The changing tides of consumerism

Google search reveals that the term ‘consumerism’ has multiple and conflicting definitions. This article uses the one that refers to a culture of excessive buying beyond what is needed. A quote about modern living credited to American actor Edward Nortan speaks volumes about the times we have been living in: “we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like”. This culture is largely fuelled by the advertising and marketing efforts of companies that directly benefit more when consumers buy more and more. However, today, something interesting is happening.

The digital revolution has yanked open a vault. Awareness in general is growing, driven by the constant and easy access to seemingly basic knowledge that was previously kept away from end-consumers. Additionally, the end consumer has the facility of broadcasting what they now know, quicker than conventional broadcasters of information did. This is revolutionising the business-consumer dynamic. The consumer is no longer a sitting recipient of the shiniest, loudest, most emotional, most entertaining communication by advertisers. Consumers today have the tools to do their own study and come to their own conclusions – whether they are right or wrong – they need not align to the narrative set by mighty companies. It is like the consumer is being snapped out of decades of hypnotism.

Right now, a new kind of consumerism is unfolding. And it is driven by the conscious consumer with no business interest but a very big personal interest. Personal interests that compel many to start their own companies to cater to this new informed, concerned consumer. Concerned about how the things they consume have been affecting them, their children and the environment. The consumer who reads ingredient lists. Who is unwilling to buy the more expensive brand when a slightly less costly one offers comparable quality and features. We are seeing the rise of consumers who are increasingly willing to undertake varying degrees of inconvenience to decrease the negative impacts of their decisions on the environment or their own health. If not, they are becoming vigilant of the impact of their decisions.

Retail therapy was good at first but now it has led to clutter. A clutter of bags, shoes, books, clothes, kitchenware, home linen, junk jewelry, make-up, skin care, stationery. The joy of all the things mentioned in that last sentence are all diminished by the one word – clutter. An unwanted byproduct of consumerism. Even for us marketers, the biggest challenge we have to deal with is competition clutter. No wonder then that today, psychologists are exploring the therapeutic benefits of the opposite of retail therapy – of letting go of excess – also known as living a minimalist lifestyle. People who find themselves stuck with overwhelming schedules, cluttered closets or a busy mind are drawn to the idea of trying to live with less — fewer commitments, fewer possessions and fewer distractions.

Change is ‘opportunity’. Skincare brand, Minimalist built an INR 100 crore business within 8 months of inception in 2020. Clearly, they got more than their name right. The brand offers a curated range of clean & effective products designed to simplify beauty regimen. The operative word here being ‘clean’. Most new-age companies offer ‘clean’ – be it food, skincare or beverages.

Speaking of which, while India is poised for a revolution in cola pricing with the re-introduction of Campa Cola by Reliance Industries, we are also experiencing an unmistakable movement against sugary drinks making its way beyond the urban elite and major metros. A rising consciousness about ingredients, health and wellness, the environment and climate change has led to the growth of a  phenomenon called de-influencing. De-influencers are social media users who discourage consumers from buying certain products that are found to be indulgent, ineffective, not worth the money or are secretly bad for health or the environment. 31 yr old Revant Himatsingka for example, is not against junk food but exposes junk food masquerading as healthy.

The tug of war between companies placing their bets on blind consumerism and the emerging trend of consumers hellbent on opening their eyes promises interesting challenges and opportunities for businesses in the times to come.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Pooja Nair
Pooja Nair has over 20 years of experience as a branding consultant across leading global Ad consultancies. Pooja is also known to be an ex theater performer, actress and model. Since September, 2022, she has focussed completely on her passion for the changing face of business, brand-building and reputation.

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