Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Consumer is Dead

I’m quickly starting to realize that one of the advantages of having a blog is that you can outsource the really tough work to your readers. Last time I needed a new word for finding something way more important than I originally imagined and you guys came through with some amazing recommendations. So once again I turn to you for help.

The other day Gareth was kind enough to post a booklet from 1994 written by British ad agency Howell Henry. It outlines why and how the advertising industry must change. It’s pretty forward thinking for 2006 and imagining it was written 12 years ago is amazing.

While reading one of those thoughts that has been floating around my head for a while came to the forefront: Consumer is the wrong word. It comes from a different age. “This world was simple; one where consumers were passive creatures, quietly taking in whatever message was directed at them or buying whatever product marketers wanted them to buy.”

That’s not our world any more. People are buying products and associating with brands as a way to form their identity. It’s not that this is new, but we live in a much more savvy culture where people are more aware of the role of marketing in their lives. As Debbie Millman put it, “whether we like it or not, these objects are also now defining us. As we ‘give style’ to our character, we do nothing more than claim and renounce freedoms and choices. Style know ends up signifying our beliefs and our affiliations.”

On top of this, the line between producer and consumer is diminishing. Trends like co-creation, handmade and conscious shopping are giving people a completely new perspective.

Bottom line is consumer to me feels like ‘predator’, it assumes that’s all these people know how to do. It sounds like they’re programmed to consume like a lion is programmed to hunt and kill. That’s just not it at all, however, it’s so much more active and thoughtful.

So I ask all of you, what’s a better word than consumer?

November 17, 2006