Monday, June 15, 2009

Carrotmobs: Adding Incentives to the Consumer Arsenal

Consumers have extraordinary power to influence the marketplace and this is particularly true when it comes to consumer appetites for Green. For decades environmentalists have organized boycotts and now carrots are being added to an arsenal that previously included mostly sticks. This new concept is known as the Carrotmob, where boycotts punish businesses, the Carrotmob collectively rewards environmentally responsible businesses through patronage.

The business community's concern about direct action is well warranted, these types of disincentives are making it hard for them to ignore sustainability. But businesses also need incentives to justify bold strategic decisions and the Carrotmob is a grassroots incarnation of an idea that will help to transform our economy.

Consumers have the power to punish companies who fail to incorporate sustainable business practices but they also have the power to reward those with a Green mission.

In a free market system consumers are free to decide where they spend their money, and this determines which businesses thrive and which fail. Now in an effort to reward Green initiatives, groups are organizing to show support through their spending.

Time magazine quotes Brent Schulkin, the inventor of the Carrotmob, as saying: "Traditional activism revolves around conflict, boycotting, protesting, lawsuits — it's about going into attack mode. What's unique about a Carrotmob is that there are no enemies."

In the first Carrotmob hundreds of patrons spent $9,200 at a San Francisco convenience store and a bit more than one year later the Carrotmob concept has spread to 10 cities across the US and has a presence in Finland and France. Now the concept is about to be launched in Philadelphia while other initiatives are being planned for Hoboken, N.J., Kansas City, Mo., and elsewhere.

The Carrotmob approach addresses an interesting caveat of the millennial mind-set. Sometimes referred to as slactivists, these are young pseudo activists, they follow social media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. This cohort is well informed, they understand how technology can make a difference, and they know how to tap into the power of social media.

Social media is at the center of efforts to communicate the Carrotmob message. Carrotmob organizers eschew traditional marketing and prefer viral and other creative PR approaches like handing out carrots on college campuses labeled with a blog address.

But the Carrotmob concept is not just for the young. Philidephia Carrotmob organizer Tony Montagnaro, a 19 year old sophomore at Rutgers, says older people understand the concept of the Carrotmob. "Someone 65 or 70 often gets this right away," he says. "People my age can be slower."

Through the proliferation of web based technologies consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of the products they buy and the companies and retailers they buy from. Consumers are also increasingly harnessing the power of social media to organize grass roots campaigns. Technology is not only driving consumer awareness, it is also the future of consumer activism. And according to Schulkin: "What's good for activism is also good for business."

Carrotmobs are an important part of the new landscape, they prove that organized consumer spending can change business. In today's marketplace businesses can be punished or rewarded for their environmental record. To avoid consumer's ire or to benefit from carrotmobs, businesses have more reasons than ever to go Green.

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