VANCOUVER: At least one activist group has found a novel way to combat what it sees as corporations run amok: It's going into business.
The Adbusters Media Foundation, a Canada-based group of anti-corporate activists that publishes Adbusters magazine, is scheduled to ship the first orders for its Blackspot sneaker in six to eight weeks.
The new shoe is being promoted as a socially responsible alternative to Nike - it closely resembles Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Stars, a brand recently bought by Nike.
The new product is intended to serve as a business, PR, and marketing model for future grassroots, nonprofit forays into restaurants, the music industry, and even sustainable energy.
The company hopes to carve a non-traditional niche in the multibillion-dollar footwear industry while purposely serving as a thorn in the side of Nike chairman Phil Knight's global "Swoosh" empire.
Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn says that the Blackspot sneaker will be produced in a unionized Portuguese factory with above-average wages.
Asked about his PR plans, Lasn said that he wants to pursue a "judo-like strategy" of reacting against Nike's attitude of studied cool. Lasn added that he will toss in a healthy dose of "ridiculing Phil Knight."
The first purchase Blackspot will make this month with its $250,000 marketing budget will be a billboard near Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, OR. The billboard will have the words "Rethink the Cool" under a ragged Swoosh logo.
Adbusters' first communications challenge came from within its own base audience of anti-business activists, who were slow to support the idea that commerce could be used to fight commerce, Lasn said.
But as Adbusters has honed its message of a new capitalist paradigm, the Blackspot concept has gained wider acceptance within the activist community, Lasn added.
"We're really selling an idea rather than a product," he said.
Nike spokeswoman Caitlin Morris emphasized that the company has gone through extensive efforts to improve its labor situation after the sweatshop scandals of the 1990s.
She added that the Blackspot sneaker is coasting on Nike's coattails.
"Their strategy is to use our brand in order to leverage their agenda," she said. "For us, it's business as usual."
The Blackspot sneakers are currently sold only through a website (www.blackspotsneaker.org).