Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Foray into US Culture: Recycling ... and Marketing Recycling

[One in the Series: Forays in US Culture...]

A winding and varied career path eventually paid me well to work in corporate 'Internet marketing and communication'.
I was not responsible, thank the gods, for coming up with hard-core "messaging" - capitalism's lingua franca that persuades shoppers, voters, fashionistas, lovers, etc., to shut down their critical thinking faculties and open up their wallets to keep up with The Joneses.

I was glad to be a paid member of a media team for I found marketing and communication presented me key insights into our dominant culture, how it functions, who keeps it going, how, and why. The point at which it rankled, indeed the point at which I departed the team,  was when I was tasked with white- and green-washing corporate ideology.
Whether team members notice it or not, sooner or later, this point always comes in this line of work. For the essential driver of this work is having fun finding catchy new ways of persuading people to spend money and ensure corporate/corporate-like capital accumulates - not only regardless of consequences but, most importantly, not asking about potentially devastating consequences.
Only recently has a small segment of the shopping public begun to acknowledge the consequences of shop- 'til-you-drop: garbage dumps that have grown so unwieldy that America gifts developing countries with its waste; the swirling, unbounded Great Pacific Garbage Patch; and landfills that evolve into residential neighborhoods in the US and around the world.
Anyway, let me cut short a long polemic on capitalism and say: Yes, mea culpa: I am one of a shrinking group who believes, as the Beatles put it, "money can't buy me love"...nor can money persuade me to spread the ubiquitous, usually corporate but not only corporate lies that go into toxifying land, water, air, or people. Read what I mean here.
I fail to see how the complex system that is core to capitalism's wealth extraction and accumulation can continue to savage the planet with impunity. Nor do I see happy-ever-after looming on the horizon.
Happily, though, I see a group of people who, not only do not share my doom-and-gloom perspective but find ways nicely to use capitalism's messaging tools and coax into bloom alternatives from capitalism's stagnant waters....


Fact 1: I'm using an old toothbrush whose bristles are distorted and scratch my gums so they hurt, and sometimes bleed. (Yes, I do have an electric toothbrush. It is battery operated and opens up a line for future inquiry: how to dispose, benignly, of AA batteries.)
Fact 2: I need a new toothbrush.
Fact 3: I loathe shopping (the avid and avaricious buying "look," choosing one thing from an  overwhelming glut, trying it on, bringing it home, grrrrr....)
            Buy online, you say? Here's an example of that enterprise:
NiceTouch Disposable Toothbrushes. Smooth head has 38 tufts of soft, end-rounded nylon bristles. Brushes come without mint paste. 144 cello-wrapped brushes per box.
Cost? $45.99 plus tax, plus shipping plus the cost of a storage unit to keep them until I use them all up or I die of old age, whichever comes first.
Fact 4: I put off and put off and put off the quick trip to a local store to buy a new toothbrush.
Fact 5: I shop for groceries (mostly) at Trader Joe's.

I am wandering the aisles in Trader Joe's seeking hummus and figs and European Bread and Greek yogurt...when I remember my sore gums and head for the small shelf selling "personal products".
Now, clearly, someone as sensitive to messaging as I am must apply some sort of scale to judge Promo-speak for the moments I fall prey to the cultural imperative to shop 'til I drop. My scale ranges from soft-core=benign but present, to hard-core= subterfuge, outright lying, distortion of facts.
Happily, I find TJ's toothbrush Promo-speak is soft-core...probably because TJ's carries only one line of toothbrush - and that line promotes recycling. This means it comes with a built-in pious-o-meter: I recycle therefore I am (good, brave, trendy, forward thinking, beautiful, smart, liberal, _________ [fill in the blank]).
Moreover, not only is there no toothbrush brand competition, TJ's line is politically correct, environmentally friendly, and  ...
Made with love &
yogurt cups

While it sells for close to $3 - more than double my ideal toothbrush 'spend', and given the givens (my lack of enthusiasm for shopping; that I am already shopping; the symmetry of purchasing yogurt in a yogurt cup and a toothbrush made from recycled yogurt cups, not to mention a 'dentist designed grip' ) - I purchase one.
It is green - as shown on the packaging, above, and the promo goes like this (from the front -image on the left - to the back - image on the right): 

gimme5 [logo] makes it
to recycle

Smile Brightly

Tiered bristles and dentist designed grip for cleaner teeth.
Mail Back Pack makes recycling easy.

gimme5 is our recycling community
We turn your used #5 plastic products
and packing into new products.
Recycle two just like this:
[illustration of two spooning toothbrushes]

[How to recycle your toothbrush]
1. Enter your rewards code at mygimme5.com
[the code in the small grey box]
2. When you're ready to recycle, print the postage paid label and tape it to this package.
3. Get surprises like a Preserve food storage container.

Launch a Bottleship
Give your recycling a boost
Send back 6 in a plastic bottle
Visit mygimme5.com to learn more.
[editorial comment: See, this is why marketing is fun...the folks thinking up this gimmick had a good laugh at the Launch a Bottleship pun-of-sorts, and fun in the workplace keeps workers content and coming back for more. Does the top recycler gets a Bottleship named after her/himself? S/he should.]

Nit pickin'
Nit pick 1: Packaging  explains that "gimme5 is our recycling community" and urges the new user to "Enter your rewards code at mygimme5.com". Linking to gimme5.com, however, lands the user on a site that is not gimme5.com. Rather, gimme5.com calls up a bland page that suggests a domain name squatter owns "gimme5.com" (and may be experimenting with "recycling" of her/his own: recycling dollars from gimme5.com's pocket into the pocket of the farsighted person who registered the domain name first and will happily squat on it for as long it it takes).
Nit pick 2: The route to gimme5.com's website is circuitous. 1) the user keys in "mygimme5.com" but lands on Preserve's gimme5 program: "good deeds yield many great returns".
Nit pick 3: gimme5.com displays the de rigeur happy, wholesome, and healthy blond all-'merikan gal wearing a t-shirt and recycling logo.
Nit pick 4: Clicking on any link on the mygimme5.com page lands the user onto  preserveproducts.com: "Nothing wasted. Everything gained." Yet Preserve products does not recycle. 
Nit pick 5: In order to fulfill the promise inherent in my toothbrush I must:
1) join mygimme5.com - or at least enter my rewards code, share my contact info, and be open to receiving more promo material
2) hold onto my toothbrush packaging so that I can mail in this toothbrush and the next one ("Recycle two just like this")
3: not only hold on to 2 toothbrushes to mail but, if I want to reap the reward of launching a Bottleship I must hold on to 6 more used toothbrushes and a plastic bottle to mail. 

Oh, the tangled (world wide) web we weave....

Despite my Nit pickin', I do appreciate that happy, wholesome, healthy, and blond all-'merikan youth still have the entrepreneurial spirit...and that this business model builds in the ability to hold-your-head-up-high (by buying and recycling as opposed to the hang-your-head-in-shame-if-you-understand-the-business-model of traditional corporations like Chevron, etc). Recycling businesses allow entrepreneurs to generate profit from scratching at small corners of the overwhelming pile of plastic trash drowning our planet.
Good on ya, kids.

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