In an editorial in today’s NY Times, David Brooks focuses on what he believes John McCain will need to do in order to take a real leadership position.  One of the groups he suggests that McCain has to be better in touch with is the middle class.  He writes:

Picture a suburban townhouse community filled with families making
$40,000 to $60,000 a year. Maybe there’s a single mother in one unit
who hates her job but needs the benefits. Maybe there are immigrant
parents with associate degrees watching their son drop out of school in
another. The definition of being middle class has changed, as many have
noticed. It used to be a destination. Now it’s an uncertain place. It’s
a struggle just to stay there. Any candidate who can’t talk
specifically to these concerns is doomed.

I hope  marketers are paying attention to this.  After all, these same anxieties will have a real impact on how your communications are received and understood.  They’ll even determine whether or not the message is retained.  Such anxieties will inevitably impact purchase and spending decisions on a range of products.

But here’s the important thing: I think this is a bit broader (deeper) than to be just about consumer confidence.  The Consumer Confidence Index

is defined as the degree of optimism on the state of the economy that
consumers are expressing through their activities of savings and
spending.

What I think Brooks is alluding to is concern (fear?) on the part of many about whether they can maintain their status in a certain part of this country’s socio-economic spectrum.  Given globalization, outsourced jobs and the subprime crisis, we may only see this fear deepening.  So what’s a marketer to do?  Will we be ready to deal with the possible consumer resentment at the images of a comfortable life that some feel might be slipping away from an important segment of this country?  Maybe consumers won’t be resentful, but rather indifferent, i.e., that’s not my life, so I’m ignoring your message.

On the other hand, haven’t we marketed through high anxiety?  I mean, during the Cold War, there was the constant concern (again, fear?) of being bombed out of existence by the Soviets.  Relatively speaking, marketing moved along fine then.

But it that was somehow qualitatively different.  One bomb and it was pretty much over in an instant for everyone.  This is something else: The slow slipping away of spending power, home ownership and the ability to provide a certain level of dignity for your family.  Seems like that’s something that gnaws much deeper at the heart of the consumer landscape, and something that marketers will have to address with more nuanced understanding.

Read the full Brooks editorial here.

Posted by Rob Fields