Utilitarian Revolution

 In Insight

Product, Price, Place and Promotion must make room for the fifth P of marketing, Purpose. Appealing exclusively to emotional and rational instinct is becoming banal and prosaic. Consumers are aware, more than ever, of an advertiser’s tactics. It’s time to do the honourable thing and instil irrefutable purpose in our work.

“We only escape from ourselves”
– Antoine Geiger

So runs the powerful lament of Antoine Geiger, whose Sur-Fake project depicts faces being sucked into smartphone screens, reflecting the omnipotence of technology. The piece describes our absolute dependence on devices – through which we assure ourselves, ironically, of a sense of independence. “The rapid dissemination of trends and the ubiquity of ‘correctness’ and ‘good taste’ have led not to greater originality but to greater conformity” explain Kate Franklin and Caroline Till of FranklinTill Studio and editors of Viewpoint. This paradox of individualism is not exclusive to digital media, on the contrary, the cyberverse merely reflects our societal systems. Democracy itself celebrates and encourages individualism – yet manifests in majority conformity. And when conformity disappoints extremes are embraced.

The global airwaves of society are relentlessly dominated by powerful conflicting ideologies. Left vs right, the holy and the godless, democracy against autocracy. See this hypercultural output from Mike Diva – ‘Japanese Donald Trump Commercial’ (pictured above) which takes the already extreme views of one Donald J Trump and represents them with exaggeration and farfetched embellishment.

Of course, these extreme interpretations tend to misrepresent our majority reality: the dominant occidental culture is that of a godless, somewhat democratic, centre-ground. Not at all extreme, it is instead a vague, comparatively mediocre no mans land. It might as well be referred to as ‘disinterested’. Just look at the participation in the world’s biggest political event, the US presidential race. Just 9% of US citizens have voted for their two forerunning presidential candidates. It seems, although distinctly memorable, the more extreme the message, the more alienated many become.

This issue did not come without warning; the foreboding sentiment of Friedrich Nietzsche “God is dead” echoes throughout modernity “and we have killed him”. It is partly this self-realisation of the absence of absolute ideology or identity that breeds a sense of entitlement among Gen Y. This particular niche of the issue is described by LS:N as ‘The Sharded Self’, whereby consumers portray an ideal version of themselves online. Their method of addressing this problem of little ideological ambition is not far from the solution Nietzsche himself suggests:

“Culture should replace scripture”

Cultural output that arises from this sociological predicament include the work of thai photographer Champoo Baritone, who’s real life Instagram project (pictured above) contrasted the filtered Instagram world with reality. Selfies and Instagram art may at first seem purposeless and shallow, but they do teach us one thing; consumers understand the difference between the sensationalised lifestyles they’re being sold and the reality of the situation. Retailers such as D.Efect welcome this realness in a philosophy they coin ‘radical honesty’. They ask:

“We are used to only show the most ‘perfect’ sides of us. But it’s up to whom to decide what is ‘perfect’?”

However, we must remain critical of how culture is expressed and what effect that has on humanity, ecology and our future generations. This is a method known as ‘Whole System Thinking’. It could be perceived that consumerism, and not culture, has replaced the religious systems of old. While D.Efect’s philosophical musings create a deeper marketing message, they’re advocating a potentially detrimental ideology: that people need to purchase their individuality. Curating a series of products to build what they can define as ‘themselves’. This does give their products purpose, but is that purpose beneficial to humanity? It could be argued that it is impossible to reach satisfaction through this approach, leading consumers simply to buy more and more. That is until the Synopticon are able to peer through the shroud, revealing the methods used to sell to them.

Suffocation is a term used by James Wallman, in his book of the same name (pictured above), to describe the current predicament many find themselves in, with a surplus of product and drought of satisfaction. The popularity of Sakte-TV shouldn’t come as a surprise, providing respite from the assault of product. Publications like Minimalissimo help consumers manage their lives with less. And fashion brands such as Saint Studio, Brazil, adopt a ‘less-is-more’ approach to retail.

It doesn’t stop there. Cafe’s like the Flotsam and Jetsam Cafe prefer offering the most readily available product over a multitude of choice for their customers. BuyMeOnce present products that “don’t break the bank, don’t break the planet… that don’t break at all!” While waste-little fashion brands like Hiut Denim and Tom Cridland keep on cropping up. All offering consumers less, in spite of quintessential marketing logic. Much like Vitsoe (pictured above) who closed all their shops on black friday, never have sales, never sell items on commission and have very minimal markups.

It would be easy to label such a trend ‘minimalism‘, and indeed there is a rising number of minimal products and services coming to market. LS:N choose to analyse the situation through three different guises, Backlash Brands, the Polarity Paradox and Anti-Authenticity Marketing – relevant in their own right. Viewpoint name it, simply, Rebellion – speaking of a tendency to act disruptively, much like Curzon’s expletive Save Curzon Soho campaign (pictured above). After all:

“If you’re not pissing off 50% of people, you’re not trying hard enough.”
– Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia

But if we’re to look at the wider picture, it would seem brutally obvious that consumers are screaming ‘give me a genuine reason’. It’s evident through the anti-authenticity trend that consumers are sick of the bullshit. It’s clear that extremes and boundaries are being pushed despite a majority craving for simplicity in a chaotic world. Some are taking action in order to rectify this. Take ‘never sorry’ artist come activist Ai Weiwei laying face down in the pebbles on the Greek island of Lesbos. Ai has moved part of his studio to a ‘Weiwei Camp’ on the island where he works and helps the many Syrian refugees passing through. This one image, taken for India Today draws attention and shows empathy with the situation. Of course, the image alone would cause offence and fall to attention seeking allegations. But Weiwei’s intentions are clear, he aims to use art for a purpose, a utilitarian approach which the advertising industry should adopt in order to resonate with modern audiences.

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