Made In America

Made In America

Last year, we ran a series of online advertisements to spread the word about Ethical Ocean. We ran eight ad campaigns, most in the feel-good vein. But we also tested another one that was bold, controversial, and well, not-so-feel-good. Anyone who has taken Marketing101 probably would have predicted that would be the ad that garnered the most attention, but given that our business is built on doing good when you shop, we thought we might be the exception to the rule.

Turns out, we’re not: the negative ad outperformed the others by 45%.

The ad played off the common sentiment that buying USA-made products is better for the world than those made in China. According to a 2010 survey by Harris Interactive, 61% of Americans would prefer to buy products manufactured domestically.

The reasons behind this preference for USA-made are many.

Buying local has been touted by politicians as the solution to America’s economic recovery, despite the popular opinion of economists who agree that protectionism hurts economic recoveries. From an environmental perspective, products produced domestically often come with a lower footprint since their shipping requirements are short. Finally, USA- made products are generally believed to be produced under stringent environmental, animal cruelty, and labor laws.

China on the other hand is portrayed as the land where coal burns fast and labor comes cheap. Apple’s recent Foxconn scandal revealed that it is difficult for even the most powerful companies to steer clear of human right abuses in their supply chain when doing business in China. And mainstream media continue to point the finger at China, blaming the nation first and foremost for ‘stealing’ American manufacturing jobs.

Does this mean the ethically-inclined shopper should boycott all products made in China and stick to American-made? I don’t think so.

Broad sweeping boycotts and practicing our own form of protectionism won’t necessarily mean we’re consistently making the ‘ethical’ choice. Instead, I believe that we should buy the most ethical brands we can – finding out as much as we can about how they’re manufactured and the ecological impact of the materials.

If products that meet my ethical standards come from China, so be it. This consistent behavior will send a market signal that can change how products are made.

But what does that mean for our most popular advertisement? Were we just furthering protectionist hype? It certainly wasn’t our intention. Sure this ethical shoe wasn’t made in China, but it wasn’t made in the US either. Instead it was made in Uganda, playing a part in the African country’s burgeoning manufacturing industry. Sticking to US-made products would have meant overlooking this shoe, a shoe that is doing great things for economic development.

Does that change the way you see the ad?

May 7, 2012