The 2019 edition shows the ranking for climate change moving to fifth place in the U.S. and sixth place globally -- up from ninth and 12th place, respectively, in GfK's last study in 2016.
While economic issues -- including concerns about having enough money to live on, inflation/rising prices, healthcare costs, income inequality, economic recession, and retirement -- continue to dominate consumer concerns in the U.S. and worldwide, relative economic stability over the past three years has helped propel environmental issues such as climate change and pollution, according to Eric Wagatha, director of GfK Consumer Life in North America.
"We have certainly seen climate concerns rising in the U.S. and globally and it's probably tied to economic conditions," he explains, adding: "When times are rough, people focus on value and price. When times are better these social issues become more important."
Given that many economists are signaling signs of a potential economic recession, or at least a slowdown in U.S. and worldwide global expansion, consumer concerns could indeed be poised to shift again. But at least in terms of current sentiment, people seem far more attuned to environmental issues, which Wagatha says may require some marketers to rethink their communications strategies, as well as how their companies and products and services impact the environment.
"Greenwashing is the kiss of death," he says, referring to the practice of simply promoting environmental causes without actually delivering on it in practice. He says consumers -- especially Millennials -- have grown savvy to such marketing practices and are looking for more authenticity from brands that promote environmental causes.
Other striking shifts in terms of U.S. consumer concerns signal recent political discourse -- especially the rise of healthcare costs to the No. 2 ranking, and government corruption to No. 3, and immigration to No. 8.
The rapid ascension of concerns about personal information to No. 7 from No. 13 three years ago should also send a signal to marketers -- as well as digital media and technology platforms -- given regulatory pushes worldwide.