The public perception of a consumer activist might well be a
sandal-clad, Swampy look-alike, but today’s activist is just as likely
to be a middle- England housewife or a company director. In fact, a
recent poll by the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) shows that
more than three-quarters of the population are likely to attempt to
exert influence on a company’s policies by boycotting their
The survey ’Business, Government and the new century citizen’ paints the
picture of a new, more militant, consumer for whom ethical
considerations outweigh those of cost and availability. And it is a
growing trend. Nearly half of the respondents said that they had
boycotted products in the past, but a staggering 76 per cent said that
they would be willing to do so in future. At the same time more than a
quarter of those interviewed said they strongly identified with more
than one pressure group.
The 1990s saw public trust in institutions decline and often transferred
to commercial brands. Now that trust is in danger of transferring again
to overtly ethically-driven activist groups.The PR implications are
profound and will no doubt generate a rash of cause-related marketing
But superficial links with charities and NGOs will not be enough.
Today’s consumer activist is well able to determine whether a company’s
ethical stance is skin deep.
The real solution lies in an enhanced role for communication
professionals as the corporate conscience and even greater efforts by
corporations to understand the NGOs and pressure groups that are
exerting such influence on the mindset of today’s consumer.