Stephen Rosa, owner of a Providence, R.I., ad agency called Advertising Ventures, says that every business decision he makes these days is with his wife and 2-year-old daughter in mind. When deciding whether to attend a business dinner or charity event after hours, Rosa says, â€œI used to ask myself, â€˜Is going to this event important to my business?â€™ Now I ask, â€˜Is going worth taking time away from my family?â€™â€? He's looking forward to his daughter's school years and says he expects to be very involved, chaperoning field trips or otherwise making sure someone he trusts is with her at all times, preferably with a cell phone. He has already become much more diligent about keeping his and his wife's cell phones charged and on. â€œI don't ever want to be in a situation where I can't at least say goodbye to them,â€? he says. Goodbye kisses in the morning have a new poignancy.
The September attacks have caused many Americans to re-examine what really matters, and what seems to matter above all else is family. Eighty percent of adults say that the attacks have increased their appreciation for their families, and 69 percent say that family is a greater priority now than before Sept. 11, according to an exclusive American Demographics survey of 2,532 adults, conducted between Oct. 9 and 11 by Greenwich, Conn.-based research firm NFO WorldGroup. This sweeping reprioritization of home and family has reportedly manifested itself in a wave of Hallmark moments: people spending more â€œfamily timeâ€? with their children, reconnecting with long lost relatives, reconciling seemingly irreconcilable family differences, even throwing out divorce papers and giving love a second chance. Greeting card, cell phone, life insurance and home security system sales are all on the rise. Parents are becoming stricter, keeping closer tabs on their kids' whereabouts and on their media consumption.
Will it last? For the moment, it seems that a collective sense of normalcy has been fundamentally altered. What place has family and home begun to take in our new normal lives? Will â€œnormalâ€? parenting now mean issuing cell phones to 5-year-olds? Will the divorce rate plummet as couples draw closer together in response to a perception of greater outside menace? Or have the events of Sept. 11 and its aftermath had more subtle effects? Some marketing experts say, for example, that consumers are now more attracted to products that promise safety and quality. Branding experts observe an increasing trust in traditional brands, like Kraft and Coca-Cola, and a corresponding distrust for the new and unfamiliar. Advertising creative directors expect this holiday season to be filled with more family imagery than ever, with messages previously considered too sappy now being welcomed as sober reminders of what is truly important.
How consumers think about and behave toward their families will continue to change daily. But eventually, the reshuffling of priorities that has already started to take place since the catastrophe, both among individuals and as a country, will begin to settle in a new hierarchy, and our sense of normal will be redefined once again.
Catherine Lutz, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina who specializes in the impact of war on society, hypothesizes that the new normal is likely to resemble the Cold War era more than any other historical period. Over time, people will return to everyday routines, but with new fears. During the Cold War, it was the fear of nuclear holocaust, while today it's the fear of the next terrorist attack. â€œIf you look at people who lived through the Cold War, they came to accept a certain level of risk as normal,â€? says Lutz. â€œWe don't think twice about giving our kids the car keys at age 16,â€? she notes, pointing out that the number of Americans who die in car accidents each year (about 42,000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is far greater than the number who died on Sept. 11. â€œIf we can normalize that, we can normalize anything.â€?
But what will be normal for consumers may not be settled for some time, and, as such, marketers who must continue doing business may want to pay even closer attention. â€œWith so much changing from day to day, there has never been a time when marketers needed to be closer to their customers,â€? says Chuck Donofrio, CEO of Carton Donofrio Partners, a brand design firm in Baltimore whose subsidiary, Context-Based Research Group, fielded a worldwide ethnographic study in the weeks after the attacks. From 70 one-on-one interviews, conducted in eight cities in the U.S. and seven abroad, anthropologists found, above all else, an overwhelming emphasis on the home. Says Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist at Context: â€œAs people are reevaluating their own values, family and friends are becoming the primary filter through which many people are making major decisions about their lives, from the media they ingest, to what they spend their money on.â€? Donofrio adds that it is this period, in the months following the attacks, when people's heightened attention to family may mean the most for marketers, as they attempt to create a style and message that resonates with their post-Sept. 11 consumers.
Many Americans are focusing more energy and money on keeping their homes and families secure, physically and financially. The American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup survey reveals that 16 percent of parents with children under age 18 say they have rewritten or are thinking about rewriting their wills because of the attacks. Thirteen percent of parents have or are thinking about reevaluating investments or hiring a financial advisor. Hispanic and black Americans are particularly interested in such safety measures. Sixteen percent of all Hispanic adults have or plan to reevaluate their financial investments in response to the attacks, compared with 11 percent of all adults. Twenty percent of blacks have rewritten or are planning to rewrite their wills, compared with 12 percent of all adults. Hispanics and blacks are also three times as likely as whites to be in the market for life insurance.
At New York Life Insurance Co., agents are seeing increased inquiries, and the insurer is revamping its advertising efforts and considering an increase in its media presence. Over at ADT Security Services, the phones haven't stopped ringing. Understandably so: 28 percent of all adults say they feel less safe in their own home since Sept. 11, and 10 percent have become more distrustful of their neighbors, according to the American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup study.
The safety theme is likely to stick around for a while. â€œIf there is one word that we will start to see cross over all messaging for all product categories, it will be â€˜security,â€™â€? predicts Ben Gervey, a psychologist and director at Applied Research & Consulting (ARC) in New York City. Gervey believes that companies, once they stop relying on the U.S. flag to promote their messages, will begin to emphasize how their products are safe and how they can increase the consumer's sense of control over his environment.
The demand for security will likely influence people's shopping patterns as well, says Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, a market research firm in Stevens, Pa., which specializes in consumer psychology. She expects people's fears of leaving the house for long periods of time to boost catalog and Internet sales. Danziger, whose firm concentrates on the gift and collectibles industry, also expects products for the home to remain a focus of spending, but because of the economy, home purchases will involve decorative or smaller items that add comfort without costing a lot.
With all the uncertainty in our world, Americans also look for reassurance in the brands they buy. Bruce Tait, co-founder of Fallon Brand Consulting in Minneapolis, says that unlike the past few years, big institutional brands like Campbell's and Volvo, which have always stood for wholesome family values, no longer have to worry about freshening up an old image. In fact, they may be better off doing just the opposite. In late October, for instance, Procter & Gamble announced a $3 million campaign for Ivory soap, a standby that hasn't been advertised in over two years. The campaign includes dressing up bars of soap in 19th century packaging and new print ads with tag lines like â€œChoose a Classic.â€? â€œPeople are trying to connect back to things they know are authentic,â€? says Tait. â€œIt used to be about selling the sizzle, not the steak. But, now all that's out the window.â€?
Advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide's (FCB) New York office is recommending that clients like Kraft, Sara Lee and AT&T dust off their old commercials and jingles, and scoop up as much media time as possible. In fact, there may never be a better time to remind folks to â€œreach out and touch someone.â€? Almost a third of all adults (29 percent) say they have started to call or expect to start calling family members more often now than before Sept. 11, according to the American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup survey. This is especially true for ethnic minorities: 42 percent of Hispanics and 37 percent of blacks say they have been calling or expect to call family members more often now.
FCB's recommendations to play up nostalgia come from focus groups conducted in Chicago, New York and San Francisco and a nationally representative online poll of 3,000, conducted in late September and early October. FCB found that 56 percent of Americans feel more comfortable buying brands they know well and only 21 percent would rather try new products and brands. Still, it's a different consumer now than in the 1950s. â€œWe won't be going back to the old times where institutional brands told people what to do,â€? says Janet Pines, FCB's worldwide director for strategy and insights.
One observation from the study that Pines finds particularly intriguing is the deep sense of loneliness expressed by single women. She says she heard multiple stories about how the attacks made them recognize the importance of having a life partner. Pines wonders whether the country may experience a fall in the divorce rate as a consequence. â€œMaybe people will start to think differently about marriage and want to work harder at it,â€? she says. Stephanie Coontz, a marriage and family historian and author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (Basic Books, August 2000), would rather not comment on that theory, but does offer her husband's skeptical two cents: â€œSept. 11 caused people to postpone their vacations too. That doesn't mean they're never going to go.â€?
what really matters
Hispanic and black Americans are twice as likely as whites to have reconnected or to be planning to reconnect with long lost family members in response to the events of Sept. 11.
Which of the following have you done or do you think you'll do in response to the Sept. 11 attacks?
|Call family members more often||29%||27%||37%||42%|
|Send cards to family members more often||17%||16%||27%||18%|
|Contact family members with whom I haven't spoken in
a long time
|Write or rewrite a will||12%||11%||20%||14%|
|Reevaluate financial investments and/or hire a financial advisor||11%||10%||11%||16%|
|Plan a family vacation||9%||8%||**||19%|
|*Hispanics may be of any race|
|**Sample size too small||Source: American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup|
protecting the nest
Over three-quarters (77 percent) of Hispanic parents, compared with 52 percent of all parents, say they are paying closer attention now than they did before the attacks to the media their children consume.
Which of the following long-term changes have you made or will you make in your parenting behavior in response to the attacks?
OF KIDS 0-17
|Be more conscious about the media my children consume||52%||50%||33%||77%|
|Designate more â€œfamily timeâ€? with my kids during the week||40%||34%||57%||44%|
|Be more wary of allowing my kids to go to events where large crowds gather||39%||38%||35%||44%|
|Be more strict about letting my children go places alone||28%||27%||29%||29%|
|*Hispanics may be of any race.||Source: American Demographics/NFO Worldwide|
where the heart is
Of all age groups, America's youth seem to have found the most comfort at home since the assault of Sept. 11. Eighty-seven percent of 18- to 24-year-olds say the attacks have fundamentally increased their appreciation for their family.
|Percent of Americans who strongly/somewhat agree with the following:|
|The attacks have fundamentally changed my views toward parenting||40%||40%||39%||27%||25%||22%|
|The attacks have fundamentally increased my appreciation for my family||87%||81%||82%||76%||76%||82%|
|I feel less safe in my own home||26%||26%||30%||29%||29%||26%|
|I have become more distrustful of my own neighbors||15%||11%||11%||11%||7%||6%|
|Percent who have done or think they'll do the following in response to the attacks:|
|Call my family members more often||40%||30%||28%||29%||30%||28%|
|Send cards to family members more often||30%||18%||16%||15%||15%||19%|
|Source: American Demographics/NFO Worldwide|