April 5, 2015

Consumption of “Consumed”

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Demographics,Marketing — by xrematon @ 8:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I am in the throes of an identity crisis. Having just read Harry Wallop’s “Consumed“, I am pretty sure I should be classified as a Wood Burning Stover (well, I am partial to The Guardian and Radio 4), but I really don’t drink any kind of coffee, let alone know how to use a mocha pot; I also think that farmers’ markets are a rip off and have never been to Daunt bookshop. So perhaps I am not a WBS…

Why this angst? Well, this questioning of ‘where do I fit in’ is the first response one has when reading “Consumed”. In it, Wallop sets out his thesis that the traditional determinants of class (ownership of land, title, educational background) have been superseded by consumer choice. Goodbye aristocrats, upper class, middle class, working class etc, and hello to these new groups (listed below in terms of buying power and status):

  • Portland Privateers: the nouveaux riche, generally foreign
  • Rockabillies: public school, Tatler-reading, of red trousers fame
  • Wood Burning Stovers: close to my heart
  • Middletons: lower middle class done good
  • Sun Skittlers: readers of the aforementioned paper, content in their status
  • Asda Mums: striving to do better for their family
  • Hyphen Leighs: blingy and brand-obsessed

As befits a text written by a journalist, it’s all very entertaining and most readable, in particular given the honesty with which Wallop describes his own background (very much at the top end – this is someone who received Christmas presents from earls, countesses and viscounts). And there are many interesting little nuggets he draws up, such as the story behind the development of the first M&S ready meal (chicken Kiev), as well as the unexpected similarities between the top and low end. This includes disdain for culture and education, as well as tendency to produce large broods.

Given that we are all meant to be middle class now, it is perhaps somewhat ironic/paradoxical that the area where the book fell short was in terms of thinking about the middle. The Portland Privateers, the Rockabillies and the WBS clearly don’t represent a large group – no figures are given but I am sure they are in the top 5-10% income wise; and then there are the three groups at the lower end, but just one for the middle. Why don’t we hear about them – or there is nothing to say because no one actually wants to be there?

If these groups are about lifestyles, then perhaps it has to be at the extreme to capture our imagination. In marketing more generally, this reflects what we are seeing: namely the death of the middle. The struggles of Tesco and the success of Aldi and Waitrose demonstrate this well.

This is very much a British book: about an old British obsession (class) and a new one (consumption). I do wonder whether the equivalent could be written in other markets where choice and affluence have recently appeared on the scene and are changing the dynamics of identity and social status. I wonder what Wood Burners Stovers might be in China. Actually, does Boden even exist out there? There are Boden factories – not quite the same!

Boden in China

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