Consume: The New Dirty Word

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Faith Popcorn, the noted futurist and marketing maven, recently issued a press release detailing the lifestyle changes she sees the wealthy making during these tough economic times. The analysis reads like a tongue-in-cheek social commentary.

Popcorn refers to her target audience as the Nouveau Poor. But these folks are a far different makeup than the people who send me emails with financial questions -- families desperately trying to save their homes from foreclosure, students dropping out of school because their student loans have dried up, or senior citizens trying to stave off bankruptcy because they charged their uncovered medical expenses on their credit cards.

I thought Popcorn's latest views were comic relief. But it turns out she's quite serious about calling a major turn in public attitudes. And coming from the woman who coined the term "cocooning" to identify an increasingly insular generation, it's an interesting take.

"People are finding shame in consuming. Consume is an evil word," says Popcorn. This change in attitude applies to "anyone who is financially well off, but not optimistic anymore, mainly people with discretionary income that won't have it any more," she says. These folks are behaving differently, she says, "They're acting like they need to cut out stuff."

Popcorn has listed areas in which these financially secure individuals are considering cutting back:

  • Keep the car longer.
  • Consider public school for kids -- generally stay private.
  • Staycation rather than vacation.
  • Visit Prague over Paris -- it's cheaper.
  • Dunkin' Donuts instead of Starbucks ... discover coffee is good at the cheaper chain.
  • Venture into Target and Costco -- discover where the "real" people shop.
  • Perhaps cut household staff a tiny bit.
  • New trend: wood-burning stoves.
  • Put credit cards in the drawer for a week and see what it feels like to pay cash. ("When you peel off those hundreds," says Popcorrn, "You say, 'That was dinner?!' Four of those! Just out with friends.")

Most surprising, she's serious. Popcorn says she wants to call attention to a major change in the way all U.S. consumers will behave in the future. In fact, she says the appropriate word for Americans is no longer "consumer," but "citizen."

 

Vigilante Consumers

She says that the consumers of tomorrow will be "vigilantes" -- angry and unwilling to buy from "evil" companies. They will be taking an active role in government, and will also want input into the design of products they purchase, as well as communication regarding those products. Plus, they'll band together to share their views, making greater use of the Internet. They'll be engaged in their purchasing decisions, caring about the entire company, not just the product. And they'll "pull back the corporate veil" when making buying decisions.

Companies that succeed in this environment will need to be "empathetic in their marketing, feel the pain of the consumer, and do more than lower price to get their attention," she says. "The successful company will help them live, give them advice."

The Impact on Wall Street


Popcorn accuses Wall Street and big business of suffering from tunnel vision: "Wall Street is going along trying not to notice that the citizen/consumer is also stockholder. ... These citizens see Wall Street as a separatist, elitist, distant group of men not interested in the country's future."

The other trend, says Popcorn, is icon-toppling. "Citizens of the future won't trust any institutions, organizations, hospitals -- anything large, and that definitely includes the Fortune 500." And she adds: "CEOs are in an unusually vulnerable situation. They are a new vilified group." Popcorn is serious about this new face of America, and its impact on all levels of society -- but especially on business. "This is just starting. This is the start of a new era that will play out over the next five years -- it will hit everybody in every possible way. ... It's not only about money; it's about reorganizing your social DNA."

 

Very bullish for Dunkin' Donuts, I'd say. And that's The Savage Truth.

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