Marketing for consumerism – I shop therefore I am

This post is an update from an article originally published in March 2017.


Look up the definition of consumerism in the Oxford English Dictionary and you are greeted with the following:

The preoccupation of society with the acquisition of goods.

Close-up of hand using credit card

Key trends

The IMF estimates that the global economy shrunk by 4.4% in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, and unemployment rose at a considerably higher rate than usual among many countries. But while sectors such as global tourism and hospitality took a huge hit, other industries have boomed, or at least remained consistent and stable.

Considering the tumult and economic downturn experienced during 2020, consumerism did not take quite the hit economists were expecting (based on statistics from previous economic crashes). With governments stepping in with support measures, in the hopes of dampening the impact of the virus, consumers were provided with a buffer of sorts, and encouraged to ‘keep calm and carry on’ in any way they could.

While consumerism certainly slowed in 2020, the restrictions the public have been put under has given birth to an era of Conscious Consumerism, where purchases are made based much more on how they align with personal values and lifestyle. Whereas previously, mass consumerism saw people desiring to spend more than ever and showcase their latest purchases online, Conscious Consumerism demands a justification for each purchase’s worth and longevity.

With retailers being hit in their physical stores, many gravitated online to sell their wares, taking advantage of the ‘touch of a button’ purchases from their audiences. The Office of National Statistics reported that online retail sales grew by 74.7% in 2020. A huge leap considering the doom and gloom statistics of the global economy.

However, the pandemic, coupled with increasing pressure from environmentalists on the importance of sustainability, shifted consumerism into a more mindful sphere and we’ve seen brands becoming more purpose-led; evolving their messaging to target a more conscious consumer and their changing spending habits.

Experts are anticipating the rebound to be much more accelerated when compared to previous economic downturns. The actual rate of rebound will vary from industry to industry, for example, in a recent article by McKinsey, it’s predicted that energy consumption will take between one to four years to return to pre-2019 levels, with rate of growth never quite returning to the same level as before. And when it comes to the use of office spaces, with so many of us adapting to work from home, we can expect to see a huge shift in corporate ‘estates’ and offices in the future. 70% of corporate executives plan to reconfigure office space, and 55% plan to shift towards fewer and lower-cost locations.

Ultimately despite all of the challenges 2020 presented, the companies that have done well are those that have adapted or have offered relevant and valuable products and services to their already engaged and loyal audiences. Making it easy and effortless to shop from the comfort of their own homes. Such as (according to The Financial Times):

  • Amazon – $401.1bn
    Amazon anticipates it could spend $4bn to keep its logistics running during the coronavirus crisis.
  • Apple – $219.1bn
    The iPhone maker managed to rake in $58.3bn in revenue in the March quarter, despite closing all of its retail stores.
  • Zoom – $47bn
    Zoom video calls reached 300m participants a day in April 2020.

Marketing and branding in 2021

These unusual circumstances make for a very interesting life for the marketeer. It’s safe to say no one could have predicted this happening or playing out quite this way. So how do you ensure the survival of your brand during such trying times?

Don’t ‘go dark’

There’s a lot to be said for brands that invest in themselves during periods of economic unrest. Although the impact of ‘going dark’ is not immediately felt, Millward Brown reported that 58% of advertising’s impact happens in the long term, or as a result of more than six months out. So, if you want to protect your brand, and be among the chosen few who survive, or even better, thrive during a bout of economic frugality, invest now.


Not lucky enough to be directly situated within the industries benefitting from the economic downturn? Adapting your offering or pivoting your business into untapped markets can breathe new life into your brand.

Think of all of the restaurants that have been forced to shut their doors for months on end. Many have switched to offering takeaway services instead, or opened up their doors as deli’s or artisan food suppliers in order to stay afloat.

Gyms and fitness brands who were once dependent on footfall, have established subscription-based fitness services, providing live online workouts, or selling products to their already engaged audiences. Audiences who found themselves thrown out of their usual routine and into restrictions that they didn’t agree to. So, they turn to brands that are familiar to them but that have adapted well to provide them with just what they need at the right time.

Is there a market or audience that you’ve not previously considered that could benefit from your services or products? Could you pivot your business to offer something of real benefit to them? Now is certainly the time to think outside your usual sphere.

Dare to be different

The majority of markets continue to be crowded and this creates an increasing challenge for marketing and creative teams, that now have a much harder task of cutting through the noise to reach a brand’s target customer. The public is tired of generic ‘me-too’ approaches and dull advertising campaigns, and this is what makes our work that much more interesting – there are more communication channels available today than ever before, allowing us to really stretch our creative muscles for our clients’ brands.

Those campaigns, which dare to be different, tend to encounter the greatest success – particularly for brands moving into new markets or that are in their infancy. Print and traditional TV advertising continue to take a back seat to more cost effective and flexible online platforms, especially as so many of us were forced inside, with more downtime to consume social media on our devices. The Drum reported that global social media advertising spend increased by 56.4% in the third quarter of 2020 versus the three months previous. Digital media advertising can be incredibly targeted, and when you have a captive, housebound audience, brands can direct their advertising spend highly effectively.

Loyalty pays

As proven by the most successful companies, if you have an audience that knows and trusts you, they will accept diversification. Look to examples of Amazon, John Lewis and Disney. Or on a smaller scale: local, independent retailers shifting their offering to online or pick up only – once people trust your brand they are happy to interact with you in different ways and try different products and services from you.

Consistency is key

While you may need to adapt your offering, or even slightly tweak how you speak to your customers as a result, it’s important not to change everything just for the sake of it. Consistency is paramount when communicating to your audiences, even when talking about change.

First and foremost, it’s important to ensure that your brand’s core values are always front of mind when developing a marketing strategy. Create campaigns which deliver tangible commercial results, focus on your core USP and perform differently to your competitors. Only this way can you elevate your brand above its competition and avoid being lost in the quite frankly overwhelming choice out there. With so many alternatives for audiences today available at the swipe of finger, brands must work hard to convince today’s conscious consumer that they are the smarter, better option.

After all, it’s quality over quantity.

If you’re interested in learning more about getting your brand in the best shape, check out this article.

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