Commentary

A Marketer's Obituary To Mass Affluence

Last year, in the wake of the 2009 credit crisis, some colleagues and I discovered that our recruiting specifications for affluence didn't consistently produce affluent people. Also, we noticed a different tone in the media about affluence. The term "the Rich" began to infiltrate headlines. And, references to the "Mass Affluent" disappeared. Our search for answers led us to perform our own study leveraging data from the annual Mendelsohn Affluence Survey.

RIP Mass Affluence
The Mass Affluent -- a population that has grown in size and importance since the 1970s -- is the highest tier of the mass-market. The trend influenced companies like Wal-Mart to creep upwards into organics, Starbucks to make the $3 latte an everyday occurrence, and Mercedes to create the C-class to stretch into a lower price-point and larger customer base.

We have identified the Mass Affluent as 30M adults with $100-199K HHI. They were once capable of luxury purchases but are now back to being Middle Class. That said, they live comfortably. They purchase middle-market brands like Lee, Max Factor, Plymouth, and Virgin Mobile. They shop at stores such as Kmart, JCPenney, and Sears. But they are not optimistic, trend conscious, financially savvy, or well-traveled. They are not affluent, and they know it. When asked to classify themselves, 53% (an overwhelming majority) of the Mass Affluent identified themselves as "Middle Class."

Introducing The Class Affluent
The group we have named Class Affluent earns between $200K HHI -- the minimum threshold for true affluence in America -- and $1M+ annually. Today, they hold all the cards in the U.S., but they are a minority, only 8.5M adults. They go to the best schools, live in the best homes and work in the best careers. And, they are most likely (54%) to define themselves as "upper middle class." There are three tiers of Class Affluence.

The Affluent -- $200-499K HHI
The Affluent are the Creative Class. They are most likely to work in creative industries like software design, publishing, architecture, or advertising. They buy distinctive luxury brands like Missoni, Burberry, and Marc Jacobs. You can find them driving an Audi, Porsche, or Mini Cooper and reading cosmopolitan publications like Los Angeles magazine, the Economist or the New York Times ... or find them online at Smithsonian.com or Winespectator.com. Unlike the Mass Affluent, they feel satisfied with their standard of living, follow fashion and finance, and travel extensively.

The Wealthy -- $499-999K HHI
The Wealthy are the Money Class. People in finance and consulting services define this group. The Money Class is more conservative than the Creative Class. They are less concerned with the environment and are inclined against government regulation. They tend to purchase status vehicles such as Mercedes, Land Rover and Jaguar. And, they gravitate to more formal apparel brands like Thomas Pink, Ermenegildo Zegna and Hermes. When it comes to media choices, the Wealthy often follow international and financial news, which is consistent with their careers.

The Rich -- $1M+ HHI
The Rich are the Leader Class. They appear in high-income careers like financial or legal services and breakout industries like Internet services or real estate. They consider themselves opinion leaders and live global lifestyles. Members of this class watch Ovation TV, read the Robb Report, or click into artandantiquesmag.com. Their unsurpassed buying power shows in the brands they buy: Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, Brioni, Bottega Veneta, and Bergdorf Goodman. They are also among the most "digital" in their media behavior, revealing a direct correlation between affluence and a digital lifestyle.

The Emerging Affluent
Our study found a notable new class: the Emerging Affluent. This group includes 5.5M adults who have the same HHI as the Mass Affluent ($100-199K) but are under 35. They work in careers that will eventually deliver affluence -- finance, law, and engineering -- but they are still in middle-management tiers. This group has all the attitudes of the truly affluent. They consider themselves opinion leaders, follow trends, love to travel, and are passionate about food and dining. They pursue both stylish youth-oriented brands like Scion, Diesel, and H&M as well as upscale brands such as H. Stern, Roberto Cavalli, Dyson, Land Rover, and Louis Vuitton. What sets this group apart from all others is their intensely digital media behavior, including content consumption, mobile, and social media.

The Final Word
There are two things on which the Mass Affluent, Class Affluent, and Emerging Affluent agree: 1. "Success" can best be defined as "happiness." 2. Apple is their favorite brand. One person captured it best. "[Apple is] the best at what they do, changing the world through good design." Perhaps this is a worthy aspiration for all brands, to be admired not only for the quality of its products but also for its efforts to make the world a better place.

3 comments about "A Marketer's Obituary To Mass Affluence ".
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  1. Fred Pfaff from Fred Pfaff Inc., July 13, 2011 at 9:34 a.m.

    Timely reclassification, particularly with the emerging affluent. Takeaways for me: Prioritize and digitize.

  2. John Fredette from Alcatel-Lucent, July 13, 2011 at 10:39 a.m.

    Interesting piece. My only caveat would be that the dividing points shift depending upon the family situation of a household. Singles, gay couples, marrieds without children, have more disposable income. A family with three children and a gay couple with three cats live very differently on $150k a year. Perhaps that is going to a level of detail beyond scope of this discussion but something to consider.

  3. Richard Taw from Access Media, July 13, 2011 at 8:34 p.m.

    Great article and one that I think truly takes a realistic look to what Affluent means today. So where can you reach them? I can think of a few places.

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