How To Become A Successful Antipreneur
Although some credit The New York Times media columnist Rob Walker with coining the term "antipreneur," Vancouver-based Kalle Lasn gives the movement much of its ideological weight. Lasn is co-founder of the magazine Adbusters, which analyzes the effects and pervasiveness of advertising by large corporations. He advocates "culture jamming," which he describes as the interruption of unconscious consumer behavior that favors buying over producing. One of culture jamming's techniques is the deconstruction of large companies' ad campaigns to expose what antipreneurs believe is their hypocrisy.
Lasn doesn't stop with advertising. "If you want to change the world, you have to change capitalism into a more grassroots phenomenon, and that means pulling down the megacorporations," he says, speaking with hints of his native Estonian. In the past decade, he says, "A whole new wave of small business is really strutting its stuff in a powerful way around the world, and it includes everything from ethical principles in running business to fair trade to a large and growing movement of people who just want to buy local." Lasn says this movement is gaining strength as people become exasperated with what he calls the traditional "complaint-based" politics of the left—whining lots and doing little. Antipreneurs, he says, actually make a difference by promoting products that have a low impact on the environment or are fairly produced.
Lasn is himself an antipreneur. In 2003 he took on sneaker manufacturer Nike (NKE) and its labor practices in Asia by launching Blackspot Shoes. One shoe is even called the "Unswoosher," a deliberate swipe at the Nike logo. Blackspot's logo is, naturally, a large white spot. "This is in the spirit of playful resistance that culture jamming is all about," Lasn says. "Why not befuddle a few people and force them, through cognitive dissonance, to figure out the contradiction? It's good for them."
Marketing experts see things a bit differently. "No logo is still a logo, and one your social-cultural tribe will recognize," says Michal Strahilevitz, a professor of marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "It has the same effect of the Nike Swoosh, but it is the logo of a different tribe." This also explains why apparel is such fertile territory for antipreneurs: Antipreneurs appeal to consumers who want to buy products with a kind of reverse conspicuous consumption in mind. "It works better if it is publicly consumed, as that way others know you are an ethical consumer," she says. "You get points for being seen."
To date, Lasn's 13-person company has sold about 30,000 pairs of the $100 shoes, which are made in a union factory in Portugal. Lasn advertises only in his own magazine, although he says he's planning to run an MTV (VIA) spot with the tagline "Rethink Capitalism" within the next year or so.
Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
Dispatches: Britain’s Bad Housing