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Consumerism at a crossroad: Brands finding new ways to get customers

By in Culture
Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

Twitter in the 2010s saw everything from corporate account showdowns to the rising popularity of unboxing videos, and ironically, an increased concern for sustainability. As we barrel towards the end of the decade, where does consumerism go from here? 

It is more complicated than ever for responsible consumers to get an accurate perception of brands when large corporations use social media to humanize themselves. We hear the voice of massive companies on a level playing field with us consumers, especially on social media platforms. 

In 2016, fast-food chain Wendy’s became notorious for their streak of tweets insulting Burger King and McDonald’s for their frozen meat even going as far as roasting users for going to the competing chain. 

When Wendy’s tweets at users to stop wearing their hat backwards because they “aren’t Bart Simpson, and it isn’t 1997,” consumers can quickly forget that they are a multi-billion dollar corporation with an international supply chain and not just a cheeky friend on Twitter.

Corporations frequently diversify their online voice and use multiple niche accounts to achieve widespread engagement. 

For example, if a consumer dislikes the social media personality of Netflix’s official Twitter or Instagram accounts, they can follow the Facebook page, Netflix Is A Joke, or even the Twitter of BoJack Horseman, a character from a Netflix original of the same name — both of which are run by Netflix.

With more diverse voices from corporations, there is a higher likelihood of consumers finding one that aligns with their interests. Consumers can lose a sense of scale by filtering out the aspects they don’t like and in consuming what they want.

Despite its ubiquity, social media marketing has seen its fair share of controversy over the last 10 years. In 2018, e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL was forced to shut down its Facebook and Instagram after widespread allegations that its accounts were encouraging teens to vape. 

The story is ongoing, but the case demonstrates that consumers had drawn a line for what is acceptable in the digital world and they perceived that JUUL crossed it. With this said, the social media reach of corporations themselves is an afterthought compared to the volume of user-produced content. 

With an impressive 15.8 million subscribers, the YouTube channel Unbox Therapy promotes the philosophy that opening up a flashy new product will make the user feel better. Established in 2010, Unbox Therapy dwarfs the 414,000 subscribers of the official Amazon YouTube account, showing that the culture of buying is spread between consumers as well as corporations. 

Thousands of YouTube videos feature normal shoppers excitedly showing their latest purchases. 

Videos featuring massive shopping hauls of designer clothes, tech and even food are prime examples of user-generated content promoting extreme overconsumption. Flexing purchases is not new by any means, but haul style videos are an efficient way to encourage consumption to an audience of millions.

Despite messages of unsustainable consumption, the prevalence of environmental issues in the 2019 federal election demonstrated that sustainability is at the forefront of public consciousness. The public is not only expressing interest in sustainable products but supporting it with their wallets, too. 

A study by New York University indicated that sales of sustainably marketed products in the United States increased 29 per cent from 2013 to 2018, and is expected to continue growing. 

When looking to the future of consumerism, there is one thing we’re pretty sure won’t go anywhere soon: the mighty power of word of mouth. Even with advertising algorithms and social media bombardment, consumers still look to people they trust when making decisions. 

Trust may be cultivated by online influencers or reviewers, but often it is those in our social circles whose opinions we care most about. If we can all strive to think critically about our purchases and consume sustainably, those around us will notice and just maybe follow suit. 

Wyatt Henley

Graphic: Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

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