Come May 21st, the various feeds on your social networks, from Facebook to Twitter to the differently-filtered photos on Instagram, will all be chock-full of the same image: A red, white and blue sticker with the words "I voted."
The sticker serves a dual purpose. Primarily, it's posted as a point of pride in order to show off how the poster has done their civic duty on L.A.'s Election Day, shaming those who haven't. Secondly, it serves as an important viral-esque reminder for anyone who has yet make their way to their polling place. (How many among us forget about election days until they see the stickers? And even then, only vote just so they can post photos of their own sticker and make their friends feel lazy?) Those double goals are, ultimately, the point of any sticker, button, patch, tattoo, T-shirt, bumper sticker, or really most signage of any kind. They show off a person's own decision-making process while urging onlookers to consider theirs. "This is what I did," the signs imply, "so why don't you?"
Which is why I'm so intrigued by this recent news out of the Windy City regarding the institution of a "Chicago grown" sticker.
Now, I've already espoused the benefits of buying local in these parts, but what's always been missing from the equation is just how to successfully get others to listen to that plea. Simply providing a bunch of information about the benefits of buying local doesn't work on its own. What's needed is more than just plain stats. What's needed is a story.
Consider the average grocery shopper: They've had a rough day at work, or are on their way to one, and are making a stop at the store out of necessity. They're running out of food at home. This is a chore that must be dealt with relatively quickly. If they don't, they may quite literally die. (They won't, but they could.) And while they're taking this task on, they have to make sure they get everything they need as they don't have time to make a second trip. And they certainly aren't made of money so price has to be a consideration. And, at the same point, they've been inundated by news stories and statistics about how pretty much every ingredient in every piece of everything is somehow bad for you.
It's a stressful situation. So shoppers look for comfort in the form of shortcuts to make their decision-making process easier. Clever slogans, iconic logos, something that rings a bell deep in their subconscious for some unknown reason. And when they come across something like that, they swipe the product into their cart and move along to the next decision they need to make that day.
It's simple Advertising 101. Get into the customer's awareness with enough impressions, become rich. It's the game that the big food corporations have been utilizing for years, from Tony the Tiger to "I Ate the Bones!" But now with efforts from non-profit organizations across the country, "locally grown" is becoming its own kind of brand.
Which brings us back around to the aforementioned "Chicago grown" sticker. It's part of an initiative by the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council to entice consumers to buy locally-grown producers. Once instituted, the stickers will be placed on everything from "fruits, veggies, herbs, and honey, and eventually on processed items in which they're included, such as salsa, jams, and even kombucha." And this isn't just some kind of wishful thinking on the parts of locally grown advocates. This is being done because it works.
In the above-linked piece over at Grist, a nonprofit based out of Massachusetts is mentioned that put together a campaign called "Local Hero." The results:
[I]nternal studies show that over 82 percent of residents recognize the Local Hero logo -- and those who recognize it are twice as likely to to shop at their local farm stand or farmers market or to choose local products at their grocery store.
Which is why it's time for a proposal for whoever becomes mayor when people don those red, white and blue stickers later in May: Promise that by the end of your term, grocery store aisles in Los Angeles will be lined with items marked with a sticker containing three simple words:
"Grown in L.A."