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Issue Report

Collection of full-length papers and in-depth analysis of economic and management issues.

The Rise of Anti-Consumption and Corporate Responses

The Rise of Anti-Consumption and Corporate Responses

CHOI Soon-Hwa

July 6, 2011

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Originally released on May 11, 2011

"Anti-consumption" refers broadly to behaviors and attitudes that oppose consumption. It is a term used to describe a demographic of consumers who avoid or reject consumption on personal preference or social ideology even if they have the resources to consume. Anti-consumption is not caused by economic constraints, but arises from psychological and social motivations, and has evolved from avoidance of specific companies and brands to encompass a variety of phenomena, including loss of individual interest and pleasure in shopping, abstention from specific kinds of consumption for political reasons, and counter-consumption that rejects consumption itself.

As the world enters an era of over-production and information overload, consumer segments have developed that are increasingly indifferent to, or actively avoidant of new consumer stimuli. In other words, the excess supply caused by industrialization and technological development, as well as overly aggressive corporate marketing, have generated unintended side effects. These include diminishing public interest in consumption of goods and services. Radical IT innovation, moreover, has led to "digital fatigue" caused by incessant spam, and unethical use of personal information. In developed markets in particular, a new consumer culture has begun to take shape among educated, high-income consumers that seeks spiritual satisfaction instead of hedonic consumption and material gratification. A growing number of consumers have opted out of the race to status acquisition and bandwagon eering, turning instead to building their families and themselves.

A tendency towards more reasonable and pragmatic consumption has also been gaining momentum among high-income consumers with a clear perspective on consumption and abundant consumer experience. In the US, for example, consumers are reduc ing spending in upscale restaurants in favor of casual dining and fast food establishments, a trend that is visible even among high-income earners making US$70,000- US$100,000 a year. This trend is parallel ed by high-income earners in Korea. According to the results of a household survey conducted by Statistics Korea, household consumption expenditures among the top income quintile have declined since 2004, with this quintile also show ing the slowest recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.

At the same time, collective and organized anti-consumption movements have become increasingly prominent as social aware ness grows and matures. As the 2000s began, anti-consumption campaigns that pointed to the negative consequences of consumption, including pollution and income inequality, have steadily garnered more sympathy among the public. Collective resistance to specific companies as well as product boycotts have become more frequent, while non-profit consumer watchdog organizations that monitor and publicize consumer safety and corporate ethics issues have grown massively. The anti-consumption movement, once a fringe agenda of radical social activists, is now part of the larger culture, and has reached the everyday lives of ordinary consumers. The cinematic moment for this movement came with Super Size Me, which exposed the health consequences of fast food in graphic detail. This 2004 American documentary drew worldwide attention and provoked strong reaction from consumers. Anti-consum ption movements have also been gaining in strength with the introduction of social media like Twitter and Facebook, which have greatly reduced the cost of community outreach. With these online resources, " anti-sumers " can rapidly recruit the public to accomplish its goals. Anti consumption activities have now become daily practice among younger people, the most active users of social media, in the form of ethical consumption and " Good Buy " campaigns.

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