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Sustainability is the new American Dream (2010 post-recession consumer study)

Marketers Not Connecting with Today's Consumer
Research Reveals Emergence of Radical Individualism

Sustainability is the New American Dream

CHICAGO, IL, March 15, 2010 – Today’s consumer is emerging from the recession with a radically new definition of the American Dream and a renewed sense in their own resourcefulness and priorities according to a just released quantitative study of 1200 consumers and qualitative research with nearly 700, conducted by Ogilvy & Mather Chicago in partnership with leading consumer insight company Communispace.

New View of the American Dream

Among the study’s key findings is that “having it all” is an unrealistic goal with 75% of those surveyed saying they would rather get out of the rat race than climb the corporate ladder – and instead, 76% said they would rather spend more time with family than make more money. Moreover, Americans are showing disenchantment with the pursuit of money with 75% again saying they would trade job security over a job that offered an opportunity for raises.

“The most surprising thing about our study was how much consumers were saying what they would NOT do for money, even when money worries are high on the list,” explained Graceann Bennett, Managing Partner and Director of Strategic Planning at Ogilvy & Mather Chicago. “Prioritizing your life based on money is seen as a sure way to be disappointed since the pursuit of money is often reliant on factors outside of consumers’ control. They have gone down this road before and are saying that they are not necessarily happier or better off as a result.”

In fact, the recession has revealed important new consumer priorities with quality of life and peace of mind at the top and a focus on living life in a more sustainable way both from an environmental and financial point of view.

“Sustainability” takes on a new Meaning

According to Manila Austin Ph.D., Communispace’s Director of Research, “Consumers didn’t fully understand the idea of sustainability until they found themselves living unsustainable lives – working too hard, carrying too much debt, and not living or planning for the long term. Now consumers are re-imagining their lives for a sustainable future for themselves and their families.”

Quality is still in according to the study with 73% of consumer saying they would rather have fewer, high quality things. But while they still want some luxuries, their shopping habits have changed as a full 92% say they are using coupons, 91% are shopping at cheaper/discount stores and 90% are buying more store brands

“We are finding consumers make very interesting trade-offs across seemingly unrelated categories in order to get their lives into balance while still feeling like they are treating themselves to those things that make them feel normal and well taken care of,” explained Ms. Bennett. “Holding off a few years to buy a new car may enable them to keep their everyday Starbucks indulgence going while someone else may ease up on their ambitions for a promotion to feel safer in their job even if it means less money.”

The Complicated Consumer

Through a series of in-depth exercises with nearly 700 online community members, Communispace’s Manila Austin noted that “many people feel the recession is not their problem. They say that they are in control themselves, but see others spending and consuming too much and feel they need to change their habits. Importantly, they also believe that it is the consumer who will get the country out of the recession, not the government or the banks.”

A shrinking circle of trust in banks, established institutions and even the media has led 69% of consumers to say that the recession has caused them to rethink their perspective and values with 78% saying that the recession has changed their spending habits for the better. The local community – “Main Street” -- is now the focus for the majority of those polled.

“The consumer is moving forward, but many marketers are projecting the stresses of the economy in their marketing and are not connecting with the new consumer mindset,” explained Ogilvy’s Ms. Bennett. “It’s time for marketers to reflect the new positive self reliance of today’s consumer and to tap into building relationships with more one-on-one marketing efforts.”

Ms. Bennett cautioned however that it is important for marketers to tread carefully into the discount space, because brands that are associated with deprivation and the recession may conjure up less than positive associations once consumers have a bit more cash to spend.

With consumers dramatically increasing the research they do before making purchases large and small, the brand with the better information will win. There are also significant demographic trends that demand a more personal message especially when looked at regionally with consumers on the west coast more optimistic than those on the East. Some 32% on the West say the US will emerge from the recession stronger, while only 19% on the East coast feel this way.

“Today’s consumer is even more complicated than before,” explained Communispace’s Dr. Austin. “There is no one marketing solution that captures a mass value proposition. We called this study ‘Eyes Wide Open, Wallets Half Shut’ to reflect the challenge of understanding and connecting with how post recession consumers view the world.”

How the Research Was Conducted

A variety of quantitative and qualitative research was conducted. Ogilvy Chicago sampled a nationally representative 1,200 American adults through a robust online survey. Communispace conducted a series of qualitative studies including interactive conversations, image galleries, and other dynamic and exploratory activities with its proprietary online community members which involved some 694 consumers participating.



About Ogilvy & Mather Chicago:

Founded in 1976, Ogilvy & Mather Chicago, includes Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, OgilvyAction, Ogilvy Public Relations and OgilvyOne, providing its clients with fully integrated marketing solutions. Its clients include CDW, Sears, Unilever, American Family Insurance, American Bar Association and others. Ogilvy & Mather Chicago is a unit of Ogilvy & Mather North America, which is part of WPP Group plc (NASDAQ: WPPGY,) one of the world's largest communications services groups.

About Communispace:

The world’s most admired brands turn to Communispace Corporation, the leader in generating game-changing insights via private online customer communities. Founded in 1999, the company has created more than 350 customer communities for industry leaders such as Kraft, Hewlett-Packard, Charles Schwab, Hallmark, Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline and Hilton Hotels Corporation. Headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts, the company has offices in Atlanta, Chicago, London, New York, San Francisco, as well as San Remo, Italy and Sydney, Australia. For more information, please visit:
www.communispace.com.

Click here to download our post-recession consumer study:
Eyes Wide Open (PDF)

Editorial Notes: Recommended by EB contributor Dan Bednarz who writes:
This marketing study is congruent with other recent surveys on a nascent shift in cultural values toward “de-consumption”, redefining the metaphorical content of the American Dream, lack of trust in major institutions, psychologically linking sustainability to lowering consumption rather than Smart Growth... This appears to be (my interpretation) brought on by a tacit, inchoate sense (embodied or experiential knowledge) that material affluence is no longer a given and that our institutions are malfunctioning. Link: http://assets.ogilvy.com/truffles_email/eyeswideopen_press/Eyes_wideshut.pdf. From the report: “Here is what we found: the social ideal that, with hard work and perseverance, every American can be rich, happy, secure, and better off than their parents is no longer a certainty. While Americans still strive for these goals, they are much more cynical about their ability to actually achieve them.”
-BA

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