Times are changing after all, isn’t it? Consumers no longer buy without proper research on the brand and its practices. As social responsibility increases, we are now living in the age of conscious consumption. Let me show you how this has everything to do with Public Relations and how it has affected one of the most important events of 2021 already – yes, already in January! If you like what you see, sign our newsletter and explore as much as you would like!
I am pretty sure you heard of the Millennials changing the way we make things over here. As one of them, I like to see how the changes go in some areas, one of the consumerism. We can no longer accept obnoxious practices behind the curtains of the brands we support. There are several reasons for it – ecology, to name one.
The millennial generation is now ruling the market and choosing to spend their money on brand trust. That’s right: just liking a brand or a product for its packaging or status isn’t going to hit that sales record anymore. As a matter of fact, millennials might even choose to spend more money on a brand that has proven corporate social responsibility. According to research performed by 5W Public Relations, as told by Vending Market Watch, 71% of Millennials are willing to pay more for a product if they know that a portion of it goes to charity.
But what is, exactly, going on?
What is a socially conscious consumer?
To be brief and objective, conscious consumerism is to be interested in supporting whatever the practices behind a brand are happening. Instead of buying a piece of clothing just because it’s pretty and has a good price on it, which would be enough for a good deal in the past years, consumers are now preoccupied with the processes involved in turning a piece of fabric into a piece of clothing. Does the brand underpay its employees? What are the conditions for them to work? If it’s a bad scenario, no purchase.
The same goes on with public statements. Melania Trump, the former first lady of the USA, was criticized for wearing clothing by Dolce & Gabbana, a brand known by its designers saying unpleasant things about gay adoption, among other bizarre sayings regarding sexism, racism, and homophobia. But we will get back to Melania later.
Conscious consumerism demands a shared social consciousness. According to Triple Pundit, people are now seeking more than an open performance of the brand, they also want the brand to behave properly. What if the brands refuse? Well, then they will face an image and reputation crisis, which is something I already introduced you to in this article (spoiler alert: expect more content under this subject in the following days. Juicy!).
This behavior on part of the consumers has developed brand activism that shall stay for much, much longer. And I kid you not: those brands that try to confuse their customers by following activism trends and adopting a positive narrative without actually doing what they preach publicly won’t fool anyone. Consumers will notice that and the brand will likely be known as opportunistic.
Why is consumerism unsustainable?
To give you the full answer to that question, it would not only take me a lot of paragraphs but also a deeper look into all industry sectors. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to do that, but it would eventually get exhaustive for both of us. I feel like this is almost a rhetorical question.
To be practical and maybe – I said maybe – try to cover the majority of industries, I will propose an analysis. We do know how awful it was when we still had slaves. The inhuman treatment to people that some small, yet privileged, the group gave them because they judge themselves superior in whatever level is, to the current days, unthinkable. Fast forward to not so long ago, when reporters brought up the news on brands that paid too low for manpower, in dubious and dishonorable conditions. Knowing what the brand does to those people, would you let it all behind and keep on purchasing their products because it’s cute and cheap?
This scenario can be applied in many layers. Animal abuse? Check. Environmental pollution? Check. Unacceptable statements about civil rights? Check, check, check. Regarding climate matters, National Geographic had already written about this in 2004 in this article, which I definitely recommend the reading. This is no news, this is happening right now – Amen to that!
A much-needed disclaimer on that:
So you are saying that conscious consumerism will save the world? Absolutely not. We cannot romanticize conscious consumerism expecting to see huge changes in the upcoming months. That will simply not happen.
It’s impossible to practice it in each and every purchase you make. You can try to ask the details on how Apple has made your brand new iPhone, but the person helping you out at the store will probably not know how to give you such information. You might opt to buy another smartphone brand, but it’s very unlikely that you will get this question answered.
What realistic conscious consumerism is about begins with smarter choices. Being able to answer yourself why you are choosing to purchase this product over that other one is a good start. Do research on how the brands position themselves under climate change, humanitarian causes, and other values you think are important and chose the one that has a better fit to your values, chose the one that feels right.
Calling conscious consumerism a lifestyle actually sounds a little pushy to me because it gives a feeling that this is all just a trend and that it shall pass too – which is not the case, apparently. Also, when we put it on a pedestal, we end up elitizing the concept. This is something that should be accessible to anyone, regardless of their social conditions. Doing what feels right should fit what you can do.
What does conscious consumerism have to do with PR?
Here comes the fun part – at least for me! We have already spoken about it: reputation and image. Companies do not want to be perceived in negative frames and, right now, the act of dismissing conscious consumption can cause a drastic trauma to a company’s reputation, and if you remember what is one among many of the PR functions you will see the importance of keeping a positiveness range to a brand.
How your brand shall communicate the adoption of conscious consumerism in a strategic, yet transparent, way can avoid being mistaken as an opportunistic manipulation. It’s never too much to remember that everything your company does is a message, whether it’s a small step or a big one. Whenever a brand communicates a transitioning practice to fit a collective need, regardless of how much it would add to its budget, it creates trust and empathy – two highly evaluated values people love to connect with.
The prove that conscious consumerism isn’t just a market trend and how it is related to PR can be shown with President Biden’s Inauguration in the past week. Can you see how far it can go and how important it really is?
I have to say, it’s quite admirable the cohesion of Biden’s whole campaign to the fashion choices made by Vice-President Kamala Harris, and First Lady, Jill Biden. As PRWeek precisely put out, the political arena and fashion communicate to themselves in a subtle way.
First, let’s get back to Melania Trump, the former First Lady, as I promised before. She has never shown herself in a charismatic aura, which is very uncommon for an American First Lady. She had a faux pas that shocked many people when she decided it was appropriated to wear a fast-fashion jacket with the phrase “I really don’t care, do you?” written on its back when she traveled to the borders with Mexico to visit children.
A subtle, yet functional, sign that the message of the new Commander in Chief is opposite to the former one lyes on the fashion choices of its Vice-President and First Lady. They were both stunning at the event, but the details that make PR what it is are under the reasons of those choices made. Mrs. Harris has worn a coat designed by two young black designers. One of them has two daughters and even celebrated being a part of this big event and being able to celebrate women with his creation. Vice-President Harris also supported the work of an immigrant from Puerto Rico, Wilfredo Rosado, by wearing a pearl necklace he designed. Mrs. Biden wore a coat designed by Markarian, a brand from New York City founded by women. The brand itself is quite small, with only six employees, but had already hit such an important event by its values.
The message spread by those two highly important women in the next years is loud and clear. Now, for the brands chosen by them, the sales have boosted and they earn a lot of media covered that will, certainly, create brand awareness in the bright light of selling products that are worth buying.
Don’t you just love PR? 🥰