Affluenza: At What Point Does Conspicuous Consumption Become Toxic?

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Courtesy of Richard MacLean & Associates, LLC

A key principle of marketing, particularly of luxury goods, is to link consumption with success and self-worth. “He who dies with the most toys wins,” as the saying goes. Call it affluenza, conspicuous consumption, or luxury fever; it’s part of our culture. The environmental consequences of such behavior are only now starting to be recognized: hypocritical and inconsistent actions with respect to the environment can lead to a faded image. Is your company’s brand at risk?

Every once in a while a news report will cause me to smack the side of my head and shout, “What were they thinking?” Stories of shameless hypocrisy usually don’t trigger this response. No, it has to reach the extreme level of disconnect from reality wherein someone blissfully can take action on two diametrically opposing notions simultaneously. Some might call such behavior cognitive dissonance or schizophrenia; I call it totally whacko.

The latest bout of head slapping was triggered by two stories. First, Time magazine ran a feature article reporting that Sir Richard Branson is launching a space tourism business called Virgin Galactic. Then, the next month, FORTUNE reported that he “is set on saving the planet” by initiating the US$25-million “Virgin Earth Challenge” reward for the best plan to remove greenhouse gases.

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