Brands in the Anthropocene
The Waning of Affect
In recent times, human activity has had a major influence on earth, leading to the alteration of the climate and the environment. The Great Acceleration that started around 1950 with indicators such as global warming, ocean acidification, animal extinction, have led geologists to proclaim a new epoch for our times, called the Anthropocene.
The cognitive ability of the human species has led us to diagnose the concept of the Anthropocene and become wary of the future. We are inspired to take action in order to ‘save the planet’. There are innumerable activations around climate change and prescribed steps to be followed to serve as an antidote. Climate change and sustainability have become a form of a meta narrative to human life.
In today’s era of consumption, businesses are the modal pieces that instigate causes of ecological change. Brands are thus evolving their business approaches and product offerings to fit into the narrative. Consumers are more thoughtful of their consumption and brands are scrambling to appeal to them. Sustainable, recyclable, eco-friendly, environment-friendly, clean, green, efficient, the list of word play in brand communication can go on. Brands across categories and industries from Food to Beauty to Tech to Housing are offering such ‘friendly’ products.
Let us take a look at the beauty industry. The latest trend of Clean Beauty offers natural and sustainable products that are good for humans and the planet. But what do these terms really mean? There is no regulated definition and brands can claim to be clean through language loopholes. Brands are being accused of ‘Greenwashing’, leading to an increased suspicion amongst consumers towards beauty brands claiming to be clean. The green-ness value of brands is waning.
Sustainability claims can largely be seen as language games being played by brands. The phenomenon that was observed in Clean Beauty can reverberate across other industries as well. There are brands that are truly working towards a sustainable future and then there are those that use these terms just as marketing gimmicks without an honest commitment to the planet.
The trend of sustainability amongst brands began in recent years. ‘Recycle’ icons on packaging, ‘Organic’ food, ‘Reusable’ bags, and many more such signs of sustainability are increasingly seen across the consumption space. Let us compare this to the life cycle of another trend, digital transformation. It was revolutionary when businesses started adopting digital practices such as having their own websites and apps, presence on social media, digital programs for operations, etc. The trend proliferated across industries and today it is table stakes for all brands. Sustainability too is at that point in the life cycle of a trend where it will become table stakes for all brands.
There is a waning of affect due to repeated exposure, and this could potentially be observed in our ‘friendly’ products too. Brands today are differentiating themselves through claims of being green. In fact, several recent brand repositioning undertakings involve adding the word ‘sustainability’ to its brand pillars. As observed in the digitalization trend, brands being sustainable could soon lose their novelty value.
This leads us to the challenge of navigating the Anthropocene in the light of the waning of affect argument. The need for protecting the earth persists, and brands would have to invest their resources with ingenuity. Enframing the brand in the sustainability realm without real commitment would only lead to dilution of the brand value.