Black Friday, consumerism, social production & ethical consumption

Black Friday is fully under way.  And, in the run-up to it over the past two weeks it seemed that Black Friday had become a holiday in and of itself.  A follow on to Thanksgiving; a bit like Boxing Day is to Christmas in Britain.  Will Gray Thursday and Cyber Monday soon achieve the same noteworthy status? In a post-production, consumerism society our social stability depends on economic growth.  If we didn’t know that before, we’ve learned it since 2008.  Governments and the media continually emphasize that retail numbers are an indicator that we’re either still stuck in the recession or coming out of it.  So personal consumption - aka shopping - is a measure not only of economic stability but of active political participation.  In a consumerism world, purchasing is an act that benefits society as much as, if not more than, it does the individual.  And, as a brand and marketing professional I know consumption can be - and in point of fact is - a dynamic and engaging factor of social and cultural change.  It’s no wonder Black Friday has taken on the status of a Federal Holiday. Interestingly, Black Friday seems to reflect the same sentiment Franklin Roosevelt, the (liberal) Democrat we know best for the New Deal, had when he moved Thanksgiving from November 30th to November 23rd, in 1939.  And, this after he ignored the initial request from the Downtown Association of Los Angeles in 1933, when the Great Depression was at it’s worst point. In a letter to the President on October 2, 1933, the Association noted that according to the usual...

Dynamic Culture: Music And Generation Y – Our Long(ish), Strange, Trip

In 1998, I bought my first and last CD. I had received a gift card to Borders for my birthday, and, as an eight year old who thought he was too cool to read a book, I ventured into the store’s now defunct music section. I remember being oddly intimidated by the whole experience. The endless catalog of artists, the increasingly strange album covers, the people milling around with weird goatees, tattoos, earrings. The girl at the checkout counter, even now I could recall the pungent smell of cigarettes. I remember her scoffing at my choice, clearly at the age where she thought her music was better than my music. I was eight years old, but it was clear that her music was still much better than mine, and that everyone should know about it. “$10 for one song?” She didn’t actually say that. But if she did say that, she wouldn’t’ve been totally wrong. I had purchased Tubthumper by Chumbawamba, solely for what I had dubbed the “I get knocked down song.” The CD probably stayed in my walkman (remember those?) for over a year, and quite honestly, I could not tell you the name of any other title on that album. So if you really think about it, I had spent $10 on one song A year later, and I was faced with pretty much the same predicament. This time though, I didn’t but a CD at Borders. Instead, I listened to my one hit wonder of choice Blue, by Eiffel 65, on my computer. Via Napster. For free. I listened to many a song on Napster. And...

Two nations divided by consumer etiquette

Two nations divided by a common language. This well-worn phrase was repeatedly cited to me before we moved from the UK to New York and a lot after we landed. With this phrase ringing in my ears, friends at home would reassure me the shared language would make it easier for us to settle in the US. It seems Brits feel familiar with US culture thanks to the plethora of exported TV shows and movies that influence our small green island. However what’s depicted on the big or small screen or through the behavior of American celebrities does not quite capture the nuances that differentiate British and American consumers. Often, differences between the two countries are trivialized and boiled down to accent, the odd word or communication styles; compare the stereotypical deference of the Brits with the boldness of Americans. Until I moved here, I hadn’t fully appreciated just how different the two countries are when it comes to cultural context and related consumer behavior. Like many Brits I’d visited the States a few times before we decamped here, but getting a cultural impression whilst on a brief business trip or holiday is very different to living somewhere new that requires one to adapt in order to communicate more effectively and form enduring relationships As a naïve new American consumer there seemed three main hurdles to overcome. Firstly, I had to learn a new consumer vocabulary – I remember asking a bemused looking shop assistant in Target where the Wellie Boots were. She stared back at me blankly until I described them as plastic boots you wear in the...

Dynamic culture: The rise of the #hashtag

The hashtag, which started out as a twitter-centric device to spur interactive conversation around a common theme or topic, has transcended its original purpose and arguably become incorporated into GenY’s vernacular as a communicative meme. Although the hashtag has no functional use on Facebook, it’s now a popular way to underscore topics, moods, and general sentiments, in other words, enhance the value of the phrase or expression that lies within the #hashtag. Some examples: I can’t wait to lead the team to another victory next week as captain. #wednesdayblues Well that sucked, but it’s over with! #LSAT My theories: -Since hashtags were originally used to rally around trending topics or events (i.e, #Cairo, #RIPMichaelJackson), the obscurity of certain hashtags juxtaposed with the functional purpose of them gives an illusion that something like #livetweetingpoliticaltheologyessay is an important, trending issue. They also add an element of humor and cultural relevancy that couldn’t be accomplished without the hashtag. -Because twitter is not as widely used as Facebook, tweeting can still indicate that someone is progressive and an early adopter. Using the hashtag, a special feature of twitter, implies that you know the medium well, which further implies some sort of above average social media prowess. Following, a person who incorporates hashtags into conversation is a progressive person. -They simply add color and personality to an otherwise boring sentence. A good example of this is the “oh, good thing i’m still on fall break! #questionable.” Intuitively, the hashtag simply makes the sentence come to life more. Interestingly, hashtags have caught the eye of Google+, which has incorporated them into their UI so that...

Bin the catalogue. Disposable brands.

In my experience the gap between expectation and reality can cause disappointment. This was made clear to me after the birth of my first child. As proud new parents we excitedly commissioned a photographer to take pictures of us with our wee bundle of joy. In my mind’s eye I foresaw the photos turning out similar to an Estee Lauder advertisement - us all dewy skin, with golden locks, white teeth and misty smiles as we tossed our progeny playfully in the air while a golden Labrador puppy played around our picnic basket. When the eagerly anticipated photographs came back they looked somewhat different…Six months of sleep deprivation and no gym visits had clearly taken their toll; we looked pasty and bloated. My hair resembled a raccoon as I’d clearly overlooked the mandatory two monthly visits to the hairdressers in favor of a few too many muffins and whole milk lattes whilst breast-feeding in Starbucks.  My husband’s first reaction on seeing the photographs was that we’d looked like we’d eaten ourselves. Gwyneth Paltrow clearly need not feel threatened! Home shopping using catalogues and online photographs as stimuli reminds me of the salutary lesson learned from that photographic experience. Now as a parent of three young boys I have little choice but to shop from home as visits to the mall, Main Street or the city shops with three young kids in tow is beyond stressful and going alone is a rare treat squeezed between swimming lessons and soccer practice. Lately I’ve become too fixated on Pottery Barn. Online shopping with them would be a breeze if you’re an altogether more...

Brand Baby 6: Building blocks of the future

According to a recent article I read, boys are driven by accomplishment and reward. As a mother of three boys under 6, I regularly pay 25 cents to motivate them to accomplish any number of menial tasks: putting on shoes, tidying up, etc. Now that my eldest two boys have reached four and six this need for motivations and incentive is becoming increasingly evident. I believe their brand du jour, LEGO, is perfectly placed to deliver on this. LEGO stands for fun, imagination, creativity, and learning. Speaking as a parent of boys, it seems they consistently deliver on what kids enjoy. Their traditional product of bricks and blocks taps boys’ seemingly inherent and basic need to build, either solo or as a team. My boys take great pride in their constructions whether following by the box instructions or embarking on a free-style version. Partnering with the most in-vogue kids’ brands of today, LEGO knows how to continually connect with its consumers. The brand has steadily moved beyond building blocks to position itself as an experiential brand, the most obvious incarnation being their amusement parks. However their co-branding opportunities also point to this shift as my boys construct, animate and develop accompanying stories focused around their creations, seemingly absorbing the brand in every sense. More recently, LEGO have done it again with their interactive games. They’ve tapped precisely into what makes boys tick: achievement and reward. A coyote could walk into our family room, devour their Starbursts and my boys would be oblivious until they had mastered their obsession – Lego Star Wars. As they reach the next level they...
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