The Marketing Challenge of Anti-Consumerism = Solutions

Link to the student activity: The Marketing Challenge of Anti-Consumerism


Suggested Solutions/Teaching Approach

1 = Review the list of behaviors above for anti-consumers. Are there any of these behavioral product choices that you (or your friends or family) engage in? If so, what is your (or their) motivation for adopting this behavior?

I have included a relatively long list of potential behaviors for anti-consumers. Obviously, there could be more behaviors added to the list. It’s important to keep in mind that this is more of a mindset and lifestyle overall.

However, the structuring the question should lead at least some students to relate to some of the behaviors. It is difficult to provide a solution here because it is a reflective question and is based upon your student cohort – and is probably related to age group and culture as well.

Therefore, as a in-class suggestion, perhaps you could probe some of their responses. Obviously, the second part of the question relates to motivation. Motivation is what is making them undertake this behavior = what payoff or benefit do they receive? This is probably more valuable in exploring with your students.

Alternatively, you could flip the questions – such as “why do they NOT engage in these behaviors?” For example, why do they throw out older products that could be repaired? Why do they not gift or trade in old products? And so on – either way the intent of this question is to dig into what drives behavior and how important is non-conspicuous consumption to your students.

 

2 = Based on your response to Q1 above, do you think that anti-consumerism will be a growing trend that will become more concerning for marketers in the future? Or do you think that this lifestyle choice will be limited to a small segment of the market and marketers can choose to ignore this potential threat?

This may be a difficult question for students to answer and will vary by country and culture. Obviously, consumerism and conspicuous consumption is more prevalent in Western/developed economies where consumers are more affluent, as opposed to developing countries where purchases tend to be more considered given limited budgets.

In exploring this question, it may be necessary to differentiate between pure anti-consumerism and related trends such as minimalists and environmentally conscious purchases.

There is no doubt that there is a significant growing trend in purchases/consumption which seek for a benefit from social/environmental aspects – there are sizable numbers of consumers that want reassurance that the purchase is “environmentally friendly”, that the brand uses ethical practices, and even that the brand contributes positively to society overall.

While this would be a clear trend for students – and potentially minimalist behaviors/lifestyles, as evidenced by TV and YouTube shows around decluttering and simplifying your lifestyles – it may be less apparent to students about a pure anti-consumer trend.

According to academic literature, anti-consumerism was first on the radar in the early 2000’s and tended to reach academic research maturity around 2010 – so the concept has been around during much of your students lives – but the question is is is a growing trend?

Yes, the trend is growing, but is it sizable enough to be a concern to marketers? Probably at this stage, marketers are more focused on social/environmental focused consumers, rather than anti-consumers. Therefore, it could be comfortably argued that at this point time, most marketers and brands do not need to be too concerned with the anti-consumer trend. However, they will need to reassess this outlook over time.

 

3 = Given that a key outcome of anti-consumerism is the reduction of consumption, do you think that many companies will embrace this in their values and strategy, or do you think that most companies will continue to be primarily focused on sales and profit growth?

The societal marketing concept has been part of marketing textbooks for several decades. This is where businesses consider social benefits on an equal footing to profitability and customer satisfaction. While this is a strategic approach that has been adopted by some companies, generally the social benefit aspect has not necessarily been treated in the same important category as profits for most businesses.

The question is whether many companies will embrace this consumption reduction focus in their strategy – which is generally NOT in their financial interest to do so.

It is clear that there are a number of businesses that have adopted this outlook and strategic mindset – but in terms of proportion of businesses they are very low. Therefore, in directly answering the question, it should be considered that MOST companies will continue to be primarily focused on sales and profit.

However, what we are seeing is a significant increase in companies adopting some principles of social/environmental benefit. There are some initiatives that they are putting in place for this purpose. Sometimes that’s referred to as green marketing or greenwashing (if it is not done for the right purposes). But many, large companies in particular, will now have a social/environmental policy and various practices in place.

It is important to highlight students that, at this point of time, companies probably are not acting in a way that puts substantial profits at risk through this behavior. Often companies will implement changes that have the financial benefit for them. For example, banks insisting that their customers have online statements (rather than paper-based) on the basis that it is better for the environment – but it is also better for the bank’s bottom line.

In summary, while we are seeing some movement of companies toward this end of being more consumption focused, it is probably some many years off before it becomes a standard part of business. We are still in an era where growth is paramount and is expected by virtually all businesses.

For example in 2023, we are seeing the major tech companies lay off tens of thousands of staff because their sales growth is down – and this is irrespective of the billions of profit that they make each year – there is an expectation that that growth continues indefinitely.

 

4 = As you may know from your own experience, the ownership of certain products and/or brands will give people self-esteem and social standing. For example, owning a prestigious car is one way of communicating your success in life. This means that the consumer buys a car for both functional and psychological value. But being an anti-consumer – and not owning a car at all – potentially communicates a lack of success in life??? Therefore, do you think that excessive consumption is a critical factor in today’s society and one that will continue to dominate people’s lives and purchase decisions?

This is a reflective question to a large degree and gets down to your student’s perception of consumption. The example in the question is a car, being bought for both functional and psychological value.

The simple way to explain this point is to ask students why somebody would pay $100,000 for a motor vehicle, when they can buy one for $20,000? Clearly there are multiple benefits to a consumer for the more expensive purchase, but one of them would be social standing and recognition.

Teaching Note: please see this other activity for some insights into luxury consumption motivations = Understanding the Motivations of Luxury Consumption

Teaching Note: this question may be structured as a marketing debate for your students – with a question around the social status benefits of purchases (such as cars) and the degree of external self-esteem gained by these purchases.

In a direct answer to the question, I would suggest that while some consumers are certainly anti-consumer driven and are seeking to reduce their footprint and overall level of consumption – the majority of consumers in most countries still have a strong desire to increase consumption – both for lifestyle enjoyment purposes and for social status recognition. However, we are starting to see some trend against this – but this will take some time to expand and become more substantial.

 

5 = Given the segment profile of the anti-consumer above, is it possible for a firm/brand to market to this segment and meet their needs? Note: while these consumers are actively seeking to reduce consumption, they cannot completely avoid it in all cases. Therefore, they remain a valid target consumer for some businesses – but is it possible to market to them, or should we simply ignore them?

This is an interesting question – can we market to somebody who has an anti-marketing mindset?

Clearly, the answer is YES – please see this related teaching activity: Patagonia Case Study: Marketing to Anti-Consumers

As we know, marketing is all about meeting customer needs. These consumers have needs built around:

  • low environmentally impact products
  • reusable and recyclable products
  • long-lasting/quality products
  • products with limited packaging
  • products with environmentally friendly and social conscious brands
  • brands that do not use aggressive marketing tactics
  • and so on

Therefore, there are brands and marketing mix offerings that can tap into this need. Just because a consumer wants to reduce their overall consumption, does not mean that they stop being a consumer.

Indeed, they are more likely to become far more selective with their brands. This is actually an opportunity for some brands to build strong relationships and customer loyalty.

Scroll to Top