Post-capitalism and Consumption as a Statement

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Aware of the political weight of everything they buy, more consumers are looking for companies that can represent, above all, their moral values

by Mari Messias cover image Millesgården translated by Aline Scátola

Brazilian cosmetic brand O Boticário’s ad campaign for Brazil’s Valentine’s Day 2015 caused quite a stir. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is:

The piece features a few couples exchanging gifts and hugging, and one of the couples is two men. The commercial was so controversial that the Ethics Committee of the Brazilian National Advertising Self-Regulatory Council ultimately had to review it after receiving hundreds of claims against it.

With all that, it is only natural to wonder why, at this point in time, a cosmetic brand would think making a statement about a specific group’s cause – in this case, the LGBT community – would be a relevant strategy for its industry.

The answer could be as simple as, “the ideological dispute was largely responsible for making the campaign go viral.” Or we could go deeper into the matter and think about the reasons why that kind of positioning has been playing an increasingly more relevant role when it comes to what we consume.

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It is easy to notice that our consuming habits have changed dramatically over the last few years. But to really grasp this mindset, we have to go beyond it to understand the exchanges that have been taking place between several segments of our lives, such as consumption, the economy, behavior patterns, etc.

A BBC journalist and author of “Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions” and “PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future”, Paul Mason published an extensive article in The Guardian in which he discusses postcapitalism, giving a preview of his latest book. Mason believes three essential changes technology has brought about are driving this scenario, and the idea of sharing economy is what sews all of them together.

First, Mason writes, the need for work has reduced and the edges between work and free time are blurred, which loosened the relationship between work and wages. Second, abundant information has been making it harder and harder for the market to form prices “correctly,” as markets are based on scarcity. And last but not least, he points out the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services, and organizations that no longer respond to the standards dictated by markets and managerial hierarchy.

As Mason puts it:

“Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm.”

But in this organic reconfiguration of how we think and experience markets and the economy, what does a company like O Boticário, which I mentioned previously, has to do with it? Well, it does when it realizes that aligning its message with a demand that may not necessarily have to do with its product line is what a lot of consumers expect from it.
In a world with less money, yet more time and access to knowledge, values don’t – and couldn’t possibly – remain the same. So instead of bags stamped with huge brand logos implying expensive products, we started to look for companies that stamp things we really care about.
An essential aspect that makes that possible is the abundant information mentioned by Mason, pointing to a new set of values, in which financial status is replaced with ideological status. And that is where consumption becomes a statement.

Joe Magee
Joe Magee

The very idea of that kind of consumption points to the opposite direction of compulsion, to consumers who don’t see status in buying per se, but rather in what they buy. They know, for better or for worse, consuming is a reality, but brands are not just brands, and we are the ones who can make them big or small.

 And being just brands, they cannot be activists, but they can always choose their message.

This is also why those consumers value brands that try to align with causes they consider important. And it is not just about publicly boycotting brands, because this could just give exposure to brands that don’t deserve it. Instead, direct action initiatives emerge, such as the Buycott app.

That is to say, instead of calling their Facebook friends to stop buying certain brands, that behavior pattern is driving them to look for others brands, which are more deserving of their attention. Whether it’s for their message or their stance. And I say stance because that kind of positioning is less and less a communication strategy only – as is possibly the case of O Boticário – and is increasingly becoming the very structure of some brands.

With its “Take Less” manifesto, Help Remedies is working to reduce unnecessary medication use, celebrating a healthier, simpler life.
With its “Take Less” manifesto, Help Remedies is working to reduce unnecessary medication use, celebrating a healthier, simpler life.
Sum Zine mag supports slow fashion consumption.
Magdas is a hotel where guests mingle with refugees.
Magdas is a hotel where guests mingle with refugees.
Carrot Mob intends to be the opposite of boycott: consumers invest in a company and, in return, they get something they want from the companies they support.
Carrot Mob intends to be the opposite of boycott: consumers invest in a company and, in return, they get something they want from the companies they support.
Everlane is a designer clothing brand that reveals all production costs of their products.
Everlane is a designer clothing brand that reveals all production costs of their products.

The idea of consumption as a statement is closely aligned with the global reconfiguration Paul Mason describes. And it points to consumers who not only know the political weight of everything they buy, but are also channeling the status offered by that new kind of consumption to their ideals.

Versão resumida ×

Qual motivo leva uma marca a ver como estratégia relevante para seu setor se posicionar sobre uma causa relacionada com um grupo especifico, como a comunidade LGBT? Alinhar o discurso com uma demanda que não necessariamente tem relação com seu produto é o que muitos consumidores esperam de uma marca.

Ao longo dos últimos anos, nossos hábitos de consumo mudaram muito, mas para entender esse mindset temos que ir um pouco além dele mesmo e identificar as trocas que ocorrem entre vários setores da nossa vida, como consumo, economia, comportamento, etc.

Em um mundo com menos dinheiro, mas mais tempo e mais acesso ao conhecimento, os valores não permanecem, nem poderiam permanecer, os mesmos. Então, no lugar de bolsas com imensas estampas de marcas e, indiretamente, imensos indicativos de seus preços imensos, passamos a procurar empresas que estampem coisas com as quais realmente nos importamos.

Esse tipo de consumo sinaliza para o oposto da compulsão, para um consumidor que não associa status ao ato de comprar, mas ao que se compra. Ele sabe que, bem ou mal, o consumo existe, mas marcas são apenas marcas, quem as torna grandes ou pequenas somos nós.

A ideia de consumo como statement está profundamente alinhada com essa reconfiguração mundial, e ela aponta para consumidores que, mais do que saberem o peso político de tudo que compram, canalizam para seus ideais o status que este novo tipo de consumo proporciona.

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