Freedom from social guilt through indulgences

Guilt has always been used as an emotional driver in marketing. Guilt motivates action in so many different spheres:  consumption habits, personal and health-related routines, and even the decision to take out an insurance policy to protect one’s family. In the short term, it works… until you start reflecting on it some time later.

Now that Europe appears to be emerging from a new tunnel into economic confidence, we’re faced with a ‘new normal’ situation. Consumers have already decided, as a matter of mental hygiene, to change their consumption habits. Companies, meanwhile, are starting to use new marketing approaches. And many companies are focusing on frugal indulgence: spending less while still relieving stress through consumption. It’s a mutation of L’Oréal’s “Because I’m Worth It” campaign.

In previous recessions, indulgences were characterised by various differential attributes: they focused on basic needs, overt snob appeal or high intrinsic quality. In 2013, however, European consumers seem to need social-esteem-building indulgences that free them from their feelings of social guilt.

Companies are already generating solutions that maximise the ‘social-guilt-free’ attribute. Kellogg’s makes cereals from rice grown by farmers in the region; Carrefour sells vegetables grown locally by a farmer identified by first and last name… By buying these products, I am supporting my local community and reducing my environmental footprint. I don’t need products that are perfect in terms of sustainability or social responsibility; I just want something that immediately reduces my feelings of guilt.

Trendwatching dedicated its latest trend briefing to guilt-free consumption, but let’s expand this notion to include social aspects. This is a great opportunity for the NGO: I’m sensitive, my prayers that things not get any worse have worked, and now I want to indulge in things that instantly assuage my feelings of guilt. How about a donation that can turn a homeless person’s life around? It takes just three minutes. Now I feel better.


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