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Nov 23 2012



Internet spreads word as networks shun adverts for Buy Nothing Day

Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
The Guardian, Friday 24 November 2000

Today is America's Buy Nothing Day. An event that was started to poke pointed fun at consumerism is now being celebrated in more than 40 countries, embarrassing television networks and demonstrating the power of the internet as a political organising tool.

The campaign was the brainchild of Kalle Lasn, the founder of a Vancouver-based magazine, Adbusters, "the journal of the mental environment", and author of Culture Jam, an exploration of consumerism, globalisation and advertising.

The day, which encourages people not to bother shopping for what they do not really need, began in the Pacific north-west in 1993 and was taken up on the internet in 1995. Now it has expanded, from events in 30 countries last year to 45 this year.

In America, it takes place on the day after Thanksgiving Day, traditionally the biggest shopping day in the calendar, while in Europe it is held on the last Saturday in November, which this year falls tomorrow.

"Every year it gets bigger," said Lasn yesterday. "A lot of it is word of mouth." He said that many events were now being organised by groups with no connection to Adbusters.

In the best traditions of consumerism, the organisers had hoped to advertise the day on television. When they made their first attempt, last year, every major network found reasons why it could not run a commercial telling people not to buy anything.

A CBS spokesman told Adbusters: "This commercial is in opposition to the current economic policy of the United States."

Only CNN agreed to run the commercial after being told that a refusal would lead to an embarrassing story in the Wall Street Journal. This year the network agreed to run the ad, said Lasn, only to have an apparent change of heart.

"It was a very strange experience," he said. "When we first approached them they said 'no worries, no problems, there's plenty of time.' Then they told us all the spots were sold out."

Finally a compromise has been reached and the 30-second ad was due to be screened once only last night.

The commercial's voice-over explains why the networks might not have been keen to run it alongside other advertisements: "The average North American consumes five times more than a Mexican, 10 times more than a Chinese person, and 30 times more than a person from India.

"We are the most voracious consumers in the world ... A world ... could die because of the way we North Americans live. Give it a rest. November 24 is Buy Nothing Day."

But Lasn, an Estonian-born former documentary film-maker, said not everyone was impressed by the idea. "On radio talk-shows there are chamber of commerce types who can't believe what we're doing and they can be quite rambunctious. And people phone up and say 'if you don't like it in this country, then get out'."

But he said that the majority of reactions had been positive, with many ad hoc groups being set up around the world, covering everything from small towns in Hungary to shopping centres in Japan.

Last year in New York, thousands of activists took over Times Square for a dance party, while other protesters targeted what is said to be the world's longest shopping avenue in Panama City.

This year, Adbusters' campaigns manager, Tom Liacas, said yesterday, everything from "reclaim the streets" demonstrations to the exchange of free gifts is planned.

He attributes the increase in interest to both the power of the internet and the effect of anti-globalisation protests in Seattle last year.

"Since Seattle, there's a much larger audience for this sort of thing," he said. "People have been adapting the day to their own cultures so we won't really know the scope of what has been done until afterwards."

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