The current crises are making us reconsider the cost of our addiction to comfort because of environmental, societal and moral emergencies. To reduce resource consumption, responsible products and services are often less comfortable and ergonomic. Consumers often find themselves having to choose between comfort and responsible consumption.
In this episode of Bureau 404, Stefano Boni, professor of political and cultural anthropology at the University of Modena and author of the book "Homo Comfort", helps us understand this paradox, and explains why a brand should and could challenge our representation of comfort.
WAY 1: Anti-comfortism
Comfort is inseparable from mass production. In the 1950s, the promises of women's emancipation through electrical appliances were quickly transformed into new forms of domestic subjugation. With the arrival of comfort, not only our interiors but also our lifestyles became standardised.
Stefano Boni explains: "Mass produced comfort generates standardization, but according to a certain level of wealth. We need to, as a society look at the negative impact of comfort."
Anti-comfortism would allow brands that want to sell responsible products - less convenient to use - to assume discomfort in order to renounce the standardisation of lifestyles and value the ingenuity and singularity of each consumer. For exemple, by putting the lack of comfort into perspective. Do we really need 18 blades for an effective shave?
WAY 2: Comfort planning
The comfort argument has become a marketing ploy for attention. Ergonomics at the outset often comes with the loss of autonomy and an increased feeling of dependence. A dependency which, as in the case of social networks, generates anxiety. It is therefore not surprising that consumers, particularly young people, are increasingly turning to products such as dumbphones, which are simpler and less comfortable, but which allow them to regain their grip on the world: their friends, their reading, nature and peace and quiet. Indeed, studies assure us that the link between comfort and well-being is highly questionable. More comfort does not mean more well-being. On the contrary, the value of comfort is relative to one's social group and has a compensatory function in the face of annoyances.
Comfort-planning would be a more tactical way of thinking about the place of comfort in the user experience. Because the value of comfort is relative and countervailing, we should better identify the moments when we can maximise its usefulness. Comfort is individualistic and effort is a pro-social activity, the challenge for brands is to better plan moments of effort and comfort by including individual effort in a collective effort, shared with other consumers and the brand. The Captain Cause prepaid card is a good example.
Stefano Boni says: "Comfort has pushed us towards individualistic experiences. If you look at houses we used to live in we used to live 10 peoples under the same roof (...) In artisan production you cannot produce alone, you need to know these people, you need to build a sense of community to achieve the production. This sense has now been broken by comfort."
WAY 3: Real-life brands
Comfort anaesthetises us. It cuts us off from the real world and its possible discomfort to such an extent that the uncomfortable, the disturbing, the imperfect generate a real fascination today.
Stefano Boni: "We were a species designed to live in interaction with nature. We no longer touch organic material; we are increasingly only capable of touching technological material. If people are willing go to hug a tree in the forest it means that people are lacking something as a society."
To be a "real-life brand" is to assume a posture in which the brand claims to abandon some of the comfort in favour of a more direct reconnection to reality. With a less comfortable... but more intense and enriching experience for the consumer.