Looking back, we're struck by how much life and media have changed since the study launched. In 1977, "Star Wars" topped the box office. "Laverne and Shirley" was the highest rated show. A gallon of gas was 62 cents. An ounce of gold cost $147. Only a handful of academics and defense researchers had email or used the Internet. World Wide Web usage was, well, zero; Tim Berners-Lee wouldn't invent the Web and the first browser until 1990.
Cell phone use was, well, also zero; the first cellular phones weren't commercially available until the 1980s. In 1977, Affluent was defined as having $40,000 or more in annual income; even more remarkably, that group constituted a mere 2-3% of the U.S. population. Today, our definition of Affluent as having $100,000 in household income reflects 58.5 million adults, 24% of the U.S. population that accounts for more than 60% of U.S. income and more than 70% of U.S. net worth.
Our 2011 survey certainly confirms the continued march of technology into Affluents' lives. Virtually all (98%+) use the Internet; the amount of time spent online rose about 20% to more than 30 hours weekly. Affluent Millennials, defined here as those aged 18 to 29, spend more than 40 hours a week online, essentially a full-time job.
Social networking use continues to rise -- over half used Facebook in the past 30 days -- as has interest in shopping and entertainment sites, evidenced by the significant increases in the percentage of Affluents reporting recent use of YouTube, Amazon, Netflix and Pandora. Of course, rising Internet is probably also a symptom of Affluents having more on-ramps to the Internet. Consider that, in the past year, Affluent ownership of:
Perhaps what is most remarkable about growing Internet use and device ownership is that they do not seem to be coming at the expense of other forms of media usage. Affluent media use, in other words, does not appear to be a "zero-sum game" in which time with Media A necessarily comes at the expense of less time with Media B.
We're seeing true growth in Affluents' media consumption -- as we put it, a continued hunger for content and connectivity.
This enthusiasm is evident in the online and device growth outlined earlier, but it is also evident across a variety of platforms and media experiences. Print remains highly relevant, reaching more than 80% of Affluents, who typically read more than six different publications. Television viewing consumes more than 17 hours in the Affluent week; Affluents average 3.4 televisions in the household, and their ownership of flat panel televisions continues to rise. Viewed from the perspective of advertising touchpoints, six outlets provide both broad reach and relatively high receptivity to advertising: websites certainly make the list, but so do the more traditional touchpoints such as television, magazines, newspapers, radio, and advertising in grocery stores.
It's hard to understate the myriad ways that life has changed in the past 30 years. Indeed, we've seen significant changes in Affluent lifestyles and media use in the past year alone. From a media perspective, new technologies have largely been "layered" on top of existing choices; television, radio and print remain mainstays of Affluent consumer media experiences, with the Internet and various devices adding layers of interactivity and content immersion.
In a similar fashion, the needs of today's consumers, such as the hunger for connectivity and content we have highlighted in this article, are layered on top of classic consumer desires that remain as relevant today as they were when our study launched in 1977: the desire to be in the know, to make smart decisions, to be entertained, and to seek out quality brands. In media, and in consumers' lives, the more things change, the more they remain the same.