Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Postconsumerism


Funny old thing, serendipity. There I was reading an article from last weeks Campaign predicting the end of conspicuous consumption, when one of our clients called to ask what I thought the implications of long-term economic slowdown would be for his brand.

So what do we think? Are we about to enter a long decade of austerity? Will people have to pare down their desires and aspirations? Will we all be growing our own veg and learning how to mend stuff again? Will an economic downturn be a blessing in disguise for the environment as, for example, rising petrol prices pushes drivers towards non-petrol cars? What implications will all this have for the lifestyles people chose for themselves and for the brands that we work with?

These are big questions, let’s see if we can pool our collective brainpower and come up with some bright insights.


Phil

6 comments:

emily said...

How ironic that economic collapse may end up being the thing that saves us.

Change only comes when people are forced by environmental factors to rethink how they live. Fifty year's ago, people were greener not out of choice, but out of necessity. Vegetables were organic because they came out the ground, not because Waitrose stuck a label on it.

The problem is 'eco', 'organic' and 'green' have become tangled in the language of high politics and luxury. Bob Geldof, Leonardo Di Caprio and Al Gore's lectures have isolated the issues and, ironically, made the issue feel much further away from the consumer than it should. These 'ideals' became fashionable and then got a inflated price tag - much in the same way vintage fashion did after Kate Moss made charity shops chic.

So, I think, a new language has to be adopted to force people to act on 'sustainability'. It should be a language that takes these ideas away from exclusivity and expense and makes them about day-to-day cost saving and immediate benefits. After all, we are inherently selfish, we live today and the future seems very far away.

Nimi said...

Recessions encourage imaginative business ideas, novel-reading and cinema-going, and foster music more akin to the blues than the stridency of Madonna. The last one gave us Wagamama, loft living and Every Day Is Like Sunday by Morrissey. The recession may ironically enough create new markets for our brands, finding new niches and making people think they are cutting back and prioritising in response to the recession ...

One of the unique elements to this economic situation is that it affects every single person, everyone is affected by the rising petrol and food prices, the recession creates a unique sense of community - its one of those things where we are all helpless and we all want to talk to each othe about it...blogs, word of mouth, social networks . . . they're about people connecting with other people. You may resist advertising if your finances are tight, but if your bud tells you that new movie is really worth seeing or that the Gap has the cutest new tops, that's more persuasive than advertising. Basically, in a recession, the consideration phase is more important than awareness -- and that's where advertising flops and social applications succeed... if it does -- if it generates leads, or conversions, or buzz, or something useful -- then you can prove it's working. That won't get cut in a recession...

Nimi

Phil said...

I think you might be right about language, the words we use shape the way we behave. Green sounds cultish; sustainability sounds prudish. The Swedes have a word, Lagom, which I think means just enough but I don't really see that catching on. Faith Popcorn talks about Karmacapitalism but that sounds too hippy. IKEA talk about smart buyers and I do like to think of myself as one of those.

I wonder whether self-sufficiency will become a popular aspiration. Not just growing your own veg but having no debt, working for yourself and not being tied to one employer, renting rather than owner-occupying and so being free to move around as you please.

I also wonder whether achieving self-sufficiency will demand 'pared down' lifestyles, so less possessions and fewer responsibilities to tie you down.

neil said...

I'm not sure that simply tight economic conditions will force us to live more 'sustainably'. We may grow our own food because it will save us money - not because we have become convinced that it is a better way of life. Less money in people's pockets will mean more money spent at Primark and they are hardly the last bastions of sustainable living. No, if we are going to live a sustainable lifestyle we will have to become convinced it is the right way to live. It will have to become part of our code of living . And those kind of code changes are hard to force. We now believe it is wrong to drink and drive, unlike my parent's generation back in the day. It will take sustained argument, inpiring stories, persuasive communications and real danger, i.e. flood water lapping at the door, before people change their behaviour.

Anonymous said...

I think what's interestiong, Neil, is that it has become generally accepted that climate change is an issue and we need to live more sustainably. Some behaviour changes have taken place: it is now becoming socially unacceptable not to recycle; plastic bags are banned in some towns. However, bigger fish like the type of car we drive or the amount of airmiles we clock up have largely been unaffected until now and the increase in fuel prices. At the end of the day it is a combination of economic change and the law which forces behavioural change but these will only be successful when the battle for ideas has already been won.

Phil

emily said...

I'm not sure people will continue going to Primark. We're already seeing a downturn in their profits and a consumer trend back to quality over quantity. I think people are seeing that buying cheap tat doesn't save you money in the end - 10 tops that all fall apart after one wash isn't as economic as buying one top that lasts years. Buy smart is a much more current philosophy.

The drink-drive change in attitude isn't about a change in ethics. I think it's more about a change in fear. If you tell people they are likely to kill or be killed (and therefore end up in prison etc) by drink driving they'll eventually stop out of self preservation not out of a debt to society. Same thing stands with environment. Unless you tell people they will personally suffer in a dramatic and immediate way (loss of freedom, income, life, choice etc) nothing will change.