Most of you would be surprised to hear that the concept of a consumption culture is a 20th century phenomenon. Today it is commonplace for you and everyone to be labelled a “consumer”. The question is how did our social status, our values, and activities get centered around our spending and consumption. This article will explain to you the enablers of our consumer culture, namely capitalism, advanced technologies, mass marketing, and our need for social status.
Consumption Culture Enabled By Capitalism.
Capitalism was and is the primary enabler of Consumption Culture. All cultures have consumers, but a capitalist society at it essence is focused on selling to consumers. Private industry and businesses are singularly focused on the wants of consumers. This is because consumers are the source of a company’s profits. Due to the unparalleled success of America’s capitalist system, America was a main driver of the birth of Consumption Culture and its subsequent spread around the world.
Capitalist systems have continued to enable and balloon the Consumption Culture over the years. Specifically, it started with small retail shop commerce, then mail-order catalogs in the 1890s, to department stores and malls of the 20th century with millions of acres of selling space. Lastly, it has fully blossomed through e-commerce into a global phenomena. See MIT Press for more on the History of Consumer Culture
Consumer Culture Infrastructure Enabled By Innovation and Technology.
Hand-in-hand with the incentives of capitalism, innovation and technology has created an unparalleled Consumption Culture infrastructure. Namely, this infrastructure consists of business financing, robotic assembly-line factories, massive just-in-time transportation and supply chains, and broadband communications.
“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.… We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”Retail analyst Victor Lebow remarked in 1955
Consumption Culture Enabled by Mass Marketing.
For businesses to sell to consumers they need marketing to promote their goods and services. Because of the rise of capitalism and mass production, businesses started using mass marketing that further enables Consumption Culture today.
“Mass production is profitable only if its rhythm can be maintained.” He argued that business “cannot afford to wait until the public asks for its product; it must maintain constant touch, through advertising and propaganda… to assure itself the continuous demand which alone will make its costly plant profitable”.Edward Bernays, a pioneer of the public relations industry, observed In 1928
Thanks to technology, mass marketing continues to expand first starting with print, then radio, then television, and now with the internet. See BBC’s How the World Embraced Consumerism for more on Consumption Culture and mass marketing.
Consumption Culture Enabled by Our Need for Social Status.
In a Consumption Culture product brands have become the new symbol of social status. This is because by nature all humans desire to be included in a group and have standing in that group. This is how we achieve social status. Capitalism, our advanced technology, and mass marketing has amplified our need for social status. The Brand has become all important and expands consumption culture further. For a lot of us our favorite brands define who we are. You could say we have become slaves to “The Brand”.
“… Mini Cooper drivers take weekend caravan drives; to own a Mini is to be automatically part of the club. Nike has a loyal following of sports enthusiasts and sneaker lovers.”Chron provides some good examples of brands and social status
The list of brands continues to go on and on. Indeed, our love of brands give us the perception, real or not, that our social status increases. Also, “The Brand” give us a good feeling. As a result, it encourages us to buy and consume more, thus further enabling our Consumption Culture.
Writer and Supply Chain Tech Expert. Passionate about giving actionable insights on information technology, business, innovation, creativity, and life in general.