Do companies capitalize on our desire to feel good about ourselves? Can they persuade us to buy if they make us think we're doing the right thing?
Here's why I ask. Recently, I received as a gift a bar of "Fair Trade" chocolate that, for a few moments, made me feel really good about myself. Here it is:
The sales copy on the box assures me that my chocolate is not only Fair Trade Certified, but it's also USDA Organic. But wait: that's not even the best part! The best part is that when I buy this chocolate, I'm assured that my purchase has helped cocoa farmers in Bolivia improve their livelihoods. And to emphasize it all, there's a nice photo of a happy, smiling (and presumably Bolivian) woman, improving her life.
Hey, this was the most uplifting thing I'd read all day. And the chocolate was pretty good too. Not awesome, but good. Interestingly, here are the ingredients:
COCOA MASS (BOLIVIA, COSTA RICA), COCOA BUTTER (BOLIVIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC), CANE SUGAR (PARAGUAY).
Even more interestingly, look at the lower left corner of the package. It says Made in Switzerland.
Hmmm. Wait a minute.
Okay. The production of high-quality chocolate is high-margin, high value-added work. In other words, the final steps involved in making this chocolate constitute the vast majority of its economic value. So, how happy and uplifted could this nice Bolivian lady really be if almost all of the value in this product was performed 7,000 miles away on another continent? Worse, how does it help her if a good chunk of the ingredients don't even come from her own country?
I felt great about myself when I first started eating this chocolate, but the more I read and think, the more I'm starting to feel like a good old-fashioned sucker.
Readers, what I'm trying to do today is raise some honest questions about Fair Trade products. What exactly does Fair Trade mean? As a consumer, should I be suspicious of an apparently well-meaning company that writes great label copy--and yet sources ingredients and buys finished product from countries other than what their own label says they are supporting?
Is it "fair" to buy a fraction of your raw materials from Bolivia (yet do no value-added work there), and still imply that you're helping some smiling woman in a photo? Is it worth it to us as consumers to pay extra for that?
Or is Fair Trade just a marketing technique to make us feel good about ourselves? Is this just another retail Ninja mind trick that ropes us into paying significantly higher prices for the products we buy?
Readers, what do you think? Does "Fair Trade" make you want to buy? Or is it just another marketing technique that appeals to consumers' narcissism and self-image?
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