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Y&R-Consumer-Attitudes-Individuality-Identity-Sept2013Just 11% of Americans approve of the way people like them are portrayed in marketing and advertising, although that figure rises to 29% when including survey results from Brazil and China, according to recent research from Y&R. Part of the problem may be that consumers have “fluid” identities, according to the researchers, that see them a part of many seemingly disparate groups. Globally, 55% agreed that their age doesn’t define them, with a majority also agreeing that their identity is “a work in progress.”

The results suggest that one unifying characteristic among the consumers surveyed in the three countries is their strong view of individuality: 6 in 10 agree that people should be able to marry, live and work however they want; and about half agree that success is determined by the individual, not by others.

Complicating matters for marketers trying to segment individuals: what they say and what they feel may be different. The researchers conducted two studies to gauge conscious and unconscious attitudes: a quantitative online study, and an implicit measurement study measuring unconscious consumer attitudes.

The results indicated a mismatch between consumers’ conscious and unconscious rankings of several values and brand affinities. For example, on a conscious level, consumers ranked “meaning in life,” “choosing your own path” and “helping others” as their top values. The “unconscious” rankings, though, had “sexual satisfaction” first, followed by “respect for tradition” and “environmentalism.” Wealth also had a much higher unconscious than conscious ranking, while the opposite was true for success. Within the US, the top unconscious value was “maintaining security,” with “sexual fulfillment” and “honoring tradition” next.

Differences also applied when looking at brands, with the study finding that consumers “secretly liked” brands such as Facebook, Exxon and National Inquirer, while secretly disliking brands such as Google and Starbucks.

The researchers recommend that marketers no longer target consumers as single-minded, and instead accept that consumers can be paradoxical, while aiming to discover and act upon those tensions.

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