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Consumer Culture Is Counterculture

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By    |   Monday, 04 February 2019 07:42 AM

Small, upstart brands are creating fear in the hearts of large established brands. Frito-Lay is up in arms over a brand called Peatos, which is a “skinny orange-colored snack food (think Cheetos) made from peas and lentils. Frito-Lay is going after the brand for trademark infringement.

They think that Peatos is an infringement of the Cheetos name. This is similar to what Hellman’s attempted to do with Just Mayo. The Hellman’s case was a waste of money as Just Mayo changed its name to Just and made Hellman’s look like a jar of chemicals.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Peatos is another “upstart” brand that is healthful and natural similar to Kite Hill almond-based dairy-alternative products such as cheeses and yogurts (General Mills is one of its investors). Tyson is investing in non-chicken and non-meat brands to hedge the future.

We hear about companies such as Nestl√©, Unilever, Campbell’s, Kroger, Coca-Cola, Walmart, and Pepsi buying smaller, niche brands that are capturing customer dollars and addressing contemporary customer desires. Many of these smaller brands are non-conformist: they reject the normal approach to ingredients, marketing, business models, and/or usage. Some of them are prestigious not because they are classy, but because they are so cool.

In 1968, Stewart Brand published the Whole Earth Catalog. Its provenance was being a counterculture magazine and product catalogue. It continued to be published until 1972, and then sporadically, until 1998. Whole Earth Catalog provided essays and articles. But, its main claim to fame was product reviews. Its philosophy matched the Sixties alternative zeitgeist of self-sufficiency, a holistic view of the world, ecology, progressive education, "do it yourself" (DIY), and homeopathies. Whole Earth Catalog’s slogan was "access to tools".

The catalogue opened with a statement of its purpose.

“We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory—as via government, big business, formal education, church—has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.”

Since 1968, a lot of what Whole Earth Catalog proposed has become normal accepted behavior and attitudes. Environmentalism, distrust in institutions, personalization, self-help, grow your own foods (or buy local), community-oriented, computers, and do-it-yourself projects.

Look at the continuing growth at Home Depot. At its latest reporting in mid-August 2018, Home Depot raised its growth targets based on the strength of the home improvement sector, with customers seemingly willing to spend on do-it-yourself activities. Or, consider the juicing category. Making one’s own vegetable and fruit juices is now another consistent business with many small appliance makers offering several versions of juicers.

The loss of trust in institutions continues to be supported globally by numerous surveys, the most visible being the Edelman Trust Barometer. This trust deficit has led to people relying on peers, influencers, and like-minded others, as well as strangers’ online ratings and rankings.

And, we have the new age version of past ways of living. Food has been the most visible industry to experience the modernization of Sixties dietary habits. Supermarket shelves and chill-cases are filled with ingredients and staples from the tie-dyed, granola-eating, flower power, counterculture. Soy milk, almond milk, Kombucha, kelp, daikon, nori, miso, turmeric, and tofu are no longer strange. Vegetarians, vegans and macrobiotic dieters are everywhere.

Meal kits, actually cooking a meal from individual fresh ingredients, are an example of making meals from scratch in a contemporary manner. Crossover vehicles and SUVs are just modern versions of the station wagon that ferried children and pets and large amounts of goods around town.

After 50 years, it appears as if our current consumer culture is just a modernized counterculture: entrepreneurial, personal, planet and person healthy, and do-it-yourself.

Larry Light, a global brand revitalization expert, is co-author with Joan Kiddon of Six Rules for Brand Revitalization. He also is the Chief Executive Officer of Arcature, a marketing consulting company that has advised a variety of marketers in packaged goods, technology, retail, hospitality, automotive, corporate and business-to-business, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

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After 50 years, it appears as if our current consumer culture is just a modernized counterculture: entrepreneurial, personal, planet and person healthy, and do-it-yourself.
consumer, culture, counterculture
Monday, 04 February 2019 07:42 AM
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