Fairtrade Fortnight

Given that we are currently in the second week of “Fairtrade Fortnight”, which this year runs from the 24th of February until the 9th of March, we have devoted our latest blog to how the event is being marketed and communicated to Irish consumers.

Fairtrade Fortnight - Ireland 2014
Official Poster for “Fairtrade Fortnight”, Ireland 2014

What is Fairtrade Fortnight?

“Fairtrade Fortnight” is the annual campaign organised by the international Fairtrade Foundation, and it is now in its 12th year in Ireland.  It aims to promote the work of Fairtrade suppliers and producers in events and activities throughout Ireland and, in doing so, stimulate consumers to purchase products that carry the Fairtrade certification mark. The theme of this year’s campaign is ‘The Power of You’, which Fairtrade Ireland describe as meaning “the power of consumers to instigate change” and a reminder that “each and every one of us have a role to play in the global economy”.

When it comes to how Fairtrade products are performing in the Irish market, the picture is mixed.  Sales of Fairtrade products bucked the downward market trends of the recession and actually increased by almost 100% between 2008 and 2012. During 2013, the amount that Irish consumers spent on Fairtrade products rose by 15% (up to €200 million from €174 million in 2012). Research last year from Globescan also showed that the Fairtrade certification logo has a recognition rate of 82% among Irish consumers (a level that is second only to the UK among the countries that were surveyed).

Yet, despite such support among consumers, Irish retailers remain decidedly sluggish when it comes to stocking a wide range of Fairtrade products. Irish supermarket retailers are still lagging behind the major UK retailers in terms of the proportion of their sales of coffee and bananas that are fairtrade certified (for example, 100% of all bananas sold in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and the Co-operative Group carry the certification).

Fairtrade fortnight - Standard logo
Fairtrade Fortnight Logo

The major exception to this, perhaps surprisingly, is the discount retailer Lidl Ireland; 25% of all bananas sold in Lidl are certified as fairtrade, compared to an average of 5% among their Irish competitors. This lack of commitment from Irish supermarkets is a problem that was identified by Peter Gaynor, Executive Director of Fairtrade Ireland, who recently remarked that “the companies with the greatest power to harness our spending power to help lift people out of poverty are the retailers, and in Ireland they seem either blissfully unaware or indifferent to both the opportunity and responsibility to do so”.

The challenges of marketing Fair Trade products

One of the biggest challenges that Fair Trade groups must face is how they can market their products to a wider mainstream audience, rather than merely focusing on a niche segment of ‘ethical consumers’. Fair Trade marketing differs quite a bit from traditional consumer marketing, which tends to be about encouraging consumers to buy from a single company or supplier.

By contrast, Fair Trade marketing has a much wider focus in that it is trying to promote a (more equitable) way of production and distribution, and to communicate how the global supply chain means that the purchasing decisions of a western consumer are deeply interconnected with the struggling farmer in the developing world.

This is not always an easy concept for mainstream consumers to grasp. It can be difficult to articulate all of the complex issues (globalisation, environmental concerns, fluctuating commodity prices) related to Fair Trade in a concise marketing message that most consumers will find engaging.

Fairtrade Fortnight - Poster for the 2014 UK campaign
Fairtrade Fortnight – Poster for the 2014 UK campaign

One possible solution might be for Fair Trade marketers to tell the stories of individual producers or farmers trying to eke out a living in tough conditions in the developing world. In this way, Fair Trade marketers can demonstrate the positive impact of western consumers’ purchasing decisions on real-life people, thus personalising and humanising a potentially complicated issue.

This is a communication technique that has often been used in Charitable Marketing. It can be seen in the work of the social psychologist Paul Slovic, who carried out much research on the effect of charity communications on levels of donations. Slovic asserted that consumers are more likely to donate if they are exposed to a scenario where one individual is shown to be suffering from a particular problem, rather than being told how a huge proportion of a population is experiencing that same problem.

This is a technique that can be seen in the campaign of Fairtrade Ireland’s UK partner –The Fairtrade Foundation. Their promotional advert for Fairtrade Fortnight focuses on one man: Foncho, a Colombian banana farmer. The clip explicitly links the activities of Fairtrade Fortnight with the positive impact they will have on the life of this one farmer, thus making the campaign more personalised.

Another problem with Fair Trade marketing is that it can sometimes appear a little worthy and dull. While Fairtrade Ireland doesn’t appear to have commissioned a video for this year’s “Fairtrade Fortnight”, their campaign from last year tried to undercut this perception of Fair Trade being staid and humourless. Dubbed as “Fair Play to Ya” and featuring the ‘comedian’ Neil Delamere, their 2013 campaign attempted to communicate the basic message of Fairtrade while not taking itself too seriously and poking fun at what might be seen as the self-importance of some ethical consumers.

One of the best examples of ethical marketing that we’ve seen recently is the “Chain of Good” campaign for Innocent Smoothies. While Innocent is not directly affiliated to the Fairtrade Federation, the “Chain of Gold” ad is an exemplar for how the concept of Fair Trade might be communicated. Fast-paced, humourous and visually stimulating, the ad puts a human face (“Janet and Otai in Uganda”) on the cause it is supporting while explaining the global supply chain in a way that is simple, clear and fun. There might even be some lessons here for how other charities might communicate about complex problems.

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