Opportunity cost in the age of consumerism

Everyone wants more …. whether it’s ‘more’ wealth, success, material possessions, the newer model car or a new designer bag.. everyone is always wanting more. It’s the times we live in – the age of Consumerism – the mechanics that keep our economies running.

The more you produce, the more you sell, the more you create jobs and wealth in the economy. Now where is all these products going to go, if people don’t want them. So we have entire industries devoted to studying consumer behaviour and the science of creating the ‘wanting’ of more. Be that through advertisement, repeated exposure in multiple media, direct or indirect selling, word of mouth. The idea is quite simple – people don’t know that they want your product, so you introduce them ‘to’ your product so that they desire to ‘own’ your product for the supposed value proposition that your product brings – whether that’s status, elegance, beauty, whatever sells. Hence we are constantly blasted with ads and campaigns selling the dream of youth, power etc.

In this world of constant consumerism – it is important to see another side of this economics. What’s the opportunity cost of the item that you wish to own? What are others giving up in order to for you to get what you want? This planet that we live in is exhaustible and this cycle of consumerism is unsustainable.

Now, a beautiful poignant series of photos illustrating just that with the campaign “People in Need” by Cordaid.

Elisabeth Leonkokwea is the woman posing with the bag and the watch. She’s Samburu and she lives in Wamba, a district in the Samburu province in the North of Kenya. She was born before 1960, so she is in her 50s. Her husband passed away years ago. Since then, she takes care of her four children who still live at home. Elisabeth has six children, but two of them are married and have their own families.

During the drought of 2005, one of the worst droughts this area has seen, she walked for days to find water for her children and animals. She lost almost all her animals. Afterwards, she moved back to Wamba and she’s happy to be around her own people. She’s happy because she now has water nearby. “I can stay here, for the time being,” she says.

Elisabeth’s face hides many worries. She’s troubled because very little food is produced. Since the drought, the earth has been so bad, that it can take a while before it can be harvested. Elisabeth is also worried about the Red Vally Fever, a virus that mainly hits cattle. Luckily, her goats have not been infected. Elisabeth does not have donkey anymore either. She hopes that local partner organization CODES can help her with that. If she gets a donkey, she will have the opportunity to walk further and search for water, when Wamba is out of water.  


This is Tirinti Letonginei. She’s a Samburu, a Maasai people from the North of Kenya. Tirinti does not know her own exact age, but our local partner organization has determined that she must have been born around 1968, because of an event that she has described.

So Tirinti is in her late 40s. She’s married and mother of nine children. Her oldest daughter is married now and lives with her in-laws. Only one of Tirinti’s children goes to school – Tirinti is very proud of that one. She doesn’t have enough money to send all her children to school.

During the big drought of 2005, seven of Tirinti’s donkeys died. They were severely weakened by the drought. Donkeys are the most valuable animals for Tirinti and her people. They are beasts of burden; they carry the water and belongings when the people move to new, water-rich areas.

Tirinti doesn’t have any more beasts of burden now and every day, she has to carry the heavy load herself, bringing the water from a remote lake home.



The strength of the campaign lies in the fact that it depicts almost ridicules wealth inequality, a serious issue that’s still with us today. Artistic, beautiful, provocative, bold and in-your-face, the images produced during that three-day photo shoot are as powerful now as they were then. To give them the necessary “glamorous” feel, Swedish high-end fashion and advertising photographer Calle Stoltz was asked to take the photos. He did so voluntarily.

The campaign won Saatchi & Saatchi a Cannes Silver Lion award, a prestigious international accolade for creativity. Much to their credit, Saatchi & Saatchi auctioned off the award and donated the proceeds to Cordaid People in Need. Moreover, art and advertising colleges still use this campaign for educational purposes.

Posted on June 17, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. It really sends the message home, doesn’t it? Consumerism is king – regardless of the dire need of so many peoples of the world – especially peoples where their countries riches are scavenged for the wealthy while the people suffer.


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