I have Jewish heritage and while that brings a bunch of negative impacts, it also comes with a few benefits. One of those benefits is a divine right to tell Jewish jokes without the fear of being accused of antisemitism. As such Jewish jokes, at least the tasteful ones, are something I’m rather fond of.

One of my favourites involves a Jewish James Bond or, in this joke, James Bondski. This spy has a strapline with an ironic and appropriate twist: “license to kill, wholesale.” This strapline reflects the very real focus that people of Jewish extraction often have with scoring a bargain. Perhaps it comes from generations of haggling in Eastern European markets, or perhaps it is related to our cliched connection to financial vocations – whatever the reason, Jews and a bargain have a close relationship.

And so one would justifiably expect that Black Friday, that American invention that has spread globally, would be something that I’d have quite a fascination with. For those who aren’t accustomed to the growing Black Friday movement, it is tied to the US Thanksgiving holiday and, quite frankly, is a way for retailers of all sorts to encourage consumer spending in the traditionally quiet period before the Christmas rush. Brands of all sorts go on sale on the Friday and Monday around Thanksgiving, and encourage customers to spend with reckless abandon in the pursuit of a bargain.

Of course, this spending goes beyond people buying things they actually need at a slightly cheaper than usual price. Instead, Black Friday encourages rampant consumer spending and the purchasing of cheap rubbish as a way of fueling an addiction to acquisition. In a world where the half-life related to satisfaction is increasingly trending downwards, Black Friday encourages consumers to increase the velocity of their spending to gain an increasingly ineffective hit.

What is interesting, however, is that amidst this tendency to buy into imported consumeristic models, there is a counter-trend evident. That counter trend sees organizations that have more of a balanced perspective to their products, their customers and the planet, take a contrary approach.

These companies forego the short-term revenue benefits of Black Friday, and instead attempt to take their customers on a journey whereby their consumptive decisions aren’t predicated on discounts and bargains, but rather considered and purposeful decision making. These companies, and the consumers they influence, take a more measured approach towards their purchasing decisions. They may very well still buy a product on Black Friday, but they’ll do so not because it’s on sale, but rather because it’s a product they need, that they will gain utility from and that they’ll use (and hence gain a physical and emotional benefit from) for a long period of time.

That’s the approach we’re taking over at Cactus, the NZ workwear and outdoor gear company that’s still proudly based on Otautahi. Rather than mindlessly pushing people to purchase, we’ve decided to counter some of the negative impacts of Black Friday by donating a bunch of native trees to be planted across Aotearoa. In addition, as a way of hopefully focusing peoples’ minds on the environmental impact of what they buy, we’re donating additional trees for any purchases people make over the weekend.

But our main message is one which we hope will get people thinking about their consumptive decisions. We’re trying to be better as a company and want our customers to be better as individuals. To that end, we’re humbly suggesting that people don’t spend the weekend shopping and finding bargains that they genuinely don’t need. Rather we’d like to suggest that we should all spend the day outside. Plant a tree, go for a run, a bike, a hike, a swim, a surf. Go abseiling, kayaking, fishing. Do some gardening, Spend time with friends and whānau, build a deck… whatever floats ya boat as long as it isn’t buying a bunch of stuff you don’t need.

We get that we’re tiny and our impact will be infinitesimally small compared to the billions of dollars of needless stuff that people buy this weekend. But like Gandhi said, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. And we’d like to think that our little stand will get people thinking and might just start a bit of a more mindful approach to consumption.

I love Jewish jokes and I can laugh at them alongside the best. But there’s somethings that are actually worth being serious about and maybe reversing our descent into crazy consumption is one of them.

Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. He likes a bargain but tries to avoid the urge to consume.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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