There was a popular, if cynical, phrase that seemed to be everywhere in the 1980s: "Whoever dies with the most toys wins." But after decades of go-go consumerism, many people around the world seem to be saying, "make do with less."
A new study by the communications group Havas Worldwide says there's a global shift underway in patterns of consumption, and especially away from the "shop till you drop" mentality. The survey of more than 10,500 people, ages 16 or older, in 29 global markets found that 70 percent believe over-consumption is putting many societies and the planet at risk.
One of the more striking figures to come out of the study was that 55 percent of those polled felt their country's current economic model was not working. And only 1 in 4 felt the effects of the global economic crisis were limited to developed economies.
"For a number of years, we've tracked the shift away from wasteful spending and toward a more mindful approach to consumption, but what we're seeing now is much more proactive and hands-on," Andrew Benett, global CEO of Havas Worldwide and chief strategy officer of Havas Creative Group, said in a statement.
"People aren't just choosing Brand A over Brand B because it's produced closer to home or treats its workers better," he added. "They're getting involved in the consumption cycle by contributing to the funding or even the creation of products they want and by reselling or renting out their unneeded possessions."
There's still considerable ambivalence about consuming less, however. A large percentage of those polled worry that cutting consumption will hurt jobs, with 58 percent agreeing that buying products is patriotic because it helps their national economy. What's more, over half of those surveyed agreed with the concept that a healthy economy requires a high level of consumer spending.
But there's also a sense that runaway consumerism doesn't equal economic growth. Some of this change is apparently generational, with Millennials (defined as ages 16 to 34) opting less for ownership and more for alternatives such as crowdfunding and peer-to-peer sharing services. For example, one-third of survey respondents predicted that urban residents will more likely share, rather than outright own, a car by 2050.
Benett said this new "less is more" approach is also creating new formats for the exchange of goods.
"The good news for marketers," he continued, "is that the data point to all sorts of ways in which brands can get involved in these new consumption models -- as beacons of trust, as motivators of 'good' behavior, and as builders of community and connections."