Consumers are focusing on shared experiences
Consumers are focusing on shared experiences
A view from Jackie Hughes

Think BR: The new language of consumerism

The new model of consumerism has shared experience at its heart, writes Jackie Hughes, group strategy director, Flamingo.

When consumerism really kicked-off post-war, advertisers told it to us straight. They were proud of the products they made and wanted to shout it from the roof tops.

Buy my car because it goes fast. Buy my baking soda because it makes your cakes rise. Based on fulfilling a specific need, the language was one of selling, pure and simple.

It is one that still permeates brand structures today and certain ads still do it very well.

In the 80s and 90s the next way of brand thinking evolved to be built around insight. Advertisers wanted to know what was going on in consumers’ heads and tap into that. 

This psychological approach was designed first and foremost around seduction. 

This commitment to creating desires and instructions has become extremely sophisticated ... but it tends to ignore the cultural, the social and the collective dynamic which shapes what people think and how they behave.

It can understand personality, values, attractions … but all on an individual level.

Today, the way contemporary social and cultural realities have unfolded means this model, too, needs to evolve.


At Flamingo, we travel all around the world talking to consumers, from Birmingham to Beijing or Bogota. What we are increasingly finding is that people are consuming in more collective ways. 

This doesn’t just mean that they are signing up to Groupon; it means that they are viewing their ongoing consumerist habits through a new, more empathic and more cultural-social lens. 

There is still a ‘me’ at its core, it is still driven by ‘I want’, but the heightened value of a shared experience - 'we' - is becoming increasingly attractive.  

This trend for consumer 'trade unions' which shape systems to get what they want is building on the previous communications systems of selling and seduction to create something with deeper cultural context. 

The brands that succeed in the next decade will be those which talk to people as individuals within a group and whose propositions will be built on more than just brand benefits or consumer insight. 

The successful brands will create social, cultural platforms which provide a holistic experience.

In this way, brands will become bigger than the sum of their experiences and will create living cultural institutions to which consumers will want to ‘sign-up’ and become members of. 

More than ‘virtual networks’, these real world institutions will create an entirely new language. 

Take Ikea - a brand that has created an entirely new vocabulary for the home.

Through their structure and systems they have then created the dictionary which allows people to ‘speak’ home. 

This has been such a success in some parts of the world, for example in China, that young people hang out in Ikea at the weekend instead of at the mall. 

Nike Woman’s recent campaign also creates social structures to ‘sign up’ to by placing you in a gang when you enrol. 

Similarly global campaigns like Persil/Omo's Dirt is Good or Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty give people a reason to sign up to the brand, a sense of belonging and structures through which to engage.

This is where the social movement that the brand has created exists within a cultural context and thereby dramatically increases its power.

But be warned - it is not easy to achieve.

Maintaining a credible cultural institution for your brand requires constant hard work and a sophisticated ability to get the balance of these structures and relationships right.

The workings of the brand on this front should remain invisible - the successful brand institutions will allow them to feel like consumer-led collectives, responding to real consumer needs in a cultural context. 

This is what will take us from low-level virtual and social participation, to signing-up and exchanging vows with brands through a longer term, culturally-driven commitment.

Jackie Hughes, group strategy director, Flamingo