Op-Ed: Keeping up with 'The Hustle'
When did keeping up with the Joneses become keeping up with the Kardashians? With the advent of reality television and then social media we were allowed an insight into a lifestyle that before we could only glimpse. With that did we collectively shift our mindset to aspire for the unattainable and are brands encouraging us to want what we can't really afford?
When we started to get a glimpse into the "cribs" of the rich and famous, people who may have started with little, we started to think differently. Well if they can have it, why can't I? We watched playboy bunnies in pink sports cars, real housewives in multimillion dollar homes, Kim buying her first Bentley and again we thought, why can't I? If reality TV warped our sense of reality, social media completely reshaped it. All of a sudden it wasn't just celebrities living lavish lifestyles but influencers too. People who seemingly lived similar lives to us, however they were absolutely living better. Again we thought to ourselves, why can't I?
Aspiration is important to our mental wellbeing, it's crucial for self motivation to have clear goals and milestones in place to push ourselves, but when does aspiration become hazardous? Societally we are taught that the picture of success has four clear milestones - a flourishing career, marriage, owning a home and children. This isn't wildly different from the Joneses. However the Joneses only had each other to compete with, and not the Kardashians. The deck isn't stacked in favour of the Joneses anymore. Yet most of us have seemingly bought into this way of life. We are in a constant state of hustle, but do we even know why?
Pre-Covid everyone was firmly on the hamster wheel, doing everything in their power to effortlessly show that they have it all and not realising the toll it was taking on their mental health. They were hustling. We're encouraged to do this via social media platforms and sometimes even brand communications. As consumers we need brands to slow down with us.
With the pandemic allowing us all time to reassess priorities it showed that people actually could take a break and not feel guilty about it. As we emerge from restrictions and the old reality is coming back to us it's clear to see that very little has changed. Social media feeds are currently filled with the first round of fabulous holidays, making the rest of us want to start planning our own fabulous holidays. Let us not forget the enviable home projects people have completed in the pandemic making the rest of us feel like we need to invest in a glue gun asap! I'm not saying I'm above it all. PR is my livelihood and this largely depends on the aspiration of others. Not to mention I recently booked a holiday and I'm no stranger to home renovations. I'm back in the fray and I didn't even see it happening.
That's the thing about hustle culture, it creeps in on you and all of a sudden you too have become a part of the matrix. It doesn't matter if you choose the red or the blue pill, regardless you will find yourself contemplating buying a pair of Gucci sunglasses to wear to an upcoming brunch. The hustle allows us to have some semblance of the glamorous lifestyle. Without hustling we couldn't afford the things that we really can't afford. Without the hustle we fear we may fall out of the fray and into pity land and that is what Irish people fear most, pity. Saving face is crucial to the façade of the hustle and the glamour it affords us.
The hustle isn't sustainable though. We all know this deep down inside. It just isn't healthy for a human being to work 70 hours a week, crash all weekend and then do it all over again. All for an Instagram picture on the cliffs of Oia and a new marble kitchen? It's nonsensical.
Collectively, as a generation we need to take a step back and take a breath. We have worked through a recession and a pandemic. Many of us have read the disheartening articles how millennials are the first generation worse off than the previous. Then to top it all off we insist on having it all. Maybe though if we stopped trying to keep up with the Kardashians, stopped trying to have it all we might have something better. Wouldn't it be nice to have enough? To have enough and be content, maybe that's what we should be aspiring to.
We're unlikely to change that much though, so let's take baby steps. If you found yourself contemplating Versace swimwear on a Tuesday when the previous Friday you almost didn't have enough money for the big shop, then stop and reassess. If you're planning a trip to Australia but last month you almost didn't have enough to cover your car loan, then stop. If you're hustling instead of living, then stop.
Within my line of work I'm familiar with the importance of aspiration especially for brands and without aspiration we assume brands may lose customers but that doesn't need to be the case. I firmly believe in attainable aspiration and with the right marketing and communications strategies brands can in fact enhance their consumer base and garner more brand loyalty from the right cohorts. Many brands perpetuate hustle culture by making their unaffordable products seem attainable thus encouraging consumers who cannot afford said products to splurge. While this may result in a couple of quick sales, there's no longevity in it. Why? Because these customers are not the target demographic of these types of brands, and after just a couple of purchases they will feel a sense of accomplishment, ticking a box, and they won't likely feel the need to do so again. Therefore a brand has gained a transient consumer, a one hit wonder who will have no loyalty to the brand going forward.
One of the key pillars of building a successful business is and always has been creating consistent demand through customer loyalty. It is crucial to identify the correct target consumer, communicate with them in a way that resonates and bring them on board as a lifelong customer. With the changing mindset of consumers today, the need for everything at breakneck speed aka "the hustle", brands are losing sight of the lifelong customer and this may be viewed as a major oversight in years to come.
Brands need to focus on what is important to consumers in the long-term and consumers need to focus their spend on things which are attainable. I'm not saying consumers should have no aspirational purchases or that brands should overlook consumers outside their main target demographic. Consumers should aspire to brands that they can afford themselves and not let the hustle or the need to "keep up" drive their spending habits. Brands should understand that by only going after transient customers they are throwing budget at consumers who are unlikely to be loyal and neglecting their target demographic.