Modern consumerism is typically about the evolution of consumption behaviors in the society. Campbell (1987), devised the notion and sort reliably critical evidence to suggest that modern consumerism is based on a theoretical framework he describes a “Romantic consumerism”. Romantic consumerism according to Campbell revolves around the existing love relationship between a consumer and a product. While this sounds impractical, Campbell expounds on explaining that when the consumer develops a strong bond of attachment to the product, there is bound to be a close relationship just beyond loyalty to the product.
In his works, Campbell dates back to the 18th century to provide the detailed evolution of consumerism as it can be seen in the modern day world. With the ideas, Campbell sought a new approach to understanding human behavior, characteristics and association as influenced by necessities, luxury and decency. Industrial revolution in the 18th Century and the rapid evolution of markets influence by a highly consuming population are just the results of the gradual growth if modern consumerism. According to Campbell, the change in consumer behaviors during the Industrial Revolution describes the long track through which consumer behaviorism have evolved.
In ascertaining this track, Campbell resorts to three critical steps. The first is identifying the agent of romantic consumerism a process he describes as the “autonomous imaginative hedonism” (Campbell, 1987). At this point, the focus is on tracing the historical roots in back through the 18th century. In his substantiating, Campbell notes that the change in attitudes as the Industrial revolution was gaining momentum played a key role in the evolution of modern consumerism. In his argument, Campbell asserts that the peasants were at this time trying to emulate their masters in terms of social life. This is what has been described as “the social emulation theory”.
This “social emulation theory”, though valid in a certain aspect lacks a level of validity. For one, it would be worn to give credence to the industrial revolution as the period when social emulation came into being. Thus, one truth renders this argument wrong; that in ages before the Industrial Revolution, social emulation was still in existent. At no time in the history of mankind can we clearly ascertain that any human being was completely satisfied with serving another man (Pearce, 1997). Envy for lavish lives is a characteristic that has all along been entrenched within humans. In supporting this claim, Campbell argues that the social emulation gained its roots through an urge to sustain necessities and live a decent life. In contrast to this traditional hedonism, Campbell asserts that modern social emulation is based on the need not just to sustain a decent living and fulfill the necessities of life, but also to live lavish lives that are not limited by economics.
Today for instance, today, every young person has a role model upon which they figure themselves. It is either that soccer player or NBA star; it is either that hip-hop sensation or athlete who earns large bucks of cash and lives a splendid lifestyle. This envy translated is translated with time to the need to input all effort and achieve that level of success that can offer you a chance to live such a life. Does this, therefore, offer a clue to the marketer out there? Can they benefit from the new world order on consumerism? Of course, there is a lot to learn from this perspective. As a marketer, understanding the most influential aspects of society towards products is a necessity (McCracken, 2010). However, the diversity of needs, preferences and choices offers a headache. One consumer will praise a product of their choice as the best, and another will still dismiss the same as the worst. The variations are justifiable for each of them. This leads us into the third theory after social emulation and the “autonomous imaginative hedonism”.
In the third theory towards explaining the emergence of modern consumerism, Campbell resorts to explaining the path through which modern hedonism has undergone. The “Protestant-ethic theory” is his basis of the argument. He explains the dark times that the modern hedonism has gone through. In what he describes as the Puritanism era, Campbell notes that there were objections by religion and society on the lavish lifestyles and uncontrolled consumerism. The need to focus on this was necessitated by the scale with which Campbell wanted to prove that modern hedonism has played a key role in the rapid development and innovation that we experience today. Simply, he wanted to assert the theory that an increase in demand shifts the chain of supply in a proportional manner. This argument holds water. As such, there was no need to focus on the societies resistant to uncontrolled spending because, in any case, individual preferences will always overrule societal borderlines (Pearce, 1997).
Looking at the third theory critically, offers us a new insight which Campbell seems shy to expound on; that this third theory is just an extension of the social emulation theory. Under the “Protestant-ethic theory”, Campbell explains that every person feels the need to do that extra bit and achieve a certain level of comfort that they partially deem as a necessity. Every individual at this stage, set out to modify their needs to set new standards. Of course, the new standards were just an abstract of the standards observed somewhere from within the society.
This said and done; the big question is whether the Protestant-ethic theory offers any insights to the marketer out there? When individual tend to oppose the society borderlines especially on stylish lifestyles and consumerism behaviors, the marketer should be able to realize that there is only a single winner. 99% assurance is that the individual wins over the society. Thus detecting this trend early, can lead the marketer into a position of strategizing on the potential increase in demand of the product in forced by the resistance. With such a strategy, the marketer will gain the chance to take control of the market in the early stages before the competitors align their production units to the new trend (McCracken, 2010). Once the product endears the customizer in the absence of competing products, there is a mutual attachment to the product. For one, the product does satisfy the needs of the customer at just the right time. May be it is such small aspects that endear the consumer to a product leading to a strong bond that we can sum up as “romantic” in market terms.
With the contemporary society, there has been a shift from just satisfying the basic need. Lifestyles have changed and beyond the primary satisfaction of needs, people have started to embrace other secondary attributes of goods such as color, class, taste and smell among others.
The romantic relationship that people have seemingly developed with some products roots from the secondary attributes of a product. This is a wake-up call to manufacturers and marketers to align their products with this “new world order.”In this sense, there is a need to incorporate secondary attributes to a product in order to make it a “self-sell” product (Pearce, 1997).
The romantic relationship that people in the modern setting have developed towards some products can be likened to human-human romantic relationship. Although not so congruent, the same concept applies largely. Human –human romance is based on mutual benefit and appreciation. Similarly, this human-product romance can be explained on the same line. The consumer enjoys the use of the product and, on the other hand, the product enjoys increased preference and hence sales. Although in this case, the marketer is the indirect beneficiary of this relationship .However, it should be understood that a product’s secondary attributes play an equal role as a “beauty” that attracts a person to another.
It is indisputable that cars like Mercedes Benz, BMW, Range Rover and the limousines enjoy great preference in the market. We have heard of people who apart from just enjoying the convenience of transport love their automobiles in a relationship close to human-human. This can be explained from the point of secondary attributes. In this sense, apart from just offering transport, the car also provides other intrinsic satisfaction. For instance, the car satisfies the ego and the class of a person. This intrinsic satisfaction that a product say; car offer are the basis of psychological and emotional attachment .When you take that car from a person, part of their personality is gone, say ego or class (Campbell, 1987).
The argument forwarded by the proponent of the consumerism theory-Campbell is; however, open to many attacks and criticisms. Where to some extent we can attest to this relationship, the theory has so many flaws in terms of explaining the origin of this attachment. The big question is, “are secondary attributes the basis of this romantic relationship?”One could argue that this relationship is based on the ability of that product to satisfy a basic need than any other. Therefore, as Breivik & Thorbjørnsen (2008) assert, the ball is in the court of the marketers to explain the real origin of this relationship. It is through such research that marketers can improve the marketing field.
Upbringing as argued by psychologists has a big impact on shaping the attachment that an individual attaches to the product (McCracken, 2010). For instance, we have heard of mothers who have for a long time used Johnson and Johnson baby care products. Their daughters and sons may develop this lifetime attachment to Johnson and Johnson baby care products and subsequently use the same products in upbringing of their children.
On the hand, a group may resist the use of products that they were accustomed to, during upbringing, and develop their own unique taste. The protestant theory explains this in a better manner, whereby individuals protest any impositions by their immediate surroundings. For instance, in a society, that discourages consumerism or lavish spending, individual may feel the urge to defy these social borderlines or societal impositions. Human beings are naturally defiant to social impositions and as a protest, they may fall in love with certain products that they feel or perceive quenches their thirst to defy impositions by the society (Breivik & Thorbjørnsen, 2008).
Overall, a lot of research needs to be done to ascertain the exits of this romantic relationship as suggested by Campbell. We cannot dispute the fact that there exists this attachment. However, ‘romantic’, may not be the perfect/plausible description to use. Obsession/mania may work better. ‘Romantic’ opens the entire theory to many criticisms.
Aaker, D., & Biel, A. (1993), Brand Equity & Advertising: Advertising's Role in Building Strong Brands, Hillsdale, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Breivik, E., & Thorbjørnsen, H. (2008), Consumer brand relationships: an investigation of two alternative models, Journal of The Academy of Marketing Science.
Campbell, C. (1987), The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, Oxford, UK: B. Blackwell.
McCracken, G. (2010), Advertising: Critical Readings, 2 (49).
Pearce, S. (1997), Experiencing Material Culture in the Western World, London: Leicester University Press.