November 2013 Trend Briefing:
Why guilt-free is the new luxury for consumers, and the Holy Grail for businesses.
This month’s Trend Briefing highlights nothing less than the future of consumerism, if not that of business at large (yes, the future of humanity will follow next month ;).
Building on our recent Trend Briefings on CLEAN SLATE BRANDS and DEMANDING BRANDS, and bringing together various strands of the HUMAN BRANDS and BETTER BUSINESS mega-trends, GUILT-FREE CONSUMPTION (GFC) is a compelling answer to the current, epic quest for more aware, more ethical, more sustainable consumerism.
Fueled by a pervasive awareness of the conflicts between their consumerist impulses and their aspirations to be 'good', experienced consumers are increasingly wracked with guilt. The result? A growing hunger for a new kind of consumption: one free from worry (or at least with less worry) about its negative impact, yet that allows continued indulgence.
Note: This Trend Briefing was inspired by a recent comment from Gerald Lawless, CEO of Jumeirah Hotels, on how the future of luxury would be ‘guilt-free’.
1. DIVIDED SELF
One of the Big Human Needs is to consider oneself ‘good’. And human beings feel good about themselves when they live according to their most deeply-held values and aspirations.
Yet mature consumers are ever more aware that the desires and impulses they experience – and worse, that they constantly act upon and satisfy inside the consumer arena – often run counter to these values and aspirations.
Every day, consumers are served more information on dysfunctional business processes and ethics, hear the strained voices of workers from developing countries, or receive scientific insights on the health drawbacks of many a favorite (and processed) snack or beverage.
It has thus become completely impossible for any individual in near- and fully mature consumer societies to claim ignorance over the havoc his or her consumption is and has been wreaking.
While on top of this, the flaunting of ethical and responsible behavior by a whole host of CLEAN SLATE BRANDS only highlights the deeply flawed nature of many established products and brands. Take condoms, for example. How many consumers considered the ethical dimensions of condoms before Sustain Condoms highlighted the environmental and social abuses often found in the production of latex?
With every brand that shouts about not employing 9 year old child workers in Bangladesh, about not force-feeding poultry, whose products do not depend on tarry oil-fueled engines, consumer doubt towards those that keep quiet grows.
Can't Stop, Won't Stop
However, a very human mix of status, indulgence, conditioning, addiction and genuine pleasure (derived from everything from tasty Whoppers, to romantic easyJet/AirAsia/JetBlue city breaks, to dirt-cheap-yet-coolish H&M outfits, to shiny phablets), stops consumers from substantially changing their knowingly damaging consumption needs and patterns.
2. NEXT: THE GUILT-SPIRAL
It’s this tension – between the values that consumers hold, and the pervasive awareness that the actions they take run counter to those values – that manifests itself as the potent, nagging guilt trip that haunts many consumers today.