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Cause Marketing In the Zeitgeist

Jay-Z, rapper, impresario, and would-be member of the Forbes 400 is in the news because his Rocawear line of clothing sold a T-shirt that co-opts the attention given to Occupy Wall Street, but fails to share with OWS any proceeds from sales.

Sacrebleu! Imagine the cheek of the fellow who “…has the political sensibility of a hood rat …To attempt to profit off of the first important social moment of 50 years with an overpriced piece of cotton is an insult to the fight for economic civil rights known,” as one OWS protester was quoted in Hollywood Reporter. The shirt has since been pulled from the Rocawear website.

It was not always such.

How people or businesses made their money hasn’t traditionally been a matter for the consumer decide other than with their dollars, so long as the commerce in question wasn’t illegal.

Of course there has always been a natural check on people who try to benefit themselves in unsavory ways, as anyone grew up in a small town can attest. But Jay-Z splits his time between urban centers on the East and West Coasts, not in the rural hinterlands.

Instead, what’s at work here is the burgeoning power of the consumer. The developed world has plenty of stuff, and the economy notwithstanding, the purchasing power to buy more. In a world of nearly endless consumer choices, we can afford to be discriminating.

Better still, we consumers can be trusted to make responsible choices, says James Livingston, author of the heterodox book “Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment and Your Soul.”

Writes Livingston in the December 2011 issue of Wired magazine, “when presented with real choices backed by discretionary income, you consumers typically do the right thing, whether it’s springing for a hybrid or shopping at the farmer’s market.”

Consumers don’t need Jay-Z’s sassy T-shirt, but they especially don’t need it if he’s not going to share the proceeds of the group he’s sassing.

The lesson is clear: the consumer culture is prepared to hold anyone to account, even hipsters like Jay-Z.

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