Monthly Archives: November 2013

Status update anxiety

Another extract from my conspicuous experience work for Viewpoint, this time looking at the downside…

With experience-driven consumption becoming the new status marker, social media, from Facebook to Instagram has become the shop window for people to sell the idea of their fabulous lives. But while consumers may feel relieved of the pressure to buy physical status symbols, they feel increasingly pressurised to showcase perfect lifestyles and experiences.

I share, therefore I am

Social media has helped shift the pursuit of experience from something personal and even spiritual to a trading card in the game of one-upmanship. And as people increasingly live online, the version of their lives that they choose to share on social networks can shape how others see them and how they see themselves too.

“Facebook has become a place where we brag”, says Nataly Kogan, founder of positivity-based social network Happier.com. “Our social circles on there are so vast and diverse, people feel like they’re on stage on Facebook”. According to a 2012 JWT survey, three quarters of US and UK consumers feel people use social media to brag about their lives, while nearly 6 in 10 felt that it was important that their social media presence conveyed a certain image about them – what the New Yorker calls a “casual predominance of personal branding”. Instagram alone has over 90m photos with hashtag #me – with a further 23m with the ultimate identity hashtag #selfie.

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With each brag, each filtered and curated experience posted online, consumers may aim to show off their lovely lives and boost their status, but they’re creating angst too. Kogan says “It makes sense that when people compare their own real life to others’ shiny, curated posts, they feel bad. While consumers know the effort that goes into creating their own perfected image of their awesome lifestyle and experiences, this knowledge deserts them when looking at others’ images.

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A study by researchers at two German universities shows that social media can be a minefield of insecurity and envy. Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction found that a third of people felt worse about their lives after visiting Facebook, especially after viewing others’ holiday photos or their social interactions and “likes”. The report also found that men and women tried to make their lives look better on Facebook by highlighting their personal achievements, social lives and their looks, but this can generate an “envy spiral” as people try to out-do each other with increasingly glowing images of their lifestyles.

A US survey by NBC’s Today show found that even Pinterest creates feelings of failure among women, who feel unable to live up to the perfect homes, crafts and kids’ parties that they see showcased on the site. 42% of mothers are stressed by trying to live up to these images of perfect family life, while the pressure to take pictures of every important family experience causes stress for 83%. Indeed, Kogan believes that rather than simply enjoying experiences, consumers are focusing on how they’ll look to their social network: “Instead of looking at that beautiful sunrise or tasting that delicious dinner, they’re trying to capture it for social media.”

Going dark

Consumers are beginning to question the way that sharing an experience can get in the way of experiencing it. Kogan believes “There is a focus shift towards appreciating what’s actually happening in our lives, not curating an epic version of it online”. One way to achieve this is for social media to stop getting in the way of enjoying experiences. A recent campaign by McCann Australia (under the guise of graduate Alex Haigh) encourages people to stop “phubbing” – “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention”. The website StopPhubbing.com suggests that the average restaurant will see 36 cases of phubbing per dining session, with the majority of phubbers using their phones to make status updates.  My Phone Is Off For You aims to counteract the problem of distracted smartphone users, by wrapping smartphones in a “phonekerchief” that blocks network service. Spanish phone network Movistar has launched an app called app I Off You that helps people enjoy mobile-free time with their nearest and dearest. Users activate an “enjoy” button when they want downtime, and if anyone reaches for their handset, an alarm sounds, demanding that the phone be left on the table.

Phonekerchief

The jury is still out on whether wearable technology like Google Glass can allow consumers to capture their experiences without detracting from them – several fashion insiders wore them during the spring/summer 2014 catwalk shows, but the technology is not yet seamless enough to allow recording and sharing without fiddling with the mechanism.  Instead, the new wave of wearable cameras, such as the Narrative Clip or The Autographer, quietly capture moments of the user’s day at regular intervals, creating a more realistic representation of their experiences. Kogan also points to ephemeral photo messaging service Snapchat as an example of sharing true moments as they happen, without the filter of trying to perfect one’s identity.

While experts expect the drive for experiences to continue to grow, the way they are recorded and  showcased is changing. The drive to keep up with the virtual Joneses may be a part of online living, but services that empower people to share what their lives are really like and allow people to connect in a more real way, could help conspicuous experience gain a new level of authenticity – and power.

Images from top: Happier.com; Planet Fitness No Pintimidation campaign; My Phone Is Off For You phonekerchief

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Conspicuous experience

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “conspicuous experience” this year – the idea that our experiences are becoming a greater status marker than our possessions, especially through the lens of social media. After going on about it to friends and colleagues for months, Viewpoint allowed me to turn my ramblings into a feature, an extract of which you will find below…

Post-recession, there’s still not much money to go around, which is leading many consumers to focus their spending on experiences that boost memories, relationships and sense of adventure, rather than products that will lose their thrill or usefulness quickly.

Unusual events have almost become the norm for urbanites, who flock to site-specific cinema nights, secret supper clubs, salons, lectures and neighbourhood festivals. Pop-up events have gone mainstream, as consumers realize their value lasts long beyond the event: a one-time event can offer more surprise and discovery than even the most longed-for product. Brands have swiftly jumped on the bandwagon, with every household name creating pop-ups to launch or celebrate the experience of using key products, from Nike’s Feel London “exploration space” to Magnum ice-cream bars’ Pleasure Store in Toronto. While consumers continue to appreciate innovative and immersive brand experiences, they’re also looking for unique and personal experiences that help express and build their own identity.

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As Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of recent book Happy Money: The Science Of Smarter Money, write, “Dozens of studies show that people get more happiness from buying experiences than from buying material things. Experiential purchases — such as trips, concerts and special meals — are more deeply connected to our sense of self, making us who we are”. In the book, Dunn and Norton highlight 5 ways for people to gain greater happiness from their spending: the first is “Buy Experiences”.

Tom Marchant, co-founder of experiential travel company Black Tomato, believes, “People are realizing that its experiences that give colour and richness to their lives – they are defining themselves by what they’ve done.” Even luxury consumers are refocusing their spending on experiences, rather than goods. A Boston Consulting Group study found that sales of luxury experiences outpaced luxe goods by 50% in 2012, with even consumers in emerging markets beginning to switch their allegiances from branded goods to indulgent experiences. “All over the world, luxury shoppers tell us they’d rather spend more on experiences than on clothes and jewelry. They’ve gone from ‘all my friends and I wear Cartier’ to ‘I cherish spa days with my friends,’” says Michelle Eirinberg Kluz, a Boston Consulting Group principal. “Although experiences are more intangible than an item, consumers consider them more memorable.”

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But they’re not exactly keeping these extraordinary experiences under their hats – sharing (and even showing off) details of their experiences seems to be a key element of their personal value. James Wallman, author of Stuffocation, points out, before the advent of social media, status symbols only needed to be visible to those physically nearby: “what you owned – car, handbag, branded clothes – counted much more in terms of signifying status. After all, who knew you’d just been to the latest restaurant or away for the weekend?” But now, with the world increasingly viewed through the prism of Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter and even Snapchat, what people do has more impact than what they have. “Because of how many followers and friends you have on Facebook and Twitter, far fewer people will actually see you driving your swanky car or holding your fancy handbag than will know that you’re sitting on a chair lift in Chamonix, watching the sunset from the rooftop of your riad in Marrakech, or playing golf on the roof of Selfridges”, says Wallman.

This conspicuous experience can be showcased through stories at dinner parties or over fences or watercoolers, but is most powerful when told and filtered through social media. As edible experiences guru Sam Bompas of Bompas & Parr  told me, “Consumers need to have more creative lives now – it’s no longer good enough to just go to the pub on the weekend. People feel they have to do something fantastic, and get the pictures to prove it”.

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When it comes to experiential spending, travel tops the list for many consumers. Marchant says, “Many people don’t see travel as discretionary spend – they’re still pursuing value, but travel is something they’re less willing to give up. It’s something they can look forward to, so they’re willing forgo spending on other items”. According to McKinsey research, 30% of European luxury consumers are willing to spend less on luxury goods in order to afford experiences such as travel, while a TripAdvisor survey in Spain found that 58% of consumers would sacrifice buying new clothes to afford a holiday, while 55% would buy fewer gifts and 50% would reduce their alcohol consumption.

A key part of many trips is the ability to share the experience, whether through Facebook albums, live tweets or instant Instagram shares. Some travel companies are leveraging conspicuous experience to weave status updates right into the itinerary. A French ski resort in Vars enables has installed video cameras to capture skiers and snowboarders best tricks, which can be posted directly to Facebook. In Majorca, Sol Wave House has transformed itself into a Twitter-themed hotel, which allows guests to order room service or drinks by the pool via tweets. Sydney’s Instagram-themed hotel, 1888, all rooms are decorated with blown-up Instagram snaps (as well as the kind of nostalgic/authentic décor Instagrammers favour), plus a booth in the lobby for “selfies” (self-portraits captured by a smartphone camera), while guests with over 10,000 followers on the app, or those who take the best pictures of the hotel, can get a free night’s stay.

Images from top: Nike Feel London; Casestagram; Sol Wave House

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