Times News Network, 20th April 2003

By Nilanjana Bhowmick,

Kolkata: Switch on the television and a beautiful woman assures you what a cakewalk it is to cook an entire banquet in a microwave oven; switch to some other channel, there are vacuum cleaners doing a magic clean all around the house; on another channel, magic formulae for being fairer than the fairest is being advertised. People from all age groups are targets of what can be called `useless consumerism’.

However, is the concept of `useless consumerism’ just an urban legend? Soumi Home Roy, from Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), says the concept not only exists but nowadays the targets are even children. Especially advertisements for toothpaste and fast foods, which make a lot of misleading claims to entice the children, exploiting the fact that children have huge persuasive powers where the parents are concerned.

The top 10 list of must haves these days are appliances like microwave ovens, washing machines, toasters, blenders and grinders. Everyone will admit that we are living in a fast society, leading fast lives, and these amenities make like easier. However, do they really? Can a microwave really cook our daily desi food? Has the blender totally sent into oblivion the traditional sil nora? Or are these just status symbols?

Archita Patra, a housewife in her mid-twenties, says she cannot imagine life without her microwave or her blender or her washing machine. She says she cooks in her microwave every day. However, she admits, “I only cook the rice. But the microwave comes in handy for heating food.”

Debjani Singh, a working woman in her thirties, has a demanding job. She brought the same microwave in the hope that it will make cooking easier and quicker. However, now she only uses it for occasional dishes but mostly for heating food. As she points out, “People who are really into cooking can actually cook a lot of delicacies in the microwave. I do not have the time to experiment with new dishes and figure out the various complications. But I must admit it is a very handy appliance for heating purposes or making quick snacks.”

Both Archita and Debjani are the proud owners of the combi microwave oven that costs around Rs. 25000 and instead of taking care of all your culinary needs, as the ads promise, it is mainly used for heating up food.

In such a scenario, ads obviously play a huge part in influencing the customer’s preferences. Anurag Hira, executive creative director of Bates India, says he wouldn’t actually call it duping the customers. “Ads just tell the customers about the limitless possibilities that they can explore. Ultimately it is up to them to make use of all that the product offers,” he says.

Hira also points out that products like fairness creams, hair related products, along with microwaves and some other modern appliances, can indeed be termed as promoting useless consumerism.

However, the root of the problem might not always be mere vanity. Lack of awareness also makes consumers an easy prey to useless consumerism. As Archita says, “I probably could have done with a conventional microwave oven paying much less. But when we went to buy it, we did not have proper guidance and we brought what we had seen on TV and what the salesman in the showroom touted as being the best.”