In the last week or so, a number of billboards have been cropping up in and around Manchester. Here, take a look for yourselves!

As it’s described on the billboards, this campaign is “a self analytical critique of consumer life”, directly posing such questions as “What lie will I wear today?”, and wielding statements like “We breathe shallower now.”

The campaign has been designed to provoke thought and conversation about the modern consumer experience, and to highlight the failings of contemporary consumer culture. A noble goal, to be sure, but (as I am in contrarian mode this week and being a grumpy bear) I have my problems with the campaign.

Criticising consumer culture is like selling ponchos in a rainstorm; the parodies essentially write themselves, why do we necessarily have to pick it apart when it’s blatantly obvious how insane some consumer behaviour is? We all live among it day-to-day, and we all have something to say about it. What is so different about the questions that are being posed by Mr. Purnell compared to the ones that we ask ourselves, that others ask of society? Such statements as “What lie will I wear today?” smack strongly of pretense (yes, I can hear the hypocrite alarm sounding, it’s a regular occurrence around here) and of a statement so vague as to invite interpretation without suppling much in the way of a message or information. What seems to have happened here is that we have a genuinely concerning problem (the almost supplicating behaviour of the modern consumer mass), and a very noble goal (change the way in which said mass thinks and acts) without having a solid method of getting there.

Having said that, of course, if the actual goal of the project is to engender discussion, then I’d say mission accomplished! For here I am, speaking to you across various oceans and landmasses about this very issue. I am spreading the message, and it’s drawn my attention to a specific topic that otherwise just sort of lies dormant, a mere fact of life and not a raging epidemic. Maybe the very fact that I find the delivery flawed is immaterial; the fact of the matter is that it caught my eye, made me want to research its message, and more importantly has gotten me thinking and talking about consumerism (albeit in, ironically, a fairly superficial way).

I now find myself wondering; are the right people being targeted by this campaign? I consider myself to be a fairly savvy consumer, shopping around and selecting for quality and value-for-money over style. What about somebody who absolutely must have the latest everything, be up-to-date in their technology and fashion, constantly re-tweeting corporate marketing to their own little networks? Would they look at these posters and go “Hmm, what’s that? Maybe I’ll take a look.”? Would they share it with their friends if the initial point of contact is so vague? If they did land on the page, would they be driven to think about their behaviour?

Culture change is difficult enough to achieve in an organisation, let alone an entire city. But within a singular organisation, you target the leaders first and let the culture change trickle down. Is this the point of the campaign? Is it the people who are actively thinking about the consumerism issue that are being targeted, those who engage themselves in broader thinking, potential leaders and influencers within their peer groups? Is the intent for them to take this message and advocate it or share it, much as I am currently doing?

Like I’ve said a couple of times now; I have my problems with the execution of this campaign. But I have a strong suspicion that it’s working, and I think I might just grow to like it…

What do you guys think?