‘Whatever you do, don’t buy our product’ – The value of putting off consumers

Earlier this year Ikea’s head of sustainability declared that ‘peak home furnishings’ had been reached. We’ve all got too much stuff, he said. The irony of this statement would be overwhelming were it not for the fact that it’s actually fairly common behaviour these days.

Take Heineken. Under the snappy title of ‘Moderate Drinkers Wanted’, their recent TV campaign celebrates a man who turns down a bottle of Heineken and retires home early. How responsible of them.

The most overt execution of this approach was made by Patagonia – the original Responsible Company – in 2011. They released a full-page ad in the New York Times breaking down the environmental cost of their R2 fleece with the injunction ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’. In a triumph of cognitive dissonance, sales of the jacket went up that year.

But if the product really is bad for us/society/the planet, why are they continuing to make it? And why are they putting the onus on us to reduce our consumption of it, rather than on themselves to reduce supply? Of course, that’s not the point. It’s about principles.

Implicit to every contradictory declaration not to buy a product is a rather worthy set of values: ‘we’d actually prefer that you didn’t buy our products because we care more about you/society/the planet than making money’. Whether this is authentic or not is a moot point (and whether that’s even provable is equally moot) – because there is a commercial imperative to all this.

As research has shown, the proverbial Millennial is much more inclined than previous generations to make purchase decisions according to their values. As a result, brands are beginning to reflect these values back at them – hence the recent rash of right-on messages. But with increased scrutiny over those that fail to deliver on their promises, only brands that are able to convince of their sincerity stand a chance of prevailing in this increasingly moralistic landscape.

Telling people not to buy your product, then, is just one way of expressing this sincerity. And as brand value is increasingly equated with values, expect to see much more of this sort of thing: ‘Don’t buy our product’ (buy our values).