Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


‘Mob’ campaign will use carrot rather than stick

October 2008

A network of US consumers is seeking to reward responsible companies with extra business.

The fledgling online community, called Carrotmob, will reward ‘socially progressive businesses’ by urging members to buy their products or services at certain times or places. Its first action was in San Francisco in March, when a store owned by K&D Market, noted for supporting climate change, was besieged by hundreds of Carrotmob supporters, who increased the retailer’s daily turnover fourfold.  

The non-profit group is still small but it hopes to expand rapidly – and globally – and is seeking funding to appoint three full-time staff. It was founded by Brent Schulkin, a US documentary film-maker, and is being advised by senior figures in corporate responsibility, including Robyn Beavers, Google’s corporate environmental programmes director and Kriss Deiglmeier, executive director of the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford Business School.

Schulkin said supporters will be recruited through online social networks such as Facebook, and early campaigns will target local communities and smaller firms. If this achieves critical mass, it will be extended to larger businesses. However, Schulkin told EP: ‘We will need to do a lot of research before tackling big companies, since the questions about sustainability are more complex, involving supply chains and so on.’

The group aims to ‘organize consumers to make purchases that give financial rewards to those businesses who agree to make socially beneficial choices’. Supporters will vote on which outlets to visit, but Schulkin told EP: ‘We’re still experimenting a bit with how exactly we will make that work.’ Supporters are expected initially to be from the ‘mainly young demographic’ who use online social networking sites, but Carrotmob intends to grow by linking with other social groups.

There have been no further actions since San Francisco, but more are planned in the next few months. ‘Our initial focus has been on developing a web application to make it easy for anyone to organize and scale their own Carrotmob events’, said Schulkin. He said rewarding companies with a carrot, rather than punishing them for misdemeanours with a stick, held out the prospect ‘that we can end the tradition of hostility between activists and business’.

Carrotmob is an extension of the popular idea of a ‘flash mob’ brought together at short notice by internet messagers. The largest such events have been impromptu pillow fights held on one day this year, which attracted 5000 people in New York and thousands more in cities worldwide.

A website that gathers video and audio clips relating to sustainability and presents them to online users has been set up by Red Direct, a San Francisco-based direct marketing agency., which seeks to ‘highlight the voices of sustainability’, features hundreds of clips, including presentations from Niel Golightly, director of sustainable business strategies for the Ford Motor Company, and Ray Anderson, founder of carpet manufacturer InterfaceFlor. The site aggregates material delivered by the video search engine site Blinkx on the search term ‘sustainability’.

Carrotmob | North America | Consumer attitudes

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