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What is consumerism?

Encouragement to buy goods and services – spend, spend, spend

Consumerism is a social and economic order plus ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. Early criticisms of consumerism exist in the works of Thorstein Veblen (1899). Consumerism is often considered to be a part of media culture and has several definitions, which may not relate to each other or conflict each other.

In this section of our website we examine consumerism, marketing, shops that make us spend and the changing views of consumers.



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Views on Consumerism

Shop owners, consumers, politicians, spokespeople and Russell Brand all have views on consumerism.

Russell Brand on Consumerism


The stand-up comedian and actor Russell Brand is often outspoken and champions several causes having strong views expressed in a very animated, energetic manner such as discussing consumerism in his interview on BBC’s Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman.

“We should try to examine the things that we’re using to make us happy…this pursuit of celebrity, of wealth, of status… this consuming


of products, this ignorance towards ecological and economical matters… and try and aspire to something more beautiful, more truthful and honest.” Russell Brand, BBC Newsnight.

In the course of the interview with Jeremy Paxman Russell Brand highlights the culture of purchasing endless brands and the use of


“celebrities’ to endorse/market products to entice consumers to purchase a product or service “…if there are two aftershaves on a shelf and one has Robert Downey Jnr’s face on it that might be an appealing aspect to me” Russell Brand, BBC Newsnight.  Russell stated that “I think we should try to examine the things that we are using to make us happy this pursuit of celebrity, of wealth, of status, this consuming of products, this ignorance towards ecological and economical matters… and try and aspire to something more beautiful, something more truthful and honest.” Russell Brand, BBC Newsnight.

Branding and consumerism – a different idea

Russell’s expressed his view “Perhaps if we were all in tune with more beautiful things, perhaps it would not prioritise such peculiar


ideas and notions, and perhaps if we can popularise, through the techniques of  branding and consumerism a different idea, a different narrative perhaps the world can change after all it changes constantly and incisively just that the perceptions that we have are governed by people with er, with self interest, which are not in alignment with the health and safety of us as individuals or as a planet…..” Russell Brand, BBC Newsnight.

The High Street is an ever changing environment with the culture of celebrity, brands and the pursuit of happiness a subject that shop and brand owners are always endeavouring to understand in the development of their products and services.

The full interview can be found on the website conservation-economy.org/russell-brand-on-consumerism

The men who made us spend

The men that made us spend BBC television three-part series presented by journalist Jacques Peretti looked at the subject of shopping


and what continues to make consumers hooked on spending as well as investigating the selling strategies behind bestselling products and the marketing men responsible for the branding and advertisement campaigns.  The shopping concept of the consumer needing to frequently upgrade a product such as with products and services from Apple, Samsung, Sony etc with new versions of technology products constantly being adapted with new features and applications to satisfy the customers tech aspirations making product lifespan less important and the need for recycling greater.

Did you know how long a light bulb was originally designed to last?

Manufacturers of traditional light bulbs formed an international cartel in the 1920s, the Phoebus cartel, developing standards and


fixing a short lifespan on light bulbs far below the real technological capabilities ensuring the continuous demand for light bulbs and long-term profit for the manufacturers.  Prior to Phoebus intervention a light bulb produced at that time was expected to have a lifetime of approximately two thousand hours.  This lifetime was reduced to approximately one thousand hours (half the normal lifespan) by use of lower quality materials and production techniques by the Phoebus members.

In 1939 Phoebus was dissolved to avoid public attention and disapproval.  Interestingly in comparison socialist countries produce light bulbs which are noted to have twice as long a lifetime as those produced to Western standards and Chinese light bulbs are noted to have five thousand hours life expectancy!

Eternal light bulbs

The pursuit of long lasting light bulbs has since become a subject for conspiracy theories particularly when the German watchmaker Dieter Binninger who invented a one hundred and fifty thousand hours or seventeen years of continuous use light bulb in 1991 died in a


plane crash with his patent sinking into obscurity and oblivion!

The power of marketing

Jacques Peretti explains the concept of the power of our behaviours and how this can be capitalised on by marketing strategies to entice


consumers through their fears with the desire to have anxieties banished.  Whether we are fearful of growing old or wish to own the safest car characteristic behaviours can be exploited to promote a certain anti-ageing cream or new model of car with the latest safety features and thereby make us part with our money generating sales for the product and brand owners.

Shops that make us buy

Parting with hard-earned cash what tricks do shops use to make us spend?

Whether you are shopping in a coffee shop, car boot sale, online, supermarket or clothing boutique retailers and brand owners adopt strategies to encourage you to spend.

Coffee shops and a homely environment

Across the UK the rise in numbers of coffee shops and cafes has been rapid with sector leaders such as Costa, Starbucks and Cafe Nero having a large number of outlets in the UK and wishing to have the best locations in the High Street to capture trade.  These chain


coffee shops encourage customers with their home-like environment, which includes comfy sofas and armchairs which are frequently visible from the shop windows, to entice and draw you in.  The relaxed and comfortable atmosphere is balanced with the need for a fast turnover with larger coffee shops dividing their space with lounge areas and smaller less comfortable seats at cafe tables.

There are other strategies present such as free newspapers and local artists work displayed on the walls to convey the coffee shops owners generosity and community spirit.

Coffee shops a place to work

With the move to many people working from home coffee shops have become meeting places for many as a temporary office and has adapted with the use of socket points for charging laptops and mobile devices as well as providing free wifi.  The High Street evolves from shops being interspersed with offices or office spaces above shops to rows of coffee shops providing leisure and work space.

Loyalty cards

As you look inside your wallet or purse searching for the store loyalty card you may often wonder who benefits from the card the most – you the consumer or the company?  Loyalty cards offer repeat customers benefits such as a free coffee or collection of a number of points that generate future vouchers for further offers or money off coupons.  By registering for a loyalty card the company will


require your identifying details which is a successful way of obtaining your contact details to enable future marketing via email for example as well as acquiring customer data on spending habits which help the company understand their customers and target specific promotions at certain customers.  Of course there is a question of getting the right balance on how frequently a company uses this data to market their product or services reminding customers of their brand rather than annoying them with another email or mail shot.

Sensory selling

Coffee shops are a feast for senses with the aroma of the various coffee beans, clattering of crockery, Italian-made coffee-making machines made from shiny stainless steel which all assist in the appearance of a busy and efficient cafe.  Unlike pubs coffee shops do not have windscreen tv’s but perhaps background music such as Jazz creating a sophisticated ambience reminiscent of an Italian cafe.

Social Identity and Consumerism