Posted by: Joel Arellano | October 28, 2013

A Snowball’s Chance in Hell: Komathi Kolandai-Matchett vs. the World

Since I’m presenting tomorrow, I wanted to use my post this week to get the Kolandai-Matchett study out of the way. As far as I can tell, basically everything Kolandai-Matchett did was wrong, beginning with her media strategy and her framing of the problem. She wants to diminish consumerism, and finds it noteworthy that most policy initiatives in that vein have focused on efficient production rather than battling materialism. Instead of acknowledging this wisdom, however, Kolandai-Matchett embarks on a quest to reverse the course of global industrial, social, psychological, and economic development with a door-to-door print campaign consisting of articles (with scholarly citations!) designed to raise awareness of sustainable consumption, the effects of consumerism, and advertisers’ tricks. (The latter is because Kolandai-Matchett is convinced that advertising is the driver of consumerism and that it’s the source of “the problem of ‘customer desires.’”) Unsurprisingly, her results are inconclusive at best (see Recommendation 7).

Theory and research don’t matter if you don’t understand your subject. Kolandai-Matchett missed an opportunity to have an impact because A), she doesn’t want to address production, where consumption actually happens; and B), she counts out traditional media channels since she doesn’t see any benefit in “the provision of information alone.” Imagine if she had championed a cause célèbre to highlight an example of corporate waste- news channels could have magnified her voice for free. And with a combined social media approach, she could have crafted an effective, spreadable message to raise awareness of the underpinning issues of consumerism.

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Responses

  1. It is easy to be a critic. I think you would have gotten on well with the young Siegel, author of Burying the Hatchet (The New Yorker, 9/26/13) from our other class.

    I agree with you that a neighborhood newsletter doesn’t reach very many people. And several of the discussion points didn’t seem supported by the findings, but rather just flowed from the author’s ideas of what might be best.

    However, I appreciate the author’s dive into the effectiveness of “message framing strategy.” The author was researching not how many people s/he could reach, but how effective the message would be when framed in certain ways and presented repeatedly in different ways.

    And her findings on the effectiveness of “message framing strategy” provided some useful information. The framing strategy did result in many parents reevaluating the effects of advertising on their children, instead of being thoughtless consumers of that medium. And it established the kind of language and sequencing of messages that might shift readers toward social change.

    Finally, I disagree with your statement that consumption actually happens at production. Consumer demand is an important driver. If people demand it, someone will supply it. If someone supplies it, advertisers will create demand. And arguably, in a capitalist system, it is the consumer side — the people — that will need to drive that change. Corporations and governments will have no reason to change the system, and ample reason not to change it ($$$) unless people force them to.

  2. Haha, I do love the old Siegel… http://bit.ly/16DoiWS

    • And here I thought you were linking to the Siegel article but nope, to your review the article. http://goo.gl/Pz3CPE

      • Perhaps the link was presented ambiguously- I meant to highlight having already described my nostalgia for the old Siegel in a post on which you’d previously commented, and which you reference again, below.

  3. Joel — for something supposedly as obscure as “sustainable consumption” (compared to its more popular cousin buzzword “sustainability”), maybe just putting the concept out there is a start and KK-M’s efforts are not really that futile

  4. Absolutely, Grace- Her research re: message framing for like-minded organizations is valuable, I just think it should have been applied differently. She could have had a greater effect if she’d attempted to reach a wider audience and altered the target of her efforts.

  5. Donna asked about my reference to Siegel, so just a quick note: Siegel is the author of an article we read for our other class, Mass Media/Participatory Media, Link here: http://goo.gl/2abvJh

    His article discusses how when he was younger, his book reviews were brutal. He would tear other writers to shreds. And as he has gotten older, he has gotten less critical. Joel, when discussing that article in our other class’s blog, was critical of Siegel being less critical, arguing that rigorous criticism for books, art etc is important and helps cull out the trash. And that is true; however, the person doing the critiquing might have his/her own agenda. Sometimes our reliance on the critiquing maintains these “literary ghettos”, a Siegel term, and reinforces patterns of hierarchy and exclusion. So there are always two sides.

  6. Thank you for reading and discussing my article. This blog appears to be a fantastic venue for scholarly discussion and I would like to provide some feedback on the comments above.

    As correctly pointed out, the objective of the study was to test message effectiveness. I am open to criticisms highlighting what appear to be idealistic views for a sustainable planet. However, the objective of the study itself was not to “diminish consumerism” or “reverse the course of global industrial….economic development” nor would these have been possible with one small scale campaign. The study used a door-to-door participant recruitment process – not to be confused with a “door-to-door print campaign” which is quite a different thing.

    To clarify further, the use of scholarly citations in the message content, was intentional – to increase perceptions of message validity (a hypothesis that could be further tested).

    The highlighting of the limitations of the study design and suggestions for improvement (Recommendation 7) was not intended to suggest that the study was inconclusive. The study’s inconclusiveness might be more reasonably derived from the fact that significant changes were observed for only 2 variables.

    The sentence “…the media alone, or the provision of information alone, are unlikely to bring about significant changes in public opinion…” was intended to acknowledge previous observations in the literature that a lot more than these are needed to influence opinion; it does not discount the power of mainstream / traditional media.

    The introductory sentence preceding the list of recommendations indicated that the discussions were based on the strengths and limitations of the tested campaign as well as other observations. I can now see, from your comments, that it could have been better clarified that these were based on a review of literature and experiences in designing, implementing and testing the messages.

    Yes, issues that attract public attention do attract mainstream media coverage – this has been repeatedly observed in previous media research. A broad multi-media campaign would have been fascinating, but was beyond the scope of this study, which was one of four case studies that had looked at different approaches for improving media communication of sustainability and the environment. These are detailed in the thesis from which the article was derived. See: http://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/bitstream/10092/2109/1/thesis_fulltext.pdf
    The chapter on Media social responsibility questioned if mainstream media would be willing to include such “strategically framed” messages – this too may be an interesting area for further study.

    Do continue with these thoughtful and intelligent discussions on the aspects of past research – it will most definitely help build research capacity; it also becomes the basis for more advanced research. I do hope these discussions lead to further ideas for research in this field. Thank you.

    • I was wrong to assert that this study is inconclusive. As I mentioned in class, and should have corrected above, your extensive research and synthesis provide valuable insight for framing messages that promote sustainability, and the study identifies significantly effective new strategies for such messages.

      More importantly, the tone of my post was excessive, unprofessional, and discouraging of productive discourse. I apologize for these immature mistakes. I am embarrassed by the contrasting grace of your response, and I appreciate the time and attention you devoted to offering an insightful response here. Thank you!

  7. Bravo to you both! Thank you for your responses.


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