According to an old Soviet joke a man was arrested by the KGB while handing out leaflets in Red Square.
When the suspected dissident was taken back to the station and hauled before a commander he was told to hand over all the offending leaflets at once.
To his surprise the commander found each leaflet was completely blank.
“What is the meaning of this?” the commander asked angrily.
“Well,” the man said. “Everyone already knows what the problem is, so why bother writing it down?”
In our society today there are also problems that everyone already knows about – from global warming and plastic pollution to systemic racism and sex discrimination.
It can also feel pretty pointless writing about these things – whether that is sharing an outraged Facebook post, adding a supportive comment on Instagram, or signing yet another petition on Change.org.
On the web even the most informed and sincerely held viewpoint can be misconstrued as bandwagon hopping or virtue signalling. It can feel like we are just adding more noise to the echo chamber.
As Bo Burnham said during his recent Netflix special: “Is it necessary that every single person on this planet expresses every single opinion that they have on every single thing that occurs all at the same time?”
And yet all those words do perhaps add up to something, because informed consumers are increasingly choosing to do business with brands that align with their values – and avoiding those that do not.
We all want less waste, less pollution and less exploitation.
And brands are increasingly telling us what we want to hear.
Product labels, descriptions and advertisements are now packed with reassuring words about hot topics like sustainability, diversity and inclusion.
But it needs to be more than surface deep. It needs to be more than a well crafted statement of intent on a corporate website. It needs to be applied, not only at the gleaming company HQ, but throughout the global supply chain.
Or is not worth the paper it is written on.
Indeed, it may as well not be written at all.