Christmas: Celebrating the Holy Consumerism

image

‘Only 42 more shopping days before CHRISTMAS!!!’ We all have this friend completely obsessed with Christmas, but what is it that we all love so much about it? Of course: the presents! Let’s be honest here, for the vast majority there is no Christmas without presents. The act of consumption is very present during this holiday period. According to The Telegraph, the UK spends the second most on shopping after Ireland with £680 per person spent on goods over the Christmas season.

However, Christmas as we know it didn’t exist before the industrial revolution and the rise of advertising during the 19th and 20th centuries. This began to transform Christmas from the almost entirely religious celebration, to the primarily commercial holiday that it is today.

And what about the most famous Christmas character? Whilst the church might still believe it to be ‘Jesus Christ’, there is no doubt that in the exact same way that Jesus knocked the Pagan and Roman key characters off of the top spot, our beloved Santa Claus has achieved no less of a feat!

Saint Nicholas of Myra as he was first known was a Dutch saint famous for giving gifts. If you aren’t familiar with the story, perhaps you’ll notice that ‘Sinterklaas’, his name in Dutch, sounds a little familiar. It wasn’t until Coca-Cola covered him with their brand colours in the adverts of the early 1930s that he became the emblematic figure of Christmas we know today.

image

To understand the phenomenon that we all fall victim to during the Christmas period, I read some of Marx thoughts about Capitalism in his book ‘Capital’. Marx talks about ‘the fetishism of commodities’. Fetishism is the belief that we associate with pre-modern civilizations, worshipers of objects for their ‘magical’ properties. Before Marx, the term was used by Christian missionaries to describe the bewilderment of those non-evangelised people who took their idols for gods. Speaking of “the fetishism of commodities” Marx highlights a ‘magical’ thinking at the heart of the modern life and our “immense accumulation of commodities”. He outpaced anthropologists such as Marshall Sahlins and those after him who studied the ‘totems’ of the consumer society. We could then think that people consume because they seek a spiritual or magical reward within the act of consumption. The act of consuming brings happiness and links us to part of a social group. As Pierre Bourdieu suggests, consumption enables us to create sub-group of people.

For Marx, ‘commodity fetishism’ is to be viewed identically to pre modern civilizations worshiping statues, madness! What are these modern commodities if not the products of human labor, the result of social relations between men?

We are so committed to these goods that we often fail to see the bigger picture, including the exploitation which is integral to their production! The concept of ‘commodity fetishism’ inspires many global brands. With always more attractive products created for worldwide consumption, our consumer society tends to forget the poor working conditions without which Christmas wouldn’t be possible.

Reference:

Marx, K. (1867). Capital. Available from https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Capital-Volume-I.pdf

Khan, M. (2014). Welcome to Britain: the most generous Christmas shoppers in the world. The Telegraphe. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11283573/Welcome-to-Britain-the-most-generous-Christmas-shoppers-in-the-world.html

Advertisements

Primark: ultra low cost is not made for Internet

image

For those who may still not be familiar with Primark, this is chain specialises in high street fashion at very low prices. These Primark price tags can be extremely low, you can find a jumper or a shirt for less than £6! The products are manufactured on the other side of the world (though probably not terribly ethically) and the economic model takes its roots on hyper-consumption and planned obsolescence that goes against a more sustainable consumption approach.

The Primark business model is based on the everyday low price. Because such large volumes are sold, the lower prices, and hence, lower margins, can be mitigated by the economy of scale. Until now everything has been running smoothly, but the business model is beginning to find tough competition in the shape of Internet based shopping!

Indeed, Primark which is very successful on the high street seems unable to make a switch to e-commerce. While the UK goes crazy for online shopping, spending on textiles, clothing and footwear increased by 17.2% in 2014 compared with 2013. This represented £100.1M pounds for the annual average weekly spend online (ONS website). Primark’s current business model appears incapable of implementing an e-store and hence, they are starting to miss out on a huge, and ever increasing channel of distribution. What is the main reason for Primark’s uninterested/inability to get on the Internet to sell its products?

According to Mr. Charlton (of the econsultancy blog linked below) it is because their margins are just too low. If you add in the logistics and start-up costs of a web store, it would reduce profits to almost. Also, what about the wonderful returns policy that consumers simply love? Factoring in the costs of free returns by post would surely see profits in the negative.

Below a certain point, low individual item prices makes selling goods on the Internet really not practical. For this reason the business model that grew Primark into such a high street giant may also become its greatest downfall.

image

References:

Charlton, G. (2013). Is Primark mad to ignore ecommerce?. Retrieved from https://econsultancy.com/blog/62640-is-primark-mad-to-ignore-ecommerce

Office for National Statistics, (2015). Overview of Internet retail sales in 2014. Retrieved from http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/rsi/retail-sales/december-2014/sty-overview-of-internet-retail-sales-in-2014.html

McDonald’s went green?!

image

It was in November 2009 that McDonald’s premiered its brand new logo depicting the world famous golden arches as usual, but this time on a deep green background as opposed to the world famous red we all knew and loved. Obviously, the first impressions of the logo were positive, and the branding passed all the necessary tests, convincing McDonald’s marketers that it was fit to be the new logo.

But why did McDonald’s change its red logo for a green one in the first place?
In 2005, the fast food giant undertook a radical new policy to silence the gossiping about its contribution to the increase in Western world obesity. After bouts of bad press from the media on this subject, what seemed like the final nail in the coffin was the 2004 film ‘Supersize Me’, which cast a haunting look into the effects of a wholly McDonald’s diet.

Not to take criticism lying down, McDonald’s pulled out all the stops to improve its image. Its new green logo was accompanied with a new healthy eating plan. You can now find nutritional information to help make healthier choices, as well as the addition of salads, carrot and fruit sticks. To reinforce their image of a healthier restaurant, they started a campaign highlighting the good quality sources of their food and their desire to make national producers their wholesalers.

We all know that even if you order a salad McDonald’s is still a fast-food restaurant. So, to add to this new healthy living position, they also adopted a sustainable development policy, designed to help fight global warming and to enhance the image of a company concerned about health and environment. These measures included less polluting trucks, electricity from renewable sources, redesigning and reducing packaging, rainwater collectors, and collecting and treating its cooking oils. The modernisation of a logo in conjunction with these types of changes is an excellent way to make an impression and support the repositioning of a company.

In conclusion, McDonald’s has managed an effective repositioning campaign towards sustainability and healthier meal options which helps mask the negative aspects of certain products offered by the fast food giant. To top it all off, these changes were also accompanied by an attempt to clear ‘low-end’ appearance that McDonald’s had with its red and yellow logo. The stylish new logo was accompanied by refurbishment of the restaurants to help shake off the memories of the past and raise class of the restaurant… even if only by a little!

References:

McDonalds website: http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk

Bloggers: The Opinion Leaders 2.0

image

It seems pretty obvious for us, ‘Generation Y’, that blogs play an important role in our professional and personal lives.

Through the medium of blogging, an author can post various different articles whose content can be quite different each time, depending on the author’s immediate interests. Bloggers are far more free to choose what they write about than authors of other, more conventional media! They can talk about their passions and experiences, or share tips and tricks… The goal is simple: bloggers create content to engage Internet users and share information. If everything goes well, the blogger create their very own audience, known as a community.

The relationship between the audience and the blogger is unique in that the blogger is free to write about what they really want to (rather than what their editor tells them to) and are free to impart their own personal opinion on the subject. This honesty is likely the reason for the popularity of blogs, as it creates a relationship based more on trust than on corporate sponsorship… At least at first!

Another aspect that sets bloggers apart from the more traditional article author is the ability to communicate and engage with an audience more directly. Almost all blogs have a comments section on which the author will regularly answer questions, organise activities, and promote give-aways.

Bloggers are often considered ‘information masters’ of their general subjects, and are massively consulted by Internet users. One of the most popular UK bloggers Zoe Sugg generates 1.5 million visitors to her blog every month (according to the BBC). Perhaps because of this relatability, bloggers are afforded more credibility than journalists in magazines or newspapers for example. According to Jessica Walker of the BBC, “If a blogger endorses a product it gives it more weight than if it was just featured on the page of a magazine”.

Bloggers are now a very lucrative investment opportunity, and businesses know it! It is now commonplace for companies to advertise their goods and services through bloggers who share an interest in similar areas. These collaborations take form through sponsored articles, give aways, discount codes etc.

Far more than simply individuals ranting and raving about their interests, bloggers are now professionals that can and do compete rather well against more traditional journalists. They are invited by organisations to participate in various events and promote their brands.

If blogging is just a fad, the end sure as hell isn’t in sight any time soon! We just have to look at our university programs that encourage us create to content and manage a blog, (presumably in order to teach the importance of such a tool in marketing!).

On top of that, it does seem highly likely that ‘Generation Z’, who have lived the entirety of their lives in the digital age, will continue to utilise and innovate blogs. According to a Tesco Mobile survey, 40% of 16-25 year olds in the UK would like to pursue a career as blogger.

References:

Harvey, D. (2013). Meet the vloggers: Self employed and ‘worth a fortune’ . Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/24726895/meet-the-vloggers-self-employed-and-worth-a-fortune

Tesco Mobile, (2014). Young Brits take the ‘Tube’ to fame and fortune. Retrieved from http://www.tescomobile.com/about-us/news/young-brits-take-the-tube-to-fame-and-fortune

Could MOOCs change the future of Education?

image

When my lecturer told me that I had to “go on the MOOC”, my first thought was “what the hell is that?!”. The ‘Massive Online Open Course’ is a virtual classroom that gathers students from around the world to study a subject by themselves using the content uploaded from the accredited persons on the online course. It is basically designed in the same way as a lecture, with categories for an easy understanding, some articles for additional reading around the subject, and they can even upload videos to make it more personal.

As a student who is not technically ‘long distance’, but one who has to travel two hours each way to university, I was really pleased to see that I was going to be able to attend it in the comfort of my own home. Some of you may be skeptical: how can you learn if you don’t have a lecturer physically there? Well, learning isn’t really listening to someone accredited to talk to you for two hours and then assess you on what you know. It is more complex than that; learning is about a permanent change in behaviours. We can argue that the lectures are not the most useful way of learning. In fact, students won’t remember a lot from a lecturer. According to Hermann Ebbinghaus and his theory of the Serial Position Effect, individuals have the tendency to remember the information given to them first (primary effect) and last (recency effect) forgetting for the most part of what happened in the middle.

image

So we can see how MOOCs could be the future of the education system, where the classroom is no longer a physical place but a virtual environment where people learn using digital content. However, with new technologies come new possibilities of cheating in assessments. Researchers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that some students sign in with multiple identities in order to cheat. They call this cheating strategy CAMEO (Copying Answers using Multiple Existence Online). The way it works is pretty simple; some identities are “Harvesters”, namely, they are gathering the correct answers to the MOOCs questionnaire and one identity is the “Master” which will be able to answer the questions correctly using the “Harvesters” information.

Although these CAMEO represent a minority of the students present on the MOOCs (between 0.1 and 1.2 percent of the certificates awarded to learners were using the CAMEO strategy), they are still a significant issue. As with many new technologies, (most notably the fact that every student now carries an infinitely large ‘cheat sheet’ in the form of a mobile phone), the ability for students to abuse the MOOC’s assessment methods will have to be carefully controlled in order for MOOCs to become the future of education. Some methods to prevent this kind of cheating already exist on some platforms but the challenge will be to do so without harming this new approach to learning.

Reference:

Straumsheim, C. (2015). Multiple Personalities, Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/08/26/harvard-mit-researchers-find-mooc-learners-using-multiple-accounts-cheat

Is Big Data the future of Marketing Analytics?

image

We’ve all heard about Big Data but what is it? Well, Big Data is all the digital data we as human beings produce continually, it makes up such a large quantity that traditional data management tools can’t manage it. The goal with Big Data is to get something out of it, in other words, being able to analyse this multitude of data quickly and if possible in real time.

To give you some examples from the computer giant IBM, 250 billion emails are sent every day, 80% of the population own a mobile phone, and there are 133 million blogs on the Internet.

Attempting to understand the huge amount of data that these devices produce with us humans operating them (almost constantly in some cases) is almost as impossible as imagining the number of grains of sand on all the world’s beaches, or the sum of all the stars in the entire universe.

So here’s a question, why is Big Data important? Well, Big Data has a potentially enormous economic value, in a similar way that oil does. “Data is the new oil” (Clive Humby). For companies, the ability to know how to analyse consumer behaviour, habits and expectations allows them to better know what to offer, where to offer it, when and how to offer it, and most importantly, at what price! Using big data, a brand can accurately understand the behaviour of its customers and ultimately anticipate it.

Big data analysis is what a large number of companies are already trying to do using algorithmic recommendation systems. Amazon for example looks at your habits, compares them with other people’s habits (who share similar interests as you) in order to make a prediction on what you may be interested in. “People who bought this item also bought… XYZ… maybe you should buy one too!” Using algorithms, Amazon is able to give you recommendations in this manner. So, big data can be used in this way by companies like Amazon, but is it as useful in other sectors of marketing?

image

As much as Big Data appears to be the ultimate tool for new marketers, we are entitled to ask if it is actually relevant in most of the marketing of the 21st Century.

Big Data is designed to show a trend at a precise period of time, outside of this period of time the information is almost irrelevant. The role of a marketer is not to document the past, but to anticipate the future. So why is Big Data not the tool to revolutionise the marketing industry?

It does not integrate into the consumer‘s environment and the society in which it evolves. Indeed, according the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, we are in the ‘Liquid Modernity’. Behind this metaphor what Bauman explains is that unlike solids, liquids cannot maintain their shape when pressed or pushed by an external force, the links between their particles are too weak to resist. In our “liquid society”, the only reference is the individual integrated by his act of consumption. Social status, identity and success are measured in terms of individual choice and may fluctuate rapidly depending on flexibility requirements. He defines social relationships as more impalpable in today’s society. Bauman uses the example of love and feelings as an example of this impalpability; relationships are established ‘until further notice’. Human relationships are incredibly fragile and constantly changing, we cannot expect them to remain unharmed if so much of our lives is ‘liquid’.

This liquidity of our lives makes the finiteness of Big Data challenging to use effectively. By the time marketers are able to collect and analyse the data and attempt to extract information from it, it is usually too late!

Reference:

Bauman, Z. (2013). Liquid modernity. John Wiley & Sons.

The Consumer Society

The consumer society started after the Second World War to help rebuild the economy. It has been developed during the 70s during the 30 glorious years.

The term consumer society refers to a society in which the individual becomes a consumer, urged to consume more and more often but does it work?Image1

First of all, this society was born out of the movement towards Fordism which developed mass production line work and launched mass consumption once producing products in large numbers became much cheaper (due to economies of scale) and therefore people were able to buy items that were financially unattainable before.

The consumer society has many benefits such as the fact that today we live better because we are better equipped. For example, we all have a car and the minimum necessary equipment like a cooker, a Fridge… Also, we have access to much cheaper products, we can treat ourselves more, thus, it is almost impossible to find a house without a television or computer, and these days almost everyone has a mobile phone.

But unfortunately the consumer society also has disadvantages. Firstly, there is the food waste and the pollution. For example, according the website ‘Food Aware’ every year in the UK 18 million tonnes of food are wasted which puts the United Kingdom at the top of the European food waste chart. Also, 87% of the UK grocery market is divided by 6 big firms, which alone are responsible for 200,000 tonnes of food waste in 2013. It is 200,000 tonnes of unsold comestible food! But yet, to produce in large quantities farmers have to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers which contributes to environmental pollution.380_The-Story-of-Stuff_3

Did you ever hear about the 7th continent? You know a decent amount of all of the plastic we use and throw away every day ends up in the oceans? According to the UNESCO website, there are now close to 500 dead zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally, equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom.

Finally another consequence is that society has become materialistic. It’s more common for people to think that owning many nice things will make them happy and that happiness is purely material.materialism1-287x300

The danger here is that obsession over material possessions could make us forget our human values such as generosity, sharing, mutual aid, politeness … and to want no more thanks than a smile!