Whereas shopping and accumulation once promised a golden pathway to happiness, now consumers are getting unexpected pleasure hits from cutting back and making more considered consumption choices.
~ Andrew Benett & Ann O’Reilly
When you read this review of Consumed by Andrew Benett and Ann O’Reilly, you will recognize many of the major themes we address at Balance Junkie. I loved this book, and I’ll have a chance for you to win a free copy if you think you might feel the same – details at the end of the article. It’s been my contention that our society has become quite unbalanced on many levels. The financial turmoil of the past couple of years is a symptom rather than a cause of these imbalances.
Hyperconsumerism is arguably at the root of many of these problems. If you’re tired of running on the consumption rat wheel, you are not alone. According to the authors of Consumed, we are already starting to witness seismic changes in the way people evaluate, purchase, and consume all types of products and services. These changes will affect all of us, whether we’re running a business or a household.
Andrew Benett is Global CEO of marketing communications agency Arnold Worldwide and Global Chief Strategy Officer of Havas Worldwide. He has nearly 20 years of marketing experience. Ann O’Reilly is a strategic planner and content director of Euro RSCG Worldwide’s Knowledge Exchange. She has more than 20 years’ experience in marketing and publishing. The two have also teamed up to co-author a book called Good for Business: The Rise of the Conscious Corporationwhich addresses similar themes.
Unleashed: The Shopper Within
Part I of the book chronicles the birth of consumerism, its global proliferation, inevitable climax, and unfolding denouement. This is the story of how we got here. The authors describe the “strange alliance between government and retail” that began even before the Great Depression of the 1930s with Herbert Hoover advocating consumption as a means of increasing happiness and preventing social unrest. It culminated in New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani encouraging people to go out and buy things after 9-11, and U.S. President George W. Bush asking Americans to go shopping to support the economy in a 2006 press conference.
Far from spending to truly enhance our lives, consumption gradually became our patriotic duty. With a full two thirds of U.S. economic activity resting on consumer spending, belt-tightening by American families could have a huge impact on the global economy. We’re starting to see that already in Canada as our trade deficit recently hit the highest level since record-keeping began in 1971 due largely to a decline in U.S. exports.
The authors offer tons of really great quotes to punctuate their ideas, including this one from Mignon McLaughlin: “Be glad you’re greedy; the national economy would collapse if you weren’t.” Consumer support for the economy ballooned in the post war era due to 3 main factors:
- Increasing Incomes
- Easy Credit
- T.V. Advertising
We have recently begun to see all three of these top out and show signs of unwinding. The growth in “purchasing power was increasingly based on credit and borrowing, not the growth of real disposable income.” As we moved from a “pain-now-pleasure-later” to a “pleasure-now-pain-later” model of consumption, we gradually came to realize that “infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility.” (The latter quote is from E.F. Schumacher.)
The 4 Paradigms of the Mindful Shopper
According to the authors, the new era that is just now emerging will be characterized by a more mindful shopper as opposed to the mindless consumer who was emblematic of the previous era. In Part II of the book, they describe 4 paradigms that will dominate:
1. Embracing Substance
Many of us have become victims of the “Paradox of Modern Times”: owning more, but having less. We have collected piles of stuff to match our piles of debt, yet we feel emptier than ever. The pursuit of stuff has crowded out more enlightening and fulfilling activities. Studies show that loneliness has reached an all-time high.
“We are witnessing a historic turning point” where marketers, manufacturers and governments are going to have to ask: “What can we offer people in terms of merchandise, services, and communications that will satisfy them and, ultimately, increase their happiness?” Increasingly, consumers are hungry for products that are manufactured in a sustainable, environmentally and ethically sensitive context and offer more authentic, fulfilling experiences. They will choose quality over quantity.
This paradigm gets at the core of the balance theme. Many of us are finding that our lives are dominated by excess. We have too many things and not enough places to put them. We have too much to do and not enough time to do it. New consumers will rightsize their lives by eliminating clutter. They want fewer, but better choices. They want to eliminate waste from every aspect of their lives and they are looking to partner with brands that embrace a similar philosophy.
3. Growing Up
New consumers are ready to grow up. They are willing to accept responsibility for their choices and their future. It is finally becoming fashionable to act like an adult again. A new pragmatism has surfaced and is evident in trends toward frugal living, more formal dress codes at work, and environmentally responsible shopping.
4. Seeking Purposeful Pleasure
“Following the mindset of “see-buy-consume-discard – what’s next?” we rarely if ever paused to consider the more substantial, long-term, and purposeful pleasures that might be available if only we took the time to cultivate them.” Following the recession, we have had to think harder about how (and whether) we spend our money and our time. The new consumer will be looking to support brands that offer them pleasure with a purpose rather than hedonistic satisfaction.
The authors describe 3 main characteristics of new consumers:
- They are smarter: New consumers use new resources like the internet to learn about products before they buy. They band together to learn from one another and they feel that “fellow shoppers are more truthful than corporations and even the media when it comes to evaluating products and companies.”
- They are more mindful: New consumers care about where things come from, about quality and freshness, and are more skeptical in general. Mindfulness feels good to them.
- They seek relationships: New consumers want companies “to stand for something other than profitability”. They prefer to buy from companies that share their values.
Marketing to the New Consumer
Part III describes how companies can successfully market to the new consumer, and gives some examples of those who are already doing so. The authors warn that the changes they describe are only beginning and will take some time to play out. They do, however, also contend that while “some observers dismiss current trends such as downsizing and sustainable shopping as no more than temporary aberrations brought on by the downturn, we strongly disagree: They are permanent.” Let’s hope so. Whether you run, work for, or invest in a business, these macroeconomic changes will affect you.
This book is extremely well-written and offers so much more information than I can describe in this short review. If you are interested in a copy of Consumed, just leave a comment below. I’ll randomly choose one commenter to receive a free book and announce the winner next Saturday, September 18th, 2010.
What are your thoughts on the themes discussed in this book?