The New Normal

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Half a year later, that terrible Tuesday in September continues to haunt Americans. Though their lives are returning to some kind of normal and few people have radically modified their day-to-day activities, shifts run the gamut from keeping cell phones handy to installing new locks and looking more for the made-in-the-USA label.

Those are just some findings of an exclusive survey on the repercussions of Sept. 11 conducted for Advertising Age by Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Lightspeed Research, a global marketing research unit of WPP Group. The wide-ranging study surveyed 3,810 consumers online from Feb. 22 to March 3 and has a margin of error of 1.6%.

A full 80% of respondents said 9/11 still affects their professional and personal lives, while 76% said they think of the events at least weekly, and 23% dwell on them at least once per day. "We don't feel safe anymore," wrote one. Said another: "I can't look into a blue sky without thinking of that day."

KEEPING UP

Keeping up with the world is increasingly important, with 43% watching more 24-hour news channels and 41% saying they turn to the Internet for news more often. E-mail use to reach friends and family was up for 25% of respondents.

Finances are a source of unease, but respondents attributed hardships to the economy rather than terrorism. The most common effects were reduced personal wealth for 41% of respondents, less disposable income for 35% and job insecurity for 27%. Yet 60% of those surveyed said they have not changed their spending. Those who did said they spent less rather than more (35% vs. 5%). Some are shying away from big-ticket items: 17% said they are less likely to buy a vehicle (vs. 6% more likely) and 21% are less likely to buy a home (vs. 5% who are more likely).

"I think twice before making a big purchase because you never know what will happen," one respondent said.

Marketers trying to court consumers who are spending money need not have rushed to replace billboards with flags or air patriotic spots. Red, white and blue themes made no difference to 48% of respondents and turned off 27%. Only 9% responded favorably. But loyalty was manifest in purchases; 24% said they would pay more for made-in-the-USA products than they would imports.

Buying patterns for food and staples have remained the same for 84% of respondents. Some 77% report eating the same amount of comfort food as before 9/11; 71% consume the same amount of healthy food as before.

Some changes

Some lifestyle changes have materialized: 36% of respondents said they are more likely to visit with friends and family at home, and 31% said they will spend more time there. Initial predictions of a baby boom, a big exodus to the suburbs and a burrowing inward haven't occurred. Only 3% said they are more likely to have children, and 9% said they are considering a move for security reasons.

Security is playing a bigger role for 18% of adult respondents. Since 9/11, about 12% installed burglar alarms and locks while 9% bought a gun and 4% took up self-defense instruction.

People appear to have gotten over their fear of flying, though respondents were evenly divided on whether they would fly or drive on vacations (48% each). Airlines were more attractive to single travelers; cars appealed to married couples, parents and people over 40. Only 11% of those surveyed said they would curtail air travel; 78% said they would make no changes.

The most important factor in flying continues to be cheap airline tickets (48% pre-9/11 and 35% post), but security has grown in importance (15%)."When I travel," one person wrote, "it takes longer to get in and out of airports (this is a good thing)."

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