More Evidence of the Changing Consumer Culture

More evidence of the deep re-ordering of American culture came by way of a report unveiled today, entitled, “Grounding the American Dream: A Cultural Study on the Future of Consumerism in a Changing Economy.” It portrays a society in the early stages of a traumatic transformation.

The report reinforces much of what I discovered in researching RenGen: Renaissance Generation and provides interesting background for marketers looking to enmesh their brands into the new culture that’s emerging. To do so, brands will need to weave themselves into the social fabric to avoid being shed.

Based on ethnographic research conducted in October and November in New York City, Baltimore, Miami, San Antonio, Texas and Lexington, Kentucky, the research team plots a five-stage process consumers are undergoing as they struggle through a major cultural transformation. The process explains how they’re coping and rebuilding their lives amidst the faltering “American Dream,” an essential component that the late Joseph Campbell once identified as American culture’s core “organizing mythology.” When organizing mythologies are up for revision, it marks a change in the deep order of society.

“This is more than an economic crisis, it’s a cultural crisis. As anthropologists, we knew the aftershocks would be far-reaching, so we took to streets, schools, malls and homes to understand the impact,” said Dr. Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist on the project and co-founder of Context-Based Research Group.

Most people will undergo a process and emerge with a new consumer identity the researchers call the “Grounded Consumer.” The stages are:

Stage 1: The Realization: Goodbye Homo economicus – this is when consumers come to understand how the larger economy intersects with their personal economy and what they need to do to make changes. As part of this stage they’re realizing that they are not what they buy. This new thinking forces the revaluation of all purchases.

Stage 2: How Did I Get Here? My Life is Not a Loan – consumers are assessing their situations and realizing it’s fatal to live a life on credit. Living below your means is now becoming en vogue.

Stage 3: Creating a New Value Equation: Moving from a “Me” to a “We” Economy – this involves a movement toward emphasizing a new kind of value equation that moves consumers from putting “me” first to putting “we” first. In this equation decisions truly balance rational, emotional, and social needs.

Stage 4: unSTUFFing My Life: Building a New Consumer Toolkit – this is when consumers get practical as they start to remove excess “STUFF” from their lives. They’re belt tightening, but still finding ways to obtain gratification, through little luxuries – proclaiming it’s time to “trim the fat, not the fun.”

Stage 5: Walking the Talk: Putting New Skills into Action – the first four stages lead up to life-altering transformations. The new Grounded Consumer who emerges is ultimately better, smarter and more connected than their predecessors and they realize the road to the achieving the American Dream isn’t paved with purchases.

The research was sponsored by Carton Donofrio Advertsing Agency.