‘Consumption’: The Dirty Word

In our Consumer PR class, we touched on how ‘consumption’ has morphed into a word that PR practitioners are starting to shy away from.

Up until that point, I hadn’t really thought of consumption in a negative way. Of course we’ve all heard in the news how our current energy consumption habits are leading to the depletion of the world’s natural resources, consumption of anything other than organic foods seem to be taboo, and we seem to be consuming anything that we see on TV (No matter how warm that new Snuggie is, it’s still consumption).

In the PR Week article ‘Consumption assumptions’ by Richard Millar, chief executive of Hill & Knowlton UK, he says, ‘All around them, critics saw the ‘fruits’ of this irresponsibility: increases in taxes, reduction in public-sector spending, falling house prices, climate change – it seemed that almost all the world’s ills could be blamed on consumers and their dirty habits.’

According to Robert Bocock, in his book Consumption, consumption is one of our core habits.

“The social and cultural processes surrounding consumption in western capitalism during the twentieth century have been influenced by earlier cultural values, carried by various social status groups into the modern capitalist period.” (Bocock, 11)

We’ve been consumers for centuries, and in some senses since the beginning of time. In fact, the more you we able to consume, the wealthier you were thought to be. (14-17)

But now things are changing.

Everywhere I look, the ‘minimalist’ phase seems to be taking over. Houses aren’t as lavishly decorated, packaging has the least amount of material as possible, and art is more minimalistic than ever.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a consumer. Like anything, there are extremes, and I do believe in recent history we’ve tended to over consume. However, we can’t deny that we are inherently consumers.

As for PR, I believe firms will continue to specialise in the consumer sector, but I do believe they will continue to leave out overt messages about consumption. PR can only thrive when its audience, consumers, resonate with their messages, so their success is based upon their relationships with consumers.

PR practitioners are going to have to adapt to their environment in order to keep their relationships going, which undoubtedly means doing away with ‘consumption’.

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Brett Ashley Bridges

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