Consumerism basically is a phenomenon of individuals spending and acquiring things way beyond their basic needs. This spending and acquisition of goods or services will elevate an individual’s well-being or happiness. For example, the never-ending shopping and buying of clothes by women, or the ever upgrading to bigger and more fanciful cars by the men. This phenomenon is propagated by the advertisements we see everywhere, by the perceived higher socio-economical status of an individual who owns more toys and of course by the resulting judgement of those who have on those who do not have.
I see, I buy, I own it, I feel myself to be of a higher status than others, and of course since I am of a higher status I look down on those who cannot afford a simple Chanel bag or an Audi car. Consumerism has infected a majority of the people in the society. And one of the consequences of consumerism is spending way beyond their means. I will swipe my card or take a loan just to get the Rolex watch for now and pay it off with my next month’s salary. But in the next month, there will be new things to spend on. This results in one thing – debt.
In many countries, for example the US, many individuals have spent way beyond their means and landed themselves in a pile of debt. In Singapore, those in the public service are required to be free from financial embarrassment. More specifically, if a public servant in Singapore has unsecured debt (eg credit card debts) which is more than 3 times his monthly salary, he will be considered financial embarrassed and will suffer penalties, which may include a letter of warning, fine or even losing the job.
But today, we will not go into the ills of consumerism. But rather, we will look into how it can be used and consequently, to look out for it when it is used against us. Do take note that information is like a blade, it can be used for good or for bad. The intention is not for anyone to use the information for ill objectives.
Consumerism As A Motivating Factor
Salesmen are very good at using consumerism as a motivating tactic. The most important thing is to help your target group visualise themselves consuming certain goods and services. I used to work in the insurance line as a part-time agent during my university days (although I was so bad at sales I exited the company without a single sale), and my boss was teaching me how to motivate people to give you sales referral. In the sales line, it is very common to give a cash commission to those who refer successful leads to you. However, giving the cash itself does not really have an impact. He taught me to help them visualise. For example:
If you refer to me 5 leads which results in successful deals, I will get you a Chanel bag. We will walk into the Chanel shop, and you take your time to choose whichever bag you want. I will go elsewhere to have a cup of coffee. Once you have decided on your bag, just give me a call and I will go to you. You just take your bag and go, and leave the payment to me.
Money is something we can never get enough with. However, saying that you will give a $3000 commission is probably not as impactful as the above illustration as most people. For the ladies, going into a luxury bag store and choosing whatever she wants is a mini-dream. Obviously, realistically speaking, if my commissions to her is $3000, she will not be able to choose a $10,000 bag, but I will omit that out. I also plant in her the concept of patiently waiting for her while she take her time choosing, and once done, she give me a call and I will appear on her cue. She can just simply take the bag and go while I make payment. This gives her a sense of empowerment, that she is somebody. But all these is simply fluff. Obviously she cannot just take the bag and go. She will still need to minimally go to the cashier and scan the bag and confirm the payment. But the above visualisation is powerful enough for most people. Because they can see themselves buying things and see themselves having that temporal ‘power’.
How about for a guy? I used to have a fellow colleague who was also studying in the university. This was what my boss said:
I know you have university fees to pay off, and this job has the potential to help you pay off all your fees way before you graduated and even more. If you do well, you can easily buy yourself a BMW. Think of yourself driving a BMW to school while all the rest are still taking the train and buses.
Of course, in the universities there are a lot of other students whose parents are wealthy beyond our reach. However, in the era of consumerism, helping the average people visualise themselves being able to get certain goods, and at the same time indirectly hinting to them that they are the envy of others is a very powerful tool of motivation. Because people can see themselves in a certain situation and know that it is within their reach, that they will be able and willing to work harder for you.
We can apply this not only in the sales line, but in other aspects of business and areas of work as well. Whether to use it for your own motivation, or to motivate your subordinates, it is a very powerful tool. I often also visualise myself obtaining freedom and living a life which I want, hence pushing myself to work harder today so I can enjoy tomorrow. However, as I said earlier, excessive consumerism is harmful because it will sink people into debt. It is therefore important to know how to use this tool well.
The advertisements also make use of this concept extensively. People can often see themselves using a particular branded bag, or driving a particular branded car, wearing a particular branded watch and so on. These advertisements often try to have you picture yourself living the high life while using their products. This is where you have to be careful about not falling into the trap of consumerism. Do not just blindly follow others and do what the capitalists had impressed in your minds.
Consumerism is an inevitable result of capitalism. Without the individuals spending money, no goods can be sold. With consumerism, companies can sell multiples of their unnecessary products. The famous fruit phone is an example, with each new version just a slight upgrade of a useless function over the previous. With consumerism, the population gets into heavier debt and will be forced to work obediently for the corporations. With consumerism, the economy can also flourish and there will be peace in the society as everyone laden with debt is also contented with their perceived elevated status and their false sense of happiness.
When you are driving that BMW, everybody wins. Except that unbeknownst to you, you are the real loser.