Today’s blog optimistically embraces ‘out with the old and in with the new’, inspired by the appropriately entitled ‘Stuffocation – Living More With Less.’

“What’s to be optimistic about people living with (and therefore buying) fewer things ?” you ask. Well, before we divulge it’s probably worth revisiting James Wallman’s central tenet, which is that consumers are eschewing material possessions in preference for experiences, giving rise to ‘experientialism’. So as the stuff we own becomes a source of anxiety, our happiness, success and status will be measured in experiential rather than material terms.

Fear of Missing Out

Along the way ‘Stuffocation’ examines consumerism in 20’s America, the birth of advertising and the rise of planned obsolesence. Each section lays a trail to modern day phenomena such as ‘Status Anxiety’, ‘Affluenza’ and its social media sibling ‘FOMO’ (Fear Of Missing Out). There’s even a reprise of Everett Rogers’ cultural adoption curve from ‘The Diffusion of Innovation’.


Coincidentally, recent news has been peppered with tales of over-supply. As if reaching ‘Peak Beard’ wasn’t bad enough, IKEA announced that we have reached ‘Peak Furnishing’. Apparently we are also fast approaching ‘Peak Clothing’ as the average number of items bought by Americans (64 in 2012) stalled for the first time in decades.

Breath of Fresh Air

Of course you pays your money and takes your choice with cultural forecasting, but overall ‘Stuffocation’ offers plenty for marketing historians, sociologists and crystal ball gazers alike, suggesting that in a post materialist society brands will be rewarded in proportion to their ability to create and deliver experiences. Certainly ‘collaborative consumption’ is building apace with brands like Airbnb, Zipcar and Spotify appearing alongside the possibly less famous Borrow My Doggy, Girl Meets Dress and Parkonmydrive. And a number of established brands have moved into the ‘less is more space’ space with Nudie, Levis and Patagonia advocating repair over re-purchase. At the same time the popularity of experiential entertainment has increased through Punchdrunk, Secret Cinema and the recent immersive production of Sweeney Todd.

Every Little Helps

Accepting that the drinks and technology sectors are some way ahead of the aforementioned curve, the opportunity remains for clearly defined brands to improve the consumer experience. Wallman references an article by Joe Pine in the Harvard Business Review, distinguishing service from experience, as an example “Not only do Apple make sure that their products are products that people love to use. They also think about the packaging, about the box opening experience, even that is unique and engaging”.


Perhaps no surprise then that Tesco have gone back to the familiar brand territory of ‘Serving Britain’s shoppers a little better, every day.’ to recover their fortunes.

New Experience, Fresh Revenue

And beyond that one can only wonder at how organisations already sitting on experiential ‘capital’ might bring those assets to life, reaching out to new audiences and creating deeper relationships with current users. In the cultural sector alone, the opportunities for museums, galleries and performing arts venues to extend beyond ‘Lates’ and ‘Behind the Scenes’ events through new experiential events might go more than some way to bolster ‘secondary spend’. Likewise in publishing where the selling of escapism, either through the imagination (books) or the lives of others (magazines) might merely be the leaping-off point for new experiences. And although the gaming industry are no slouches in this department, the opportunities afforded by next generation of virtual/hyper/hybrid reality are endless.

So can less really mean more this year? We’ll let you be the judges. But one thing is certain – those brands with a clear understanding of what they stand for will be in pole position should the consumer clear-out commence.

Muse regularly work with brands to better understand their potential. If you’d like to more about our work you can visit our website here.