Published on: April 2, 2008by Michael Sansolo
Sometimes the pace of change is so radical, it almost makes us forget what’s really happening. And when that occurs, we all miss the chance for some great lessons.
One MNB “Your Views” writer made me think of this last week, when he commented on the latest story of a sizable retailer eliminating tobacco products from their stores. (Those reports, if you have noticed, get less and less attention as the decision becomes increasingly less radical.)
This reader pointed out an important part of the story, the incredible turn of events that has led retailers to remove a category that once was one of the highest in terms of sales per square foot. In fact, many of the changes surrounding smoking are shocking. It doesn’t feel like that long ago that smoking was simply commonplace. We sat in restaurants, airplanes and even conference rooms and simply accepted the tufts of smoke floating above us. I can vividly remember the firestorm set off when Northwest Airlines proudly announced it would no longer allow smoking on its planes.
At the time, it was unheard of and controversial. Today we don’t even think of it.
However, today’s column isn’t about smoking. It’s about change and what we see and what we choose not to see.
After all, the foundation for changes in attitudes toward smoking started with that very first Surgeon General’s report. Suddenly, smoking was far less tolerated and school aged kids like me and my sisters were part of an army pestering our parents to give up smoking. I’d like to believe that some far-sighted retailers looked at that event and began thinking about the day they’d no longer sell cigarettes in their stores. I’d like to, but I’m not sure. The same was true for seat belts or littering. The seeds of change were sowed in many second grade classrooms.
So the question is, what signs do we see today and what unthinkable changes might they cause five, 10 or 20 years in the future? We’ve seen the accelerating pace of change in various attitudes. A few years back, hardly any consumers really understood anything about a trans fat and today there are whole cities where they are banned. Likewise, look at how quickly bottled water got tagged as an environmental problem as did plastic shopping bags. And “Made in China” became a warning almost overnight.
So what’s next? How will environmental issues impact us going forward? Is there any form of packaging in the store that might somehow evade unseen scrutiny from shoppers and legislators? Or how will health and wellness issues change marketing and shopping going forward? Is it possible that products will be taxed based on fat content or contain new warnings from the Surgeon General on their impact?
The bottom line is that we really don’t know anything for certain about the future, but we see signs all around us. We look at Generation Y and see how they interact globally in ways previously unimaginable and we have to ask ourselves what they will be like when they are our customers and employees. I’ve heard people question whether their environmental fervor will continue in a softening economy, but I wonder if that’s applying our generational thinking to a new generational group.
What if these young people say, we don’t care. What if they say: We’ll make trade offs and give up luxuries to help the planet and armed with the Internet, we’ll keep track of your activities around the globe. Is that really unthinkable?
Then again, is anything really unthinkable?
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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