Wednesday, November 10, 2004

How long can social responsibility stay in style?

If so many brands today fancy that they are promoting lifestyles, not products, then they must have a sense of what lifestyles people will find appealing. One especially appealing tactic seems to be targeting “Bobo” values, defined in David Brooks’ highly amusing “Bobos in Paradise.” He sketches a picture of a new kind of person, the Bobo – a term coined to invoke a sense of the contradictions between Bohemian and Bourgeois values. If memory serves, bobo archetypes are baby-boomers who are coming to terms with their anti-materialist, anti-establishment past by seeking out products that will enable them to spend their money without feeling bad about having supported the establishment and spent money on “mere” things. This will involve buying things that don’t look expensive (like driftwood desks), or that display a worldliness (old, rickety yet expensive tables made “in the traditional way” in Indonesia), or that suggest a familiarity with high art (like the clothing under the label, “Wearable Art”), to give a few examples.

(As an aside, there was one memorable incident at a friend’s house, where I’d been invited to dinner and was blithely describing Brooks’ thesis, pointing out how these Bobos will spend a fortune on a dining room table that looks like a worthless piece of driftwood, only to look down at the table and discover that it was, in fact, an elaborately constructed piece of alleged driftwood).

The Economist article suggests that social responsibility, another concept Bobos like to have associated with them, is the “next big thing” when it comes to brands. Do you agree that this is a growing trend for brands and that it will last, or that it will be supplanted soon by other sets of values? How long can social responsibility stay in style and what do you think has the potential to replace it, especially for your generation and the values you see emerging or shifting in younger people?

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