Knowledge Is Power

I'm surprised nobody called me out on the gigantic hypocrisy embedded in last week's post.

Here's the criticism I was expecting to get: how can I talk in one post about how the food industry assumes we're all zombies and yet square that with my post on teaching readers to invest in consumer products stocks?

In other words, how can you be both an investor in--and a critic of--the very same industry?

The purpose of this post is to show that not only can you be both, you should be both.

Let's start with a premise. It's a premise obvious to anyone who's started a business or worked in sales, but it still bears repeating for the rest of us: The advertising business model--where a third party pays content creators for access to an audience--functions extremely well in a world where people want to watch, listen to or read free content. I run ads here at CK, and part of the reason I do so is because I want my message to be available to readers for free.

The bottom line is advertising can serve a surprisingly useful purpose in the modern economy. Sure, advertising can be done unethically, it can be targeted to children, it can be done inappropriately or even illegally at times. These things are wrong. Stipulated.

But what's even more wrong is for us to give away our power in the face of advertising, or to give away our power to companies and industries that advertise. And there are two ways we can disempower ourselves:

1) By giving our power away to the advertising-consumption business model and mindlessly buying things.

2) By refusing to exert our personal power as informed consumers.

I cannot stress enough how my years as an analyst on Wall Street taught me so much about how the consumer products industry worked, and how profitable and effective the advertising-consumption business model could be. More importantly, however, it taught me how much free and easily obtainable information was out there to learn exactly how this industry operates. And you don't have to be a Wall Street guy to get at it.

And yet, despite how easy it is to get your hands on all of this information, it's painfully obvious that many food industry pundits and critics have never read a company annual report, have no idea how to look at or think about consumer products companies' financial statements, and are therefore in many ways oblivious to the motivations and strategic thinking of these companies. They are outsiders looking in.

My thinking is: understand the game from the inside. The process of being personally active as an individual investor in these companies taught me everything I know about how they worked. And it revealed to me most of what I share here at CK about consumer empowerment.

I don't want my readers impotently shaking their fists at the food industry. I want my readers to understand the game--to understand what forces are at work and how they as consumers fit into this industry. I want my readers to be powerful players in this market who chose actively to buy, or not buy, to invest, or not invest.

One last thought: who would you say is in a better position to make empowered consumption decisions: a consumer who's also an investor in the consumer products industry, or a uninvested, uninformed consumer who just complains that the industry is too powerful for us?

Related Posts:
Do You Let Yourself Be Manipulated To Buy?
Ending Overeating: An Interview With Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler
Never From Concentrate? Never Again
The Mysteriously Shrinking Hershey's Bar
The Sad, Quiet Death of Campbell's Low-Sodium Soup

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chacha1 said...

just because two statements appear contradictory, does not mean the person making the statements is a hypocrite. :-)

the only people who never contradict themselves are people who never think.

chacha1 said...

also ... I made quite a lot of money in the stock market and one of my biggest winners was Green Mountain Coffee.

It really does pay to know how to read a performance summary and a balance sheet.

But, just as many citizens who complain about taxes never bother to look at the real federal budget, many "investors" leave their 401(k) contributions in money-market funds for years because it's ... too much trouble to READ A LITTLE.