder of Nike even admitted that the company once saw themselves as production oriented, but that they now understand their most important function is to market the product. So guess where they put all their money? Advertising. And often this advertising isn’t even for a specific product, it’s all about the image they want to associate with their brand. Nike aren’t selling your trainers, they are selling you a fashion statement that in this climate will probably be outdated in a mere 2 weeks!

Start Conversations with Brands about Zero Waste

One of the best ways to start engaging other people in your lifestyle choices is by having conversations with them. It’s probably best to not make it the first thing you say, but over time these things can and do come up. I talk about my lifestyle here on my blog, but recently I started to think about how I could make a bigger impact. More than just sharing posts on Facebook. I’ve started to write letters and emails to target specific brands. Brands that I’m already using and I like, but that could do with making better choices about the packaging they use.

It doesn’t always go well, I get a lot of excuses and well we’ve tried this and we think plastic is the best option. But I hope that if I keep engaging with them, over time and possibly suggest alternatives that they might start to listen. I don’t expect them to change for just one person, but imagine our consumer power if we all started doing this. They would have to listen, for fear of losing business! So this post is to encourage you to get out there and start engaging in conversation with brands. Don’t just sit back and feel frustrated about the lack of Zero Waste opportunities where you live. Let’s start campaigning for change!

Here are my top tips for composing a good letter:

  • Keep it friendly
  • Say how much you like their product (I only write to brands I enjoy using/ eating)
  • Say what makes you unhappy and tell them why. I’ve used my Council changing to fortnightly bin collections as a starter. I tell them I’m concerned about how much packaging goes straight in the bin, especially now my bin collections have halved in frequency
  • Ask if they’ve considered alternatives or suggest some, if you know of any.
  • Use statistics to back up what you’re saying – we live in an evidence based society, so they’ll love to hear about some relevant research. It makes you sound more credible and authoritative
  • End by saying you’d appreciate knowing their thoughts
  • It’s also a great idea to write and congratulate brands that are doing things well, even a short post to their Facebook page will boost them. I recently wrote to a supermarket who switched from using glass bottles with plastic lids for their spices, to glass bottles with metal lids. I told them how much I appreciated the change and why. I encouraged them to make more of those kinds of changes.

What are your top tips for initiating change? Have you tried writing letters to brands? Get in touch.

Frugal Living Tips 2

Here’s the next installment of my frugal living tips!

  1. Does that item have a 2nd use? Use your old toothbrush to clean up the grout in your bathroom and all those tough places to reach, like round the taps. Re-use carrier bags as bin liners. Re-use that newspaper when painting or cleaning your shoes.
  2. Shop around. Take this example, my local superstore stocks several varieties of tinned coconut milk. If you go to the obvious place in the store, you will pay the maximum price. However, look around in the specialist sections for different nationalities (like Polish or Caribbean) and you will find the same product (albeit a different label) for half the price!
  3. Shop yellow stickies! Go to your local supermarket or corner shop and look for the reduce section. Daily, you will find an ever changing array of foods that are close to their use-by date, at a hefty discount! Put the perishables in the freezer and just take out what is needed. Fruits and veggies are easy to tell when they’ve gone off and it’s rarely at their use-by date! They will keep for a few more days, no problem. You can also find items with damaged packaging at a fraction of their usual cost.
  4. Sell your unwanted items- try eBay, car boot sales, freeads, friends- whatever!
  5. Trade-in your old books, CDs, clothes, computer games & DVDs. Try sites like Zapper, WeBuyBooks & Amazon.
  6. Sign-up to survey sites and add £100s to your income each year! Try YouGov & IPSOS as good starting places.
  7. Adopt my motto- never pay full price for anything! Wait until the item you need comes on sale or offer. After of course, shopping around for the best price!
  8. Down-shift a brand. Do you always buy brand names- then you’re paying too much for most things! Try the store brand of baked beans, stuffing, mustard. No doubt you’ll find it’s just as good. Already buying store brands? Then try the basic or economy range. 7 times out of 10, we can’t notice any difference and often there are less unpronounceable ingredients!
  9. Stock up! When that item you use regularly is on offer, stock up! Put it away in a cupboard and you’ll thank yourself later on.
  10. Batch cook. Make double what you need and freeze half. You’ll soon see the savings on ingredients and electricity or gas adding up!