From the editor

If Not Consumers...

January 13, 2010
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Don't call them consumers. There are growing numbers of people who bristle at the very term. Some are prompted by an environmental awareness that has them curbing consumption in what they believe to be an effort to preserve the Earth. Others, hit hard by the recession, have had no choice but to rethink their priorities and habits, and how they've been bolstered by the very things they buy and own.

Their denouncements of the "consumer" label are scattered across the Internet. "My purpose here on this fine Earth is not to be measured, tracked and judged solely by what I can purchase," says one blogger. Another mockingly writes, "I have excellent credit. I am of value." In an ironic twist, some are even capitalizing on the sentiment.

There are also activists who take issue with consumerism itself. Take University of British Columbia professor William Rees, who says the only way to manage the resources that consumption depletes is via "global government" and "redistribution of wealth."

Rees also says advertising can turn the tables and, rather than prompt consumption, make people "feel ashamed to be 'future eaters'" (his term for the word consumer).

Not everyone is so radical. Many are just flip: "'Consumers' are so 1980s," says one blogger.

It's true, the term does sound antiquated. If only because it describes a passive component to the buyer/seller relationship that simply isn't there anymore-does anyone doubt the engagement or even the power "consumers" now have with branded goods?

So, can you market to people who are working hard to buy less?

Yes, but it won't be easy. You'll have to create emotional connections. Clarify your values. Help people make more purposeful choices, and help shape their identities to be more about experiences than products. Give your brand a bit more soul.

If not for consumers, then whom? I'm open to suggestions.

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