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Black Friday: A Consumerist Conundrum

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The last quarter of each year enjoys the status of being the fun-filled portion as it brings about a series of festivals and events. Among the various celebrations, Christmas and the Gregorian New Year remain fairly common across the globe. In the more Christian centers of the world, other festivals like Thanksgiving join in; and on the opposite end of the cultural spectrum, the Chinese celebrate their Chinese New Year soon after. India observes the two major festivals of Dussehra and Diwali while various others dot the calendar.

A few things remain constant across these temporal variations – the merry people, the celebrations, and the unabashed spirit of consumerism.

Festivals tend to lose their original meaning while they all morph into celebratory shopping sprees. Not that this piece seeks to discuss or change the viewpoint on the interpretation of festivals - that is a wholly different topic.

Festivals are potentially the best time to be a seller – one essential half of the sale. With people already looking to celebrate and spend, festivals prove to be the perfect catalyst to pump up the sales. Marketers drive the thirst for acquisition in their consumers.

They capitalize on the populace the best they can: this goes from ads spanning pages in every major newspaper to through the personal touch targeted online advertisements provide; from frequent notifications on mobile devices to cellular messages from sellers notifying about sales and offers.
Each and every one of these is created to get the consumers to, well, consume.

Eventually, they all normalize over-consumption. Casually strolling through malls with carefully designed advertisements and posters or scrolling through personally targeted products on your Amazon homepage – none of them stick out of the ordinary. A lot of research goes into each element: the advertisement design, placement and the text of content, as well as fine-tuning recommendations to ensure entrapment – essentially making users always find something interesting, regardless of the actual utility.

In a sale, there is another crucial party involved – the buyer. And they are as interested in consuming as the seller is in getting them to.

Accumulation is ingrained into the minds of humans through thousands of years of evolution. The name ‘hunter-gatherer’ is no misnomer. Even in today’s abundant world, the buying process stimulates the same heady rush of dopamine that was essential for survival in the more unpredictable times. People, far from being unaware of it, choose to exploit it through retail therapy.

Consumerism has received half-hearted bashing in pop-culture. Movies like Fight Club make it their point to drag on about the ‘evils’ of consumerism while classics like They Live showcase the same message from a wildly different viewpoint. 

Their irony is not lost. The end reason for the existence of these movies is, of course, to make a profit. There’s a natural dissonance between self and society. By painting a picture that exploits this dissonance and portrays the audience as better than others, it makes them feel better about themselves. This sense of feel-good is exploited to get people to consume the productions.

Eventually a quandary arises. Spending more is a non-issue. Expenditure is, in fact, a good indicator of an economy’s status and health. At the same time, with an ever-increasing ensemble of products designed to pique your inner gatherer, marketers have created the perfect trap to drive their own profits up. 
An economy with abnormal over-spending or under-spending is not healthy, and neither is the normalization of a culture that promotes mindless consumption.

Posted by Pratik Anand

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