Yes. A change can be made to consumer behavior on a large scale by advertising. Through billboards, television and radio, this was the way American consumers learned to be a society entrenched in the use of disposables. Advertising was used during the world wars to show people how to be frugal and recycle.
Marketers use many different techniques in an effort to change consumer behavior. One of the most popular options, as djstam mentioned above, is via advertising. This could be considerd a subset of a larger term, marketing strategy. Marketing strategy is the science of understanding consumer behavior and then adapting marketing materials in order to best influence the consumer.
Another way is through public policy. Public policy is the use of government agencies to regulate and govern companies in an effort to inform consumers about the products they are about to consumer. Essentially it is marketing done by the government in order to educate consumers more fully.
Social marketing is when, instead of trying to push a product on the consumer, marketers learn the real reasons behind certain consumer behaviors and then use that information in order to change a behavior (even if the final behavior is not what the marketer was originally going for).
Marketers can also use word of mouth in order to sell or push a product. Many companies do little to no physical advertising because their reputation is so strong. This allows them to rely on the communication between their regular consumers and possible new customers to constantly bring in new business.
It is possible to change consumer attitudes, but difficult. The National Consumer Council of the U.K. did two studies in 2003 focusing on people’s attitudes towards modifying their consumption for the benefit of the environment. The studies found that people would make changes only if 1. The changes did not interrupt their daily routines 2. The changes would bring tangible improvements to their way of life 3. The changes cannot require a great sacrifice of time or money So if consumers can be convinced of these three things, change is possible. The other scenario is that scarcity of resources will eventually force people into a position where they must change or face societal collapse. For more check out transition town coordinator Rob Hopkins’s literature on http://www.transitionnetwork.org
Yes, consumer behavior is driven by group thinking and identifying with a product. Many green companies, like Toms of Maine, have effectively branded green products. I agree with, “americalibre” that scarcity of resources will reduce consumerism. The downturn in the economy is already encouraging people to spend less. This thrifty attitude is becoming noble once again. Ultimately, it will depend on a culture that glorifies efficiency and recycling over consumption and waste. Much of the trend setting starts, like it or not, in the upper classes of society. Many people in the upper crust are beginning to go green as a fad. Whether, this will stick around in the culture and resonate with, “Joe Shmoe” remains to be seen.
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