Unconsumption at SXSW? Yes, but no.

Posted by Rob Walker on March 15, 2010
Posted Under: Unconsumption

I’m not at SXSW. And thus I’m rather surprised to have just encountered a Twitter hashtag, #unconsumption, tied to a panel, or maybe a presentation, that evidently occurred as part of that event, today. This was news to me! I looked it up and the panel is described here. The “organizer” is someone named Nita Rollins, who works for something called Resource Interactive. The summary given:

“Buy one, give one” isn’t a campaign for charity. It’s one facet of the massive values correction that recession-rewired consumers are making. Learn how the digital channel is driving the trend in consumer goods’ reuse and repurposing, and why brands should embrace unconsumption for both CSR and ecommerce initiatives.

People can do what they want, I guess, but I should probably go on record as saying that it sounds to me like this version of “unconsumption” has nothing to do with the Unconsumption project that I’m involved in. (You, or anybody planning to title a talk or panel with the word, can just Google “unconsumption” if you want more information about my claim on this concept.)

My view, for the record, is that brands can’t “embrace unconsumption.” The last thing in the world that I had in mind with the Unconsumption project was coming up with some sort of shorthand that would help companies move more newly manufactured branded units. The unconsumption idea isn’t meant for brands, or people who make a living by burnishing brands.

It’s meant for the rest of us.

Please check out the Unconsumption Tumblr for more, and consider contributing to the Unconsumption Wiki. Regarding the latter, it would be really great if it turned out that whoever this person is who gave a presentation all about unconsumption used the opportunity to promote this collaborative effort that could become a very useful resource to consumers, and prove beneficial to the greater good in the process. If that’s what happened, I’ll sure let  you know.

That is all.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

In the meantime, meet others who are #NotAtSXSW: http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23NotAtSXSW

Written By Peter Korchnak on March 15th, 2010 @ 10:11 pm


Written By Rob Walker on March 16th, 2010 @ 7:19 am

If I did not attend the unconsumption talk at SXSW, I would not have stumbled across your blog, or the unconsumption wiki, or the tumblr.

A rising tide lifts all boats?

Written By halle on March 16th, 2010 @ 9:47 am

Are you the only person licensed to talk about unconsumption? We were pointed to this site during the talk. I was interested, but really disappointed to see your response. She gave a rounded view of what the movement is and offered some ways for the interactive community to take part. One of her points was how companies can get burned if what they are doing is perceived at being a marketing ploy. If you are precluding corporate america from taking part in the conversation you wont get too far.

Written By PattyOK on March 16th, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

Wait a minute — who is keeping whom out of “the conversation”?

I only found out about this talk by chance, after it was over. And I still don’t really know what was said, beyond the description I later located on the SXSW site, and some tweets.

All I did was clarify here, on my own site, my own point of view about Unconsumption, and what it means to me and the others who have volunteered their time and creativity to advance the idea in various ways. And now I’m chastised for that!

I’m interested to learn that the talk included “ways for the interactive community to take part” in the “movement.” I don’t know what the specifics were, but in general that sounds positive. As noted in the post above, I hope you and anyone else reading this will check out the Tumblr and consider participating in the Wiki.

I’m not trying to stifle conversation about Unconsumption. I love it! All I’m trying to do is figure out how I get allowed in on it.

Written By Rob Walker on March 16th, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

I agree, Rob, that the term “unconsumption” suits the situations you’ve used it in better than as applied to a “buy one, give one” model. (I wasn’t at SXSW, but I’m guessing they’re referencing things like (red) and TOMS shoes, and other products like that?)

I think it’d be a good exercise for someone (you? all of us?) to develop a fitting term for that business model. The best I’ve heard so far is “conspicuous compassion.” There could be a better term for it, though. I’d love to hear peoples’ thoughts.

And, like you, I’d love to hear more about what happened at SXSW.

Written By Charlie Park on March 16th, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

Greetings. I attended Nina Rollins presentation on Monday (she presented solo, not in a panel) along with about 50-75 other conference goers.

Rollins presented a well-constructed, yet rather academic overview of the market, social and digital forces driving consumer actions including: reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse, make, sell and swap.

She did end her presentation with a set of seven ways to reach the “unconsumer”. Overall, her tone was much more of a sociologist than a marketer. That said, her title (from her intro slide) is “Futurist” and she works for an interactive agency called Resource. Here’s their Contact Us page: http://www.resource.com/contact-us

It’s safe to assume that her research goes into building strategies for companies in marketing efforts at people who believe in “unconsuption”. She mentioned Tropicana, American Apparel and Babies R Us in her presentation, but I’m not sure if they are Resource clients.

Your group was not mentioned by name, but she did express interest in one of the audience members that shared her experience in organizing events in New York around curated product swaps.

I was impressed by the content of the presentation and think you should get in touch with her. If you’d like for me to pass along my notes from the session, I’d be happy to.

Mick Winters
Atlanta, GA

Written By Mick Winters on March 17th, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

Thanks. I actually emailed her yesterday and we’re supposed to talk soon, so I’m sort of holding off on saying anything else for now. Though of course others are still welcome to weigh in. I’m looking forward to having a clearer sense of the details.

Written By Rob Walker on March 17th, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

Quickly: I did talk to her late in the day yesterday. I don’t have anything to add, but I guess for me at least it’s time to move on — I was definitely surprised, and felt it was important to throw my two cents out there when I heard about the talk and read the description. But of course once I’ve put an idea out there people are free to take it where they want.

Oh, and Charlie, yeah, it’s possible that she should consider a broader term to capture what she’s trying to get at, that’s a good point.

But anyway the point is she did get in touch and I have a better sense now of how it all unfolded. Apparently the talk might end up in podcast form, so I’m still looking forward to hearing it, I hope.

Written By Rob Walker on March 18th, 2010 @ 7:27 am

I was mistaken! I looked back through my notes and found that she did, indeed, reference you, your column and your book.

Glad to hear that you two talked. Hope the conversation continues to unfold.

Written By Mick Winters on March 18th, 2010 @ 12:43 pm
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