I’ve just come back from an exhilarating time at the 33rd Veerstichting Symposium in Leiden, Netherlands.  This annual event brings together 250 top students with 250 movers and shakers in society to debate an important topic of the day.  This year it was “Lost in Excess” and provoked a broad array of interpretations.

I was privileged to be a key note speaker and I talked about how brands (technology and fashion in particular) can encourage excessive consumption in children and can exacerbate social divisions.  In Unicef’s Report Card 7 on “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries” the Netherlands came out top.  We discussed whether the very late introduction of commercial television stations to the Netherlands had something to do with their high score child well-being.  Sweden banned advertising to children in the 1990s and their children are second happiest …

The students I met at the event were an inspiration – with a balanced, informed and highly mature approach to the event and with inquiring, open minds in the discussions.  It was impeccably organised by a dynamic student team.  It struck me as a really great idea and it would be wonderful  to have more symposia like this around the world  – we have a lot to learn from our young.

Hurt by Olympic Games

September 4th, 2012

Was anyone else struck by the madness of this morning’s headlines following the British Retail Consortium’s latest report? Or by the bizarre words we now seem to use to talk about shopping?

Apparently it’s a dreadful thing that we were all spending time with friends and family in August watching the culmination of 4 years of hard graft by some of our country’s most talented individuals. We should, instead, have been shopping. Why did no-one tell us it wasn’t about sport and community but about buying stuff? Perhaps it’s because with Olympic coverage on the ad-free BBC we had no corporations to tell us to get off the sofa and hit the high street.

Beyond this expectation that loyal Brits should take their shopping duties seriously, shopping has been anthropomorphised. On the one hand shopping is portrayed as an innocent victim of an evil onslaught as the newspapers tell us that shopping was “hurt by the Olympics” and “did not escape the Olympic impact” whilst online sales “suffered.” How do you feel about inflicting that pain? On the other hand shops and even particular consumer goods are held personally responsible for their inadequacies as they “failed to inspire spending” or turned in a “weak performance.” Even the good guys like the “usually reliable” online sales were castigated for not coming up to the mark.

According to the BRC “the country was ‘otherwise engaged’”. Well thank goodness for that! We actually didn’t feel the need to buy more stuff we don’t need and we got to know our mums and dads and mates again.

Surely, surely that’s cause for celebration!