Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Age of Mass Consumption Is Dead, Dead, Dead

In a Christmas-season column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Matt Thornhill heralded the dawn of "responsible consumerism," or, as he referred to it more colorfully on this blog, the "new fru." While everyone is awakening to the obvious, that consumers are curtailing their borrowing and spending in response to the recession, Matt contends that the roots of parsimony go deeper than a downturn in the business cycle. Some choice quotes:

The [Baby Boom] generation that put the mass into consumption is now at the stage of life where people naturally shift focus from the material to the ethereal. What’s fascinating (or worrisome, if you’re in a retail or consumer-products business) is that the impact of this shift on America’s consumption-driven economy is just beginning.

This shift away from spending by our largest demographic group coincides with a larger societal trend towards sustainability. Consumers of all ages are thinking more about the environmental impact of their purchase behavior and consumption patterns. In a national study we conducted among all adults in late summer, before the economic meltdown, 80% of all consumers told us they think or act in a “green,” or environmentally responsible fashion. Green is mainstream, and here to stay...

One last ingredient to this perfect storm: the worst recession since the Great Depression. Put all three trends in a blender and the future for marketers is grim indeed. Mass consumption, the underpinning of the American economy since 1946, is dead, dead, dead.


Anonymous said...

To me, this is fabulous news. Why do we need all this stuff and credit card debt and excess?

Anonymous said...

I see evidence of the 'new fru' which raises a serious question for me: what happens to all those homes that were built - and there are thousands of them in my community alone - that are just too big? The houses of many gables, with bonus rooms and three car garages, and 6000 sq. feet of living space.

What happens when those owners need or want to sell?

James A. Bacon said...

Sally, you make a really good point. Not only is the United States experiencing a generalized housing bust, but there's a huge mismatch between the kind of houses people wanted 5 years ago and the kind of houses they'll want in an age of economic and environmental austerity. Combine the economy/sustainability issues with the fact that empty nester Baby Boomers will begin unloading their big houses, and the fact that there aren't enough Gen Xers to take up the slack, and you're going to find it's very hard to move those 6,000-square-feet houses at any price.

I hope you don't live in one.

Sally P said...

Thankfully, no. I live in a modest 1800 square foot brick cottage within biking distance of 'downtown'. (I'm in a small town, so maybe 'town center' would describe it more accurately!)

And interestingly, home values in our neighborhood continue to rise while the houses in gated & gabled communities are still shaky at best.

Valuable Insights into the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of Today's Baby Boomers

This blog is by the authors of Boomer Consumer: Ten New Rules for Marketing to America's Largest, Wealthiest and Most Influential Group, on sale now.

Here is where you'll find information referenced in the book, as well as updates, news and perspectives from Matt Thornhill and John Martin, founders of the Boomer Project.