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Power to the people: The great consumer backlash

Thomas Frey //January 24, 2012//

Power to the people: The great consumer backlash

Thomas Frey //January 24, 2012//

On Dec. 29, Verizon announced it would begin charging a $2 “convenience fee” for any customers paying monthly bills with a credit or debit card via the Internet or telephone.

Within 24 hours, online petitions began to circulate and commenters voiced their condemnation of Verizon’s corporate greed. Instantly, their messages started showing up on websites and message boards across the Internet, and even the FCC responded quickly, announcing plans to investigate the charge. A day after the so-called convenience fee was announced, Verizon caved to public and governmental pressure and scrapped the charge.
This type of public outcry is beginning to happen with ever-greater frequency.

• Netflix subscribers derailed the company’s July 2011 plans to raise prices and spin off its DVD-rental business by overwhelming it with more than 27,000 comments. CEO Reed Hastings instantly moved from media darling to media demon over night.

• In October 2011, Bank of America announced a new $5/month charge to use debit cards. In less than a month, more than 300,000 people signed an online petition to stop the planned fee, and over 21,000 customers pledged to close their Bank of America checking accounts. One news anchor even cut up her card on the air. By the end of Oct, the $5 fee was dropped.

These are just a couple recent examples of how consumers are flexing their newfound muscles. But rest assured, the war against consumer injustice is just beginning. We are witnessing the start of a new era – micro-movements. Here’s what may be happening in the months ahead.

When David Meets Goliath

In 1983, when Apple was on the verge of launching the Macintosh, Steve Jobs sought out film producer Ridley Scott, who was just coming off the critically acclaimed production of Blade Runner, to produce a SuperBowl commercial that would play up the David and Goliath battle being waged between IBM and Apple.

Using an unprecedented $900,000 budget to produce the commercial, Job’s was determined to make a big slash. Even though the Apple Board tried to kill the ad for the Superbowl, through some behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the commercial still ran, and the impact was huge.

The commercial opened with an ominous dark feel of some future time, showing a line of bald genderless people marching in unison through a long tunnel with every movement being monitored by electronic screens. This scene sets the stage for the contrasting image a well-muscled female runner carrying a large hammer while wearing a colorful athletic outfit.

As she is chased by four police-like officers representing the “thought police,” she races towards a large screen with an image of Big Brother giving a speech:

“Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology – where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!”

As the runner closes in on the screen, she hurls the hammer towards it, at the exact same moment that Big Brother announces, “we shall prevail!” In a flurry of light and smoke, the screen is destroyed, shocking the people watching it. The commercial concludes with an ominous narrative rising from the hazy, whitish-blue aftermath of the cataclysmic event:

“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.”

The commercial ends by fading to black and as the Apple logo appears.

After receiving numerous other awards, in 2007 the ad was chosen as the “Best Super Bowl Spot” in the game’s 40-year history.

Steve Jobs was a master at leveraging his role as the underdog, always wanting to champion the “little guys” in their battles against the forces of big business.
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