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Impact of consumerism on individual and social behaviour

By G. Balasubramanian

While promoting consumerism as a driver to economic growth, has been one of the pursuits of many economists, as it leads to increased production and services, thereby triggering more employment, better currency distribution, enhanced social status of people, it has also been ridiculed for its negative impacts -like forcing life-styles through misguided promotional market ventures, enhancing unwarranted needs, triggering gratification, creating psychological inadequacies and others. Apart from its direct impact on consumption of goods and services, it has also resulted in severe urges, challenges, inadequacies, competitions, frustrations and depressive behaviours both in individuals and in certain cross-section of communities across the globe, especially those where lower economic growth has happened and health-consciousness and the sense of well-being is poor. The recent pandemic which impacted the global economy, consumption, production and services has also neutralized several of the above consumerist urges making people realize that many of the things that were either pursuing or using are certainly not what they needed or those which would give them a sense of well-being.

In this context, the following few tendencies appear to be emerging, though it is quite difficult to predict which way things would emerge, in the post-pandemic scenario.

1. Trying to chew more than what one can digest

The last decade and a little before, ushered in the concept of ‘credit-worthiness’ of the people, forcing people emotionally to go in for larger consumptions through credit opportunities, sometimes with low interest or nil-interest advances. It did help many people who nurtured larger desires than what they could dream or have, to seek credits and consume their undeserving needs. Real-estates, electronics, technologies, entertainment and several others became hotbeds of consumption, very often people least realizing the difficulties in bridging the gaps. Even those who had already met these needs, sought for fresher fancies with little facilitations, thereby engaging themselves into financial loads with avoidable pain. Investments through credit supports triggered more gaming in products and services markets with expanding their circle or domain of controls. In short, there was evidence of individuals and communities trying to chew more than what they could digest.

2. Seeking gratification of things, one doesn’t need

Interestingly, many individuals became victims of competitive marketing wherein they engaged in gratification of things what they really don’t need. Multiplication of automobiles, entertainment tools, devices and others, supported by credit facilitations, though helped in triggering national economies, it did have an adverse value in creating unbalanced social psyche. People bought many things because others have it, not necessarily because they needed it. “Living for others”, “over-banding of the self’ ‘creating false imageries in social fronts’ and the like helped in such pursuits of gratifications of emotional needs, which in real terms were not either basic or a desirable requisite.

3. Showing one-upmanship over others

Promotion of individuals as more successful as against groups, families and systems created a mythical brand of success. Success was measured more by ‘standards of life’ than the ‘quality of life.’ Social equity was interpreted in terms of physical possessions, and the competency and skills of people to turn over finances, liquidities and assets. “Wealth” slowly got redefined to much shorter perspectives rather than what the early economists understood. The urge of each individual to project an image in economic terms gravitated the idea of the dynamics of a society rather than the wisdom, maturity, competency, skill or one’s creativity. Consequently, even those who didn’t believe in such pursuits were forced to change and adopt to a new culture. Inability to do so was considered as ‘lack of prudence.’ The real worth of the individuals got exposed as and when they couldn’t meet their credit-worthiness. It also resulted in a sense of self-defeatism, depression and resultant suicides.

4. Branding profiles which are fake

The shift in branding exercises – moving from branding of products, processes, systems and concepts to branding of individuals – has done a significant damage to the social psyche. Conscious attempts to position people as icons of products and processes, as their brand ambassadors, created more of dubious models of quality. Interestingly, some icons were used to brand from technology to toilet products, least realizing that such efforts do not have a long-term value. In certain cases, even products which had negative social impacts were promoted using such brands. These exercises did play a role in creating emotional appeals about these products. Realizing that many products have a shorter shelf-life in an evolving marketing system, the focus on quick coverage and dominance in the markets, even though for a shorter time, was the focus. Quick money and short-term gains changed the profile of markets. Emotional consumerism has indeed played a havoc in certain cases.

5. Celebrating false achievements and fake identities

Awards, prizes, degrees, certifications and quality definitions slowly have become newer definitions of success, brands and social imageries. And, interestingly, prices are fixed for many of these by branding agents. People are encouraged to buy such awards and imageries at forbidding costs though these carry no significant social recognitions over a longer period of time. Yet, the markets in this front are quite hot. Magazines, media -print and electronic, do use such platforms for their promotional exercises, thereby creating a thirst, greed and an urgency among people to be hold such titles and for exhaustive publicity of their profile which is not necessarily true. Such exercises have gained entry into even educational systems and value-profile organizations as instruments of generating funds.

6. Seeking controls over Men and Materials

Expansion of business systems by extensive controls over competitive and small-size markets, services to seek monopolies is also a fashion of the day. Greed to show as champions of larger markets, largely by eliminating or shredding the size of the competitive markets is on the cards, through massive credits from financial institutions without adequate securities, futures or relevance profiles. Individuals and companies are projected as larger than their size to emotionally hijack individuals and systems do play a significant role in mythical definitions.

7. Creating ‘loyalties’ to gravitate and sustain markets

The last decade has ushered in several types of ‘loyalty practices’ to gravitate and sustain consumers. Discounts, gifts and other things that would trigger their emotional belongingness to companies and products, have become a huge game-changer in market studies. Research specialists in ‘loyalty generation’ do work overtime in studying human behaviours, thanks to data analytics, and suggest patterns for promotions, sales and acquisition.

Consequently, psycho-social analysts are studying how such practices impact hormonal influences in the body-mind systems, thus redefining, re-engineering the consumer behaviour among people. No wonder, the focus on the impact of consumer patterns on dopamine flow among people to keep them pushing, greedy, impulsive and seeking repeated pleasure is indeed a matter of study. Increased restlessness, impulsivity, lesser time and space for gratification and compulsive needs for gratification are changing the way people remain, behave and interact.

In the backdrop of this, it is also important to examine how the pandemic has impacted on global consumer models through negation of excessive consumption, understanding of differing priorities in life, irrelevance of multiplicity of products, appreciation of minimalism and the like. Social dynamics is indeed an interesting subject of study.