Major retailers have begun responding to recession-driven consumer pessimism by repositioning their advertising. Conspicuous consumption is out. Thrift is in. The best example we've seen so far comes from Target, which shows clever ways to save money by buying its products.
The question we ask at the Boomer Project is whether this corporate repositioning is purely tactical (a temporary response to a temporary downturn in consumer spending) or strategic (a long-term response to a profound shift in consumer behavior that will outlast the recession).
We've been making the argument that economic events have shocked American consumers, Baby Boomers especially, into a fundamental re-evaluation of personal priorities -- a trend that was already building momentum from (a) the embrace of environmental sustainability and (b) the life-cycle tendency of older Boomers to define themselves by non-material values. In other words, the United States appears to be entering a lasting era of frugality.
We find it reassuring that SunTrust, the Atlanta, Ga.,-based bank holding company, has reached conclusions entirely consistent with this interpretation. The bank has unveiled a branding campaign built around the tagline, "Live Solid. Bank Solid," which speaks to "a new era of thrift, security and financial responsibility." This campaign is especially significant because it was based upon months of consumer research that identified attitudinal trends that were gathering strength before October's financial meltdown. Among SunTrust's conclusions:
- Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed would rather be envied for spending wisely than for spending freely
- 83 percent believe it's not about how much money you have, it's about what you do with the money that you already have
- Eight in 10 believe that while having more money won't necessarily make you happier, feeling in control of the money you have will increase happiness
Said John Fitzgerald, president of the Winston-Salem, N.C., ad agency behind the rebranding campaign: "Consumers ... are moving to lives of more substance, reason, and long-term thinking, and feel a stronger sense of personal responsibility for the direction of their lives."
Now, while we've been talking about the new frugality as a result of the current Wall Street meltdown, our friend and "Ageless Marketing" guru, David Wolfe, has been predicting it for years. His hypothesis, now proving to be spot on, is that as America on the whole grows older -- the median age for the country continues a relentless march upward, almost at age 40 -- there will be fewer dollars flowing in the U.S. economy and a new frugality will emerge.
SunTrust, Target, and we suspect many more companies, will reach similar conclusions, creating new marketing messages that better connect with this changing mindset.