“As we speak, consumers everywhere need reminding of just how fat and unattractive they are”
'Roger Dodger' (2002)
Even a cursory reading of man’s inhumanity towards man illustrates that if you want to exercise, encourage and excuse the inhumane treatment of your fellow human beings, you dehumanize them and emphasize their otherness. It helps if you find an easy and pejorative label which emphasizes their apart-ness. History is full of such cruelty.
And that’s precisely the problem with the tired label of ‘The Consumer’.
It suggests that the person for whom you’re making stuff is not a real person at all.
We ascribe more humanity to our pets than we do to the people upon whom our discounted cash flows, share prices, options, pensions, careers, professional egos, livelihoods and lifestyles depend.
After all, who calls their pet simply ‘Dog’? We’d look askance at anybody who did. We’d suspect that they didn’t really love their dog that much. That in their eyes it was just disposable blob of meat on four legs. And we’d harbour suspicions as to what other forms of indifference and cruelty such an owner might be hiding from us.
No, we don’t call our dogs ‘Dog’. We call them Louie, Bobby, Spike, Trixibell… Because we love them.
How odd then that we should choose to call people Consumers. That we shouldn’t ascribe to them something approaching the same degree of humanity we do to our pets.
For the label of ‘The Consumer’ does dehumanise people. And not only is that rude. It’s also unhelpful.
It creates an 'Us' and a 'Them'
It encourages the view that 'They' are somehow different from Us. Less sophisticated, intelligent, demanding…
It suggests that people are merely a consuming machine.
It vastly overestimates the importance of what we produce.
It encourages us to understand that person only with regard to their purchase habits and blinds us to the broader contexts and real lives that our brands play some small part in.
It allows for the construction of models of human motivations and behaviors that bear no relationship to any reality we ourselves live in.
It legitimizes the construction of those laughably misguided and elaborate confections that pass themselves off as ‘insights”.
It assigns motivations to people’s behaviours that we’d feel insulted by if anyone assigned them to us.
It allows for a standard of behavior towards people than in some neighborhoods would get you punched in the face – or worse.
It legitimizes and excuses the manufacture and distribution of stuff that’s patronizing, cajoling, boring, polluting and insulting.
‘The Consumer’ is a label that is both loathsome and unhelpful.
Ugly, tortured, opaque, unaware and debased, it would take a lifetime to dismantle the edifice that is marketingland’s language and strip it down to something more comprehensible, normal, useful, human and meaningful.
But we could make a start with ‘The Consumer.’
It’s time we killed it once and for ever.
Just a thought.