Entrepreneurship Trends

Conservative US consumer trends to spread?

Ever since 9/11 and the Enron debacle, consumers in the US have become increasingly wary with politicians and big business and have quite clearly been retreating into their already conservative shells. And while this consumer trend has not noticeably moved beyond the borders of the US, there are other trends that indicate in a different way that consumers are changing the world over.

Now, we are hearing about professional golfers, some of them very big names, including recent winner of the US Masters at Augusta, Zach Jonson, cutting down on coaching sessions and turning to bible study meetings before big games.

This is just one of many clear indicators giving US marketers direction on how to treat their customers. In short, the message they are getting is that US consumers are desperate for someone, something to trust.

Global trends

In France, for example, the run-up to this week's presidential poll showed some very definite changes in emphasis. Previously, the French population made its choices on what appears to have been very strict political issues. Suddenly this has changed quite considerably with the chief executive of a research company claiming quite categorically that France has moved into an era where voters are behaving more and more like shoppers.

They were, he said, comparing personalities and promises in the same way that they would compare products in a supermarket.

"The look and the packaging are important."

Consumers changing

The conservatism that underscores consumer trends in the US is still not noticeable in most other countries, but there is evidence that in many major global markets, including SA, consumers are changing as well.

Many countries, and certainly in SA, consumers seem more and more to be sharing the French penchant for looking at personalities rather than political or social issues. Or, in a commercial sense, looking more at the hype than the product.

Which explains the popularity of Jacob Zuma and the fact that in spite of him being accused of quite serious misdemeanours, his supporters in their multitudes like his flamboyant manner. He is a colourful, vibrant personality who wittingly or unwittingly sticks rigidly to the very foundation of successful marketing. It’s not about what he has to say but what his followers want to hear. The fact that he might be guilty of a crime becomes irrelevant.


Equally, when it comes to supporting products, SA consumers are quite happy to pay high prices for items such as cellphones and motor cars just to be seen to be owning them. And as is the case in most countries, SA consumers also tend to be far more moved by celebrities than their politicians and religious pastors.

Of course, what will impact heavily on the way in which marketers communicate with their target markets in the future is whether the US consumer trend of desperately looking for something to trust actually spreads beyond the borders of the US.

But, it seems to me that in spite of the SA consumer's obsession with celebrities, status and materialism, it would not be a bad idea for marketers here to start assuming that deep down South Africans are also looking for companies, products and services they can trust. Not for the same reason as their American counterparts but because of years and years of lack of competition and shoddy service.

Perhaps it makes marketing sense to stop communicating shallow messages such as "we care" and change instead to offering some sort of definitive product quality promise and genuine service.

About Chris Moerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on moc.liamg@ckydreom and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.

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