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During this season of consumeritis and its blur of endless, repeating television, radio and print ads, the occasional nod to social responsibility seems daring, and effective, in its simplicity....

For example, yesterday morning I heard a story on Vermont Public Radio about the Local First Vermont effort. LFVT is one of many similar organizations nationwide with a mission "to preserve and enhance the economic, human, and natural vitality of Vermont communities by promoting the importance of purchasing from locally owned independent businesses."
What caught my attention about LFVT was the balanced, rational way the cause is presented. LFVT is not a militant "buy only Vermont" campaign. Rather, the work of the organization is more about reminding consumers to consider Vermont-made/based products/services first - and then, if there isn't a suitable local option for whatever reason, going to a national retailer or online obviously makes sense.
I admit that I am a major online shopper (especially during these frantic holiday weeks ), so I needed this nudge. I'm guessing that once the average* consumer realizes they already buy local to some degree (for example, lots of people in VT buy Green Mountain Coffee Roasters coffee versus other brands), they will perhaps engage in the idea a bit more. The overall economic impact of buying local - which is actually pretty astounding - is noted on the LFVT site:
"In study after study, researchers have found that the economic impact of shopping for goods and services at locally-owned businesses is significantly greater than at non-local alternatives. For instance, in Austin, TX, Civic Economics found that for every $100 spent at a local bookstore $45 stayed local, but for every $100 spent at a chain store only $13 stayed local."
On another note: I was paging through The New York Times Magazine yesterday and, after endless colorful pages of ads for mainly luxury brands, a Timberland ad stopped me short. The background was black, and the only image was the sole of a boot.
The very sparse text asked "What kind of footprint will you leave?" and included the tagline, "Make it better." The ad introduced Timberland's new "nutrition label," which lists environmental and community impact (in terms of energy it takes to produce each pair of shoes, and the number of hours served in the community).
A somewhat daring (and expensive) ad for the brand, wouldn't you say? Did people rush to their site to buy boots? Not necessarily. Did the Timberland name get placed in permanent memory for future reference? For the savvy shopper who takes it all in as she makes purchasing decisions, it is pretty likely. (I first blogged about this company's social responsibility in November 2004)
As consumer's move through their holiday purchasing, does the "local" angle or the "footprint" perspective matter? Yes - but perhaps not in immediate sales. Rather the local/footprint approach humanizes the interaction, and helps the consumer see that they may have more in common with a company or brand than they'd imagined (shared values or environmental views, for example). And that "common ground" will endure long after the last egg nog is tossed back.
P.S. I give the Timberland print ad an A for differentiation from all the other ads during the holiday season itself, and for its longer term investment in consumers.
*Of course, I realize that the more low-income buyer, whether they'd like to partake in buying local or not, is likely much more concerned with the bottomline price.

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image of Andrea Learned
Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.