Our industry sees people not as citizens, parents, children or friends, but as consumers; human beings defined by what they consume – not who they are, who they love, what they believe or what they dream.
Until we stop defining people by what they consume we’ll go round the houses trying to solve the planetary crisis of climate change and biodiversity. We’ll continue to create campaigns for products that put profit ahead of the planet.
In the 15th century, to "consume" was to be "one who squanders or wastes".
Yes, the meaning has changed to what we understand today, but it is telling that its modern evolution is so relevant to the global crisis we now find ourselves in.
It's hard not to argue that we’re in the business of encouraging waste and squander.
Plastic production for "consumer brands" is set to peak by 2030.
We reach Earth Overshoot Day earlier each year. The day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.
In 2021, it fell on July 29. The average UK household throws away 20 per cent of all food purchased. The list goes on.
And all because of the insatiable appetite of the "consumer".
Consumerism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary in two ways: the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers, and the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.
The latter has become the accepted understanding of what our industry does – we drive consumerism.
Words have power and meaning
By referring ourselves as consumer experts, consumer agencies, consumer teams, we are both implicitly and explicitly reinforcing consumerism.
Do most professionals believe that is a good thing? I doubt it.
Just imagine for a moment what changing that one word would do to our industry and its influence on culture, business, people and the world.
No more consumer research – instead, we’d hear from people about what they think. No more consumer news or correspondents; just information about how we live and work.
No more consumer agencies. No more agencies specialising in squander and waste.
Agencies would be in the business of being creative; helping businesses; helping people; and, above all, not harming the planet. We wouldn't hear from consumers about our client products. We’d hear from people.
By ditching that one word we would start conversations about why we’ve dropped it. We’d show our peers, clients, colleagues, families and friends that we believe people are more than just what they consume to us.
Consumerism is driving the planet to extinction. Consumer agencies are in the driving seat.
Let’s start at the beginning and ditch the "consumer".
Zac Schwarz is a freelance creative director