The Concept of “Consumerism” from a Consumer Activist Perspective

The Concept of “Consumerism” from a Consumer Activist Perspective

Ioanna Papasolomou (University of Nicosia, Cyprus)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2139-6.ch001
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The chapter defines the concept of ‘consumerism' and discusses its different perspectives which emerged during its historical development. The author adopts the second perspective of consumerism which posits that consumerism is a movement aimed at safeguarding the interests and rights of consumers. This view is closely related to the concept of social responsibility (CSR) and subsequently societal marketing. There is evidence in the literature to suggest that in an era of increasing social problems and environmental challenges, there is a need for CSR and sustainable marketing. In fact, the second definition of consumerism is inextricably linked with CSR and societal marketing. The chapter is conceptual in nature and provides a review of some of the latest trends in the field such as boycotting, sustainable consumption, internet activism, anti-branding, Fair trade, green consumerism, and sustainable marketing. The discussion is concluded by providing some suggestions to practitioners and directions for future research.
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Evolution And Fundamental Definitions Of Consumerism

When the term “Consumerism” first made its appearance in the academic literature it was coined with the over-consumption of goods and services. Veblen (1899) studied the newly emergent middle class at the turn of the twentieth century and wrote a detailed social critique of conspicuous consumption. According to Veblen (1899) the upper social class at the time engaged in practices of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure. However, the term has acquired several meanings over time based on different perspectives. The first perspective of consumerism views the term as:

  • 1.

    The manipulative business activities to entice consumers to buy products,

  • 2.

    The second perspective holds the idea that consumerism is the movement that aims as ascertaining consumers’ rights, and

  • 3.

    The third perspective refers to consumption as a way of life or ideology (Yani-de-Soriano and Slater, 2009).

The First Definition: The “Manipulative Perspective”

Vance Packard (1957) stated that consumerism is related to strategies and techniques that aim at encouraging consumers to consume more hence, expanding their needs and desires. According to this view, consumerism is associated with the overuse of promotion, aggressive selling and advertising. Packard (1957) expressed his concern in relation to the overuse of advertising highlighting the risk of manipulating customers into over-consuming. The evolution of the marketing management orientation was characterized by a phase of aggressive selling whereby marketers were mostly concerned with stock levels and as a result businesses focused their efforts on aggressive and promotion. This philosophy, which was identified by Kotler et al. (2008), has been known as the selling orientation. This orientation nourished the “manipulative perspective” whereby businesses focused on aggressive selling rather than customer focus which was at the heart of the marketing orientation and stipulated intense criticism for exploitative and manipulative behavior on the part of businesses.

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