Shopping and Selling in a Post-Consumer World

Posted by: David Kiley on July 13, 2009

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By Scott Goodson, Founder of global micro ad-agency StrawberryFrog.

I walked by the Chanel store in Soho again today and the sale sign is still up. That’s kinda weird. Chanel?

Consumption is what has inspired growth in the economy – here in the US and everywhere in the world. Consumption was the ideology and the doctrine.

It is hugely important when it comes to who we are as people. I wear these brands and project a persona to the world. I drive a British car and I am an English aristocrat. I buy a hybrid and I’m green. I wear French cosmetics and I have the jaunt of Heidi Klum. I buy IKEA furniture and I’m wise not rich. I wear Asics lifestyle sneakers and am cooler than East Berlin.

Consumption has been the source of identity for billions of people who dream for and desire ever-rising material standards. But consumption has changed. It happened one night in a dark, crowded boardroom in New York sometime last October. Before then, we were happy to consume just like we always had. Susie bought a pair of jeans and felt like she had all cockiness, pride and guts of a rock band. Charlie bought a Swedish Vodka and felt like he was part of the progressive urban bourgeois. The Carlsons bought a Jeep and felt like they had the right to go blasting off the road to some clam shack beside the beach at Montauk.

But then in the blink of an eye it all changed. We can’t consume like we did in the past, even if we wanted to (environment aside). It’s not the same. It feels different.

Consumerism is giving way to a post-product world where people want to have new kinds of identities. People feel a little embarrassed to be consumers today. I shop but I do it online, and when no one is watching.

In this crisis, people will need to find a new kind of ideology to belong to, a new movement that best suits their needs and desires, wants and values. If consuming isn’t what it’s all about, then what’s it all about?

Attitudes towards consumption are changing, and with them some of the foundations of our world and how we live and how people view us at this transformational inflection point in marketing. I have noticed that the relationship between the consumer and the product, which was defined in marketing 101 for the past seventy five years has been upset by technology, globalization, more sophisticated consumers, the economy, the environment, the changing world.

Shifts in society create opportunity. Social movements change habits. I happen to think we are entering an era of Cultural Movements, the post-product era. Brands can crystallize, lead and curate mass movements. Once you have a cultural movement you can do anything in a fragmenting media world.

We live in times of structural change and crisis – in all industries. In my business, branding and advertising, the industry is going through massive change. The systems and models of the past are not the systems of the future.

This change in consumption is inspiring some people to take the opportunity that turmoil offers to rethink the way we do things and embrace difference and alternative thinking. This is happening while many brands are retreating into the safety of the past. Today’s world is for those innovators who are thinking different, doing something different, who have a new point of view on how to relate to each other in the future.

All this is happening while I’m connecting on Facebook and Chanel is still is on sale in the store as conspicuous consumption becomes more and more unpopular. And yet, online, shopping is on the increase – ushering in a new kind of consumerism. Should we call it “inconspicuous consumerism”?” Who knows. But if you put your finger on the pulse, you’ll feel that people still get a thrill of buying, but without walking down 5th Avenue with a bunch of shopping bags

Scott Goodson is founder of ad agency StrawberryFrog, and is a guest blogger for Brand New Day this week.

Reader Comments

Spike Jones

July 14, 2009 10:03 AM

Nice article, Scott.

I too, believe in movements - but they have to go far, far beyond advertising and branding. Those are antiquated and clunky tools that look pretty on the TV set, but are still part of the problem since 76% of Americans think companies lie in ads (2009 Yankelovich Study) and 77% trust companies less than they did last year (2009 Edelman Trust Barometer). Companies can't start movements. People can. And fortunately, companies are made up of people who can connect to their fans and allow THEM to lead the movement. For an in-depth look at Lessons Learned in Igniting Movements, take a look at our recent ChangeThis manifesto: http://changethis.com/60.03.BrainsOnFire

As for the online shopping increase, isn't that a trend that's been happening for years anyway? I'm not sure I agree that it's because people don't want to be seen shopping in public.

P Ryan

July 14, 2009 11:29 AM

I agree with almost everything Scott says. The almost is the brand-led cultural movements that exist in the post-product era. We build brands that usually sell products in one form or another. Yes, there are brands that have no product per say but they are usually the exception. Brands that attempt to start a Cultural Movement are always going to start one that ultimately serves their own business interests - product sales. In order to be a part of a movement consumers will be encouraged or invited to purchase a product to feel like they are more closely connected to the movement and therefor the brand. There will surely be some positive cultural outcomes from such movements that do not show up on P&L statements, but let's not think that the product has completely left the picture when it comes to where brands are headed. As far as online shopping goes... have you seen the prices on Amazon? They're impossible to beat.

Marcus Osborne

July 14, 2009 9:24 PM

Interesting read Scott.

However I think you are wrong about luxury, especially out here in Asia. Sure there might be a slow down in consumption of luxury products during the recession/depression but it will rebound once the economy improves as it has done in the past. After all, how many recessions have RR, Aston Martin, LVMH, Chanel, Hermes, Rolex and so on endured?
I wrote about luxury in Asia on my blog and I am shamelessly promoting it here:
http://brandconsultantasia.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/luxury-branding-in-malaysia-asia/

Glen

July 14, 2009 11:52 PM

The biggest reason for the online shopping upsurge: $4 gas.

Scott you are spot-on here. The landscape has completely changed in short order. People feel sick and guilty about the over indulgences of the past based on the fictitious wealth they thought they had in their homes. Simple.

So, here we are- what will people want want beyond the product fasting?
Here's what i think- recessions mean back to basics values, fashion be damned!

Credit is to be viewed with suspicion.

So, What counts: Communities/ family, durability, integrity, honesty, frugality, function. I'd say service and repair shops of all things would be good businesses, if you could find the personnel. People will get a kick out of using products until the literally disintegrate. Once a replacement product is absolutely necessary- (some will not be replaced because they were unnecessary to begin with) a lot of research (online?) will go into finding the most durable, best performing product/ service and best way to get use of it, which may not be owning it.....
The biggest wake-up call, yet to come in the US, is that in an 'experience economy' owning things is passe. It's only the time spent enjoying the product that needs to be purchased, not all the other hassle of ownership... time-share everything?? owning something 100% and only using/ enjoying it 50% of the time is stupid.. and forget capital gains for a decade at least! Business models will need to evolve, and fast! Think 'communal capitalism'.....?

ps- who's going to start the first Goodwill 'Premium'???? 'New' is passe too..

pps- healthcare will really be the only thing left to exploit.. for a while..

Jill Carlson

July 22, 2009 11:11 AM

I completely agree. Marketing is a changing field but its also more important than ever if a company/brand wants to compete in the global market. Consumers may not trust advertising and companies but if the agency does its job well the consumer know the product is being advertised.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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