|   paul@paulmccrudden.com   |   September 2009  

#sixweeks is now overcheck out the Slideshare summary, and the top-line stats >



For the six weeks from mid-June to end-July 2009, I recorded all the time and money I spent as a consumer. And, having invoiced over 50 companies, I'm now waiting for them to pay me for this time I've spent with their brand.

I did this for two main reasons: firstly, to further understand how I spend my life as a consumer, and secondly to challenge the basic assumption that consumers are subservient to brands.  

The way I see it, my time on this planet is limited and as such I want to spend it as wisely as possible. It frustrates me therefore that every day of my life I have to waste time standing in queues waiting to buy some product or service that, in the big scheme of things, I don't really care about. Take the Post Office for example. Whenever I go in there (and I try not to) I end up queueing for about five times as long as the actual time I spend at the counter sorting out those trivial things such as a parcel's size and weight. That's time that I'd prefer, in my limited, lucky period on earth, to be doing something else. Or take the Gilmore Girls on E4. Over this six week period I've spent 110 minutes with it absorbing my life, as my partner Lucy watches it while I get ready for work.

What riles me is that all this time ultimately helps the company's bottom line and market share - and I get nothing back for my time as a result. The fact that I'm in Pret a Manger and not EAT on any particular day results in the former having my attention - and wallet - dedicated to their brand, as opposed to their competitor's. What's more, other people who are not yet customers at that moment in time with the brand that I'm giving my time to are more likely to want to interact with a company that has an ABC1 male (if that's what I'm called these days) interacting with them, and so give that brand their attention too. And yet this time and attention is not reflected in the cost of these companies' products and services. Prices instead are dictated by raw costs, overheads and item mark-up, with a calculation made as to the number of customers, covers, viewers or users who will support that brand over a period of time. At no point in this calculation is any credit given to consumers for spending their time with a brand - and I believe it should.

So I've written to over 50 companies (read a sample letter and invoice > ) that I've interacted with over this six week period, and requested payment for my time. What's more I've even given them a whopping 75% discount of my standard hourly charge-out rate (based on my client charge-out rate at work) to reflect the fact that time spent with them is not as 'productive' as it is with my employer - for example, I may just be standing in a queue, or my time might be split between multiple consumer points such as being on the computer and watching the TV at the same time.

The data shows some interesting results. In this time, I've spent 20 hours and 50 minutes with Transport for London mainly taking the tube day in day out. And as a result of that, I've spent 2 hours and 35 minutes reading Metro and 80 minutes reading The London Paper, not to mention all the planted PR stories and adverts they contain. For the food shop, I spent a lot of time at Marks & Spencer, but significantly more money at Sainsbury's (£455). And as for eating out, then Pizza Express will find that their 2 for 1 voucher went down a treat (6 hours, 53 minutes), meaning that I didn't spend nearly as much time and money in their competitor restaurants, with the exception of the reliable Carluccio's (5 hours, 40 minutes).

And so this all means that the companies I've spent time with during this six weeks each owe me money (see data >). As an overview, and taking into account my oh so generous 75% discount, this includes the following:

  • Cherwell Valley Services, M40 - £8.50
  • Fortnum & Mason - £4.25
  • Imax cinema - £76.50
  • Pizza Express - £175.53
  • Marks & Spencer - £134.30
  • Sainsbury's - £97.75
  • BBC iPlayer - £242.25
  • Channel 4 - £74.38
  • Euston train station - £10.63
  • Royal Mail (Post Office) - £17

But then there's the moral dimension. While I feel comfortable with writing to the big high-street stores and multi-national corporates demanding payment, I feel somewhat less comfortable with requesting the same from independent companies, including local newsagents and specialist restaurants, such as the delightful Street Hawker in Maida Vale (who owe me £38.25 - which is £20 more than the money I actually spent with them in this six weeks). In some cases, I've sent the letters and invoices off, while others I've just not been able to bring myself to do it. This is the case of my favourite lunch spots such as Double J's on Charlotte Street (20 minutes) and the nameless salad stall round the corner (50 minutes spread over eight visits). And while I'm expecting a rather frosty response from the pubs that I've frequented in this time, I sadly do not predict that I'll receive payment from Coffee Republic, which has recently gone into administration. They owe me £4.25 and so I've invoiced them anyway. Well, it was hardly my fault, was it? (see data >)

If I am fully invoiced for my time in these six weeks, I'll be £6,250 richer - and that's with the 75% bargain discount I'm offering. And while in my eyes that's not a true exchange for my time, it'll certainly go some way to helping me get over the lost minutes of my life spent at Cherwell Valley Services on the M40, watching the Gilmore Girls, stuck on the Victoria Line, getting my hair cut, hanging around Preston train station, losing the will to live in the queue at the Post Office and waiting for a guy called Larry in a local hardware shop called Micromend to remember who I am and fix my hard drive. Yes, those lost minutes and hours are pretty priceless to me. But to those companies who have my attention, my time is worth one hell of a lot.



Companies that have paid me so far:


Using the data collection website Daytum I recorded time (in minutes) and cost (in £ GBP) of all my interactions as a consumer. This included the odd five minutes for lunch every few days at my favourite salad stall on Goodge Street, to spending 45 minutes in Preston train station waiting for a connection. Yep, that's 45 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

The data's not perfect of course (eg. it's not automated based on GPS), and I rounded up/down as appropriate so that I didn't completely lose my sanity. But it provides a fascinating insight into how I live my life as a consumer, and which brands steal my attention.

What's more, with only a limited time of existence on this planet, it shows me whether I'm spending my time and money wisely as a consumer. And having invoiced the companies that claim my attention, I'll soon find out how much they respect the time I spend with their brand.

Notes on the data :

  • recorded from June 15 - July 31, 2009
  • includes time and money spent with a brand
  • I split it into 3 sections for recording time: breakfast, lunch, evening/weekend/holiday, and 3 sections for costs: breakfast/lunch, evening, other
  • includes TV, computer & Wii time
  • only includes time and money transactions in the six week period - eg. I spent time at a Killers concert (recorded) but had already bought the ticket before this six weeks started (not recorded)
  • sometimes I was interacting with multiple brands/things at the same time, eg. being on the TfL tube and reading Metro newspaper - in which case I've recorded both sets of data
  • does not break down specific computer interaction, or TV shows
  • includes time spent with my partner and friends, but does not take into account their time or money spent