Society Insights

Today’s vice, tomorrow’s virtue

Consumer choices, dictated by utility or by pleasure, can upend established social norms and influence the product offering on the market.

The trend

Harmonizing the constituent elements of business strategies is becoming increasingly critical, yet there is no denying that the product still plays a central role. Indeed, the product is the foundation on which the company builds its offering, the focal point around which business decisions revolve relating to innovation, entering new markets, integrating the offering, and development.


For a consumer, a product represents the solution to a specific problem. As such it is not characterized by absolute objectivity, but a subjective perception largely shaped by shared values. Yet the context of social norms that contributes to establishing these values is not rigid and unchangeable, but rather fluid and subject to variations from place to place and over time. So, whether for hedonic or utilitarian reasons, consumers can decide to break away from existing norms, and succumb to what are considered unacceptable behaviors or vices.


These fluctuations are symptoms of potential variations in the choices that people make. Companies for their part are called on to interpret these choices by adopting an attentive, proactive attitude toward society so as to capitalize on these trends and gauge their business decisions accordingly. From the use of recreational drugs to more widespread consumption of alcohol (due to higher average quantities, or the younger age of consumers) to the popularity of electronic cigarettes as a substitute for tobacco, a number of spheres can be impacted by changing values.


Shining a light on the outlook for consumption over the next ten years is the recent Ipsos report: Global Views on Vices. The study was run on a broad sample of 27 countries all over the world, with very different traditions and cultures (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States). The findings offer a fascinating snapshot of the potential evolution of consumption in various national contexts of the world.


Key takeaways

According to the report’s projections, 55% of the interviewees are convinced that in the next ten years medical marijuana will be legalized. This percentage reflects a favorable view of cannabis for health-related uses that we’re already seeing today: 55% believe that marijuana has therapeutic value, and 57% think that it should be legalized for medical purposes right away. The figure for Italy (52%) is in line with the average of the 27 countries in the study. The highest percentages instead are in Canada, South Africa, and the US (all over 80%), while the most conservative countries are Russia (20%), followed by Turkey (18%) and Japan (9%). Russia is also the country with highest percentage of people who do not believe that cannabis will have any medical applications over the next ten years (54%).


As for marijuana for recreational use, the study revealed that this is still taboo: only 26% think that it should be legalized, compared with 54% who disagree. Among the countries with the highest number of people who support legalization are the US and Canada (54% and 51%), while those most strongly opposed are Turkey and Russia (81% and 80%). Nonetheless, the percentages vary as we look forward toward the next 10 years: 33% of respondents are sure that the use of marijuana for recreational purposes will be legalized, while 39% are not convinced (the remaining 28% don’t know or don’t give an answer). Canada, South Africa, and the US record the highest numbers (over 70%), while South Korea, Russia and Japan are the biggest sceptics. Great Britain is the only European country that ranks among the top ten as far as predicting future legalization of marijuana for recreational use.


A noteworthy finding is the use of illegal drugs over the next ten years. Leaving aside any moral judgment, in 23 countries out of 27, people think that this will be more common than today, with an average of 47% compared to 22% who think that drug use will decline.


Also interesting to note is consumer perception of products that are widely used today, such as alcohol (beer, wine, and liquor) and e-cigarettes/vaping devices. In fact, 48% of interviewees believe that these tobacco substitutes will win greater market share (while 21% disagree), a view shared across all 27 countries in the study. (In South Africa, with 74%, people are most convinced; Spain is at the opposite end of the spectrum with 34%; Italy comes in third from the bottom with 36%.) Alcohol consumption will rise according to 47% of respondents, and at the same time there will also be a wider product offering: 56% of respondents think that in the coming years a broader selection of beers, wines, and spirits will be available to consumers.



Today’s vice, tomorrow’s virtue