There’s a great episode in Season Four of Mad Men in which Don responds to his firm being dropped by their client Lucky Strike with a full-page manifesto-style ad against smoking in The New York Times. It was disingenuous, of course, as everyone at SCDP was still ceaselessly lighting up, but it was the perfect example of Don’s valuable advice to “change the conversation.” The concept is not simply a figment of TV Land, but guidance which ad men and women have been relying on for years. It’s often been seen as a way to transform what people might perceive as a brand’s weaknesses into its strengths.
One great example of this was the “Avis can’t afford not to be nice” campaign, which worked to justify their spot as the number-two car rental company by arguing that, to claim number one, they’d have to sacrifice their ace customer service values. More familiar to us all still, might be the Think Small ad campaign borne by the union of Volkswagen and their agency DDP, or Apple’s call to Think Different in the 90s. Though these examples weren’t pure manifestos, they did highlight the company’s respective convictions in really memorable ways.
Don’s manifesto creates a stir throughout his office and the larger ad world, while also attracting the eyes of the American Cancer Society. Based off a real advertisement from the time, which of course wouldn’t end smoking for good, it still succeeded in making a group of people acknowledge the major health risks they were taking on—to, effectively, force them into the conversation.
I was struck by a similar—but much more authentic—manifesto in The New York Times yesterday by the conscious consumption shopping site, Zady. Admittedly, I have a very close friend who works there [though she has no clue I’m writing this], but I’ve known about their mission for months and nothing affected me quite like yesterday’s ad. With so many things about myself that I’m constantly trying to change, I’ve continued to put conscious shopping on the backburner, with many an excuse, including “I just don’t have the time.”
Perhaps because advertisements tend to blur together more than they stand out these days—their prevalence working, paradoxically, to drown them out—this somewhat old-fashioned route was striking. The message, too, was simple and assertive—not dressed up in flowery language or far-fetched ideas. In bold print, it read:
It was neither meek nor overbearing—it had the perfect dose of attitude. It was grounded in FACTS that we can’t deny, even if we often choose to ignore them. And it hit close to home, being that I’m an avid clothing consumer and lover of the fashion world in general. Over time, my tastes have simplified, but only on an aesthetic level. I have limited my purchasing, but not nearly as much as I should. And while I try to avoid it, I still make the occasional pop in to stores like Zara or H&M.
I realized this was not unlike how I used to eat in high school, versus how I eat now. Back then, I would easily skip breakfast for a sugary vanilla latte, and follow it up with three warm cookies as a regular dessert…for lunch. While you know I don’t like to shame people’s eating habits, and believe indulgence is great in moderation, I do feel happier and more in tune with my body now that I pay more attention to my health. If I could make that change—if I could learn to not just like, but actually love, things like kale and beets and carrot juice (with other foods, mind you—I’m not advocating some kind of cleanse here), then why can’t I work to change my shopping habits?
Well, I think it comes down to being selfish—as all humans are. When I first started eating healthfully it was after my freshman year of college. I wanted to lose a bit of that collegiate tummy that had suddenly formed, as well as clear up my skin. I wanted exercise to help that process along and keep me from going off the rails mentally. The motivation, essentially, was a supposedly better me. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the older I get, and especially in the last year, I’ve been thinking about how you can’t really be happy living life in a way that only benefits y-o-u. In the same vein, every therapist will tell you that if you’re not doing something to help others, or something larger than yourself, you’re also not filling a necessary personal void. You could chalk my recent feelings up to the maternal instinct finally coming out to play, but its presence in those of the non–vag variety would call that into question. Instead, altruism seems more like a force that all of us have the potential to tap into, if we choose to.
The ad made me uncomfortable in the best way. It called me out! It forced me to recognize that in all my talks with said Zady pal, I never really took into account my own shopping habits. Sure, it briefly crossed my mind, but mainly because I felt I should support her. The reality is, it’s about so much more than supporting her, it’s about supporting slow fashion overall—ethical production, quality over quantity, and a healthy environment.
It’s not going to be easy at all—it’s often a little harder on the wallet, for one thing, and resisting the boatload of temptation on the market that isn’t well made will be a struggle. But a very, very first-world struggle, and one that I’m realizing I have a duty to take on. From what I know of the demographic who reads this blog, the majority of you have enough in your closet right now that you could technically never shop again and survive—so unless you truly don’t fall under that category, there’s no real reason why you can’t, on some level, give this conscious consumption thing a go.
Starting today, I will be making every effort to only buy along the terms that Zady is shilling. I hope you will consider joining me.