Matt presented a paper on May 29th, 2014, at the Canadian Communication Association annual meeting as part of the 2014 Canadian Social Science and Humanities Congress. Matt’s paper was called “The (hidden) Costs of “Moustache Farming”: Movember, Consumer Culture and the Future of Brand Activism” and investigated the theoretical underpinnings of notions of commodity activism:

Abstract: This paper represents a continuation of my doctoral thesis work that examines the branding practices of Movember, the popular charitable campaign that encourages men to grow moustaches throughout November to raise funds and “awareness” for a variety of initiatives related to “men’s health.” It extends my previous investigations into Movember (Ventresca, 2012, 2013) to consider how the circulation and consumption of commodities are crucial aspects of the campaign’s brand-image. My primary objective for this analysis is to situate Movember within the growing body of literature concerning the incorporation of commercial goods into popular conceptions of social movements and/or charitable causes. Much of the business and marketing literature speaks favourably of the commercial potentials of cause-related marketing (an outlook effectively critiqued by King [2006] among others). Yet scholars in communication and media studies have offered varied understandings of the business practices that exist under the umbrella of cause-related marketing, theorizing these processes as examples of ethical consumption (Lewis & Potter, 2011), causumerism (Richey & Ponte, 2011) and commodity activism (Banet-Weiser & Mukhrejee, 2012). While these authors articulate their claims through differing theoretical and methodological approaches, they share two important and related elements: a) that cause-related marketing rests on the promotion and consumption of branded products related to an act of charity; and b) that these consumer practices facilitate the production of consumer-citizens governed by the cultural logics of neoliberalism. In this paper I will argue that while Movember’s brand-image is in many ways consistent with the overarching tenets of cause-related marketing, the campaign is also connected to consumer culture in innovative, yet problematic, ways.

Through relationships with a number of corporate partners, Movember (much like the ubiquitous pink ribbon before it) participates in the creation of products featuring the campaign’s iconic moustache logo. But since Movember’s brand-image literally grows out of the faces of its participants (Ventresca, 2012, 2013), the campaign appears to be less reliant on the purchase of consumer objects like ribbons or other branded commodities. I will argue, however, that this apparent distance from the over-the-top commercialization of other cause-related marketing campaigns like the pink ribbon demonstrates the extent to which Movember is embedded in the workings of consumer capitalism. The version of cause-related marketing enacted by Movember relies upon the formulation of a recognizable charitable brand that, in addition to having its own line of branded products, facilitates a far-reaching assemblage of moustache-related consumer practices. I will undertake this investigation by exploring three key discursive sites: the popular culture icons and texts that inform Movember’s ironic masculine ethos; the consumer processes that incorporate the moustache into contemporary trends in male fashion through the image of “the hipster;” and the development of a kitsch industry around moustache-themed novelty products. I will examine these areas by conducting discourse analyses using textual, visual, and online methodologies (Hine, 2005; Rose, 2001) that interrogate the ways in which the performance of Movember’s ironic masculinities is (in)directly tied to a distinct set of consumer practices that I call “brand activism.”