The downturn has caused consumers to question every purchasing decision. When every penny counts, consumers will count every penny. Our very own Richard Edelman has talked of a cultural shift from instant gratification, to instant justification. But I can’t help but think that the ‘make do and mend’ renaissance though a momentary blip in consumer spending may have wider implications. Today it was announced that Aldi and Lidl’s growth is slowing, suggesting that middle England has returned to the comfortable lanes of Waitrose, rather than continue with carefully planned assaults on the budget aisles.

With Anderson’s launch of Free and during some conversations at our recent DET Breakfast I began to think about media brands forced to question notions of content ownership. Then a recent Wired feature (apologies I can’t find the link) made me think that technology has facilitated a wider cultural shift that I’ve decided to call DisOwnership. (More illustrious academics may have been talking about this for years – if so I’d love for someone to point me in the direction of a good book. For now I’m claiming it as my own).

We used to be a society of hoarders. From record collections to photo albums, we stored mementos in the real world. Digital Cameras, Spotify, Flickr, Facebook and iPods have changed this. Now we don’t have tangible products to own – but files, folders and passwords.

Back in the day you wouldn’t buy something if you couldn’t afford it. My grandparent’s generation balks at the idea of buying anything on credit. We seem to have swung the other way. No need to put an album on your credit card, if you can listen for free on Spotify? Why buy a car when you can rent one cheaply with StreetCar. Why even have cheque books when you can transfer cash online?

Of course there are security and protection issues when the products, documents and entertainment you own are stored virtually by a third party. But what I’m interested in is whether or not there is a wider cultural movement at work?

If you don’t own something, do you respect it? Perhaps, but certainly the relationship is different. For example – if you borrowed a book from a friend and accidently spilt tea over it you would probably buy them a new copy. But we share and lose USB sticks and pass on digital files over email, without ever thinking twice. So does that mean we don’t see ownership as important anymore? We might value the content, but do we respect it?

And what does this mean for brands, technology and media companies? Firstly – hardware companies will still shift units – I’m not thinking that DisOwnership is the beginning of the end. Just because we share content differently, doesn’t mean we all will move into a commune and wear hemp clothes. We are still materialistic, just perhaps virtually so. Secondly – as we know monetisation of digital content is a burning issue (and one I’m going to avoid here). Thirdly – the power of the crowd has forced brands to realise that they can’t own something as intangible as a brand anymore. As PRs we have to work with our clients to give the audience a degree of license over campaigns. Consumers may have disowned traditional goods, but the internet has also meant that every consumer is an intellectual share holder in the brands they engage with.

Luke (@LukeMackay)

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