Liquid Objects, Solid Meanings

With designers and manufacturers focusing more on creating aspirational value rather than enhancing the utility of a product, what does it mean for us as consumers?

When we buy a Mercedes, we are not buying just ­another car; when we buy a Gucci, we are not buying a mere bag; and when we decide to pursue an Ivy League education, we aren’t acquiring just another degree. In other words, what we are buying is not so much the product, but its representation, or what it signifies. The essential function of a product—transportation in the case of the Mercedes or storage in the case of the Gucci—is no longer considered a significant factor influencing the purchase. ­Instead, the name associated with it is of paramount importance. The question therefore remains: When we buy expensive branded goods, what are we really buying? Does the performance of the essential function remain important? If not, then what happens to the product development processes that make a product do more? Do manufacturers stop offering value through the essential functions of a product? If creating sign value or brands were to be the prime objective, should manufacturers then focus on creating meaning rather than enhanced utility?

The massive proliferation in banking networks has made capital more easily accessible than before. Similarly, techno­logy has no longer remained the preserve of select countries and corporations, and even advanced versions of it are now available through the cloud on demand in small units, thus obvi­ating the need for expensive on-premises and installable solutions. These developments have made it easy for all manufacturers to improve a product’s utility value, thus taking away the edge that one manufacturer may enjoy over the other. The burgeoning middle class, in the meanwhile, has developed itself as the new leisure class that empha­sises conspicuous consumption more than consumption of mere utility. The values that have higher social and cultural approval like style, luxury, prestige and power have therefore become more profitable than investing in impro­ving the product’s utility, which has almost ceased to make the manufacturer stand out in the crowd of competing products. This trend has encouraged manufacturers to focus more on creating sign value in products—a value that makes the consumer more esteemed in society.

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Updated On : 10th Jul, 2020

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