Harvard Professor John Quelch has warned marketers in his study Too Much Stuff that in the global economic slump “The mass consumption of the 1990s is fast fading in the rearview mirror. Now a growing number of people want to declutter their lives and invest in experiences rather than things”. Quelch has identified a new and rapidly growing segment of developed world society – the Simplifiers who have four characteristics:
- First, they perceive that they have more stuff than they need. Sure, they may collect something specific like porcelain figurines as a hobby, but they are the opposite of the pack rats who fill their attics and basements with “you-never-know-when-you-might-need-it” stuff.
- Second, they want to collect experiences, not possessions. And they give experiences rather than goods as gifts to friends and relatives. Experiences may seem ephemeral. They cannot be inventoried except in the form of “Kodak” moments; but they do not tie you down, require no maintenance, and permit variety-seeking instincts to be quickly satisfied. Dining out, foreign travel, and learning a new sport will prove more resilient than expected in the face of recession.
- Third, their stuff embarrasses them. Their Range Rovers no longer tell the world that they are sophisticated town and country socialites. There are simply too many of them on the road to offer much social status. Worse, they now signal the irresponsible selection of a gas-guzzler.
- Fourth, they have wealth that is so assured that it no longer requires conspicuous display. They lease their cars, rent other people’s holiday homes, and would happily outsource other aspects of their lifestyles. They reject the marketer’s continual pressure to spend more money on possessions rather than on education, health care, and other social goods.
This resonates with many of the norms and shifts we speak about in Citizen Renaissance and also something I heard Baroness Peta Buscombe – chair of the Advertising Association – say at the Green Awards this week. Baroness Buscombe said that she felt the economic downturn was giving people a space in which to reflect on the idea that ‘needs’ are more important than ‘wants’. I was interested to hear this from the advertising world – a world which surely is at the centre of creating ‘wants’ and the background noise which blocks us tuning into real ‘needs’. I have emailed Baroness Buscombe and am hoping to find out her perspective on these issues. But what do you think?