Sept. 11, a year later: consumers still wary

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With the country nearing a year of mourning, changes to Americans' psyche since Sept. 11 appear permanent. But behavioral shifts on purchasing and socializing largely have seesawed to where they were before the terrorist attacks, according to an exclusive survey conducted for Advertising Age by WPP Group's Lightspeed Online Research.

Psychological changes such as vulnerability and vigilance, gratefulness, xenophobia, a focus on "today" and security now seem part of the national fabric, while avid watching of TV news and daily reflections on the strikes have ebbed, according to the online survey of 2,309 adults from Aug. 12 through Aug. 16. The survey follows a similar one conducted by Lightspeed for Ad Age last March, the half-year point following the tragedy.

"It seems like every other day someone says `Well, since 9/11...,"' one respondent said. "It is almost that 9/11 has started another era."

Steven Marks, national account director at Lightspeed, said the second study confirms initial findings. "All of the fears and concerns post-9/11 with regard to our own security-personal and financial-could have disappeared and people would say all of a sudden `I'm fine, and I'm the same person I was on Sept. 10th, 2001,' but that's not what we are finding," he said. "The perceptions six months out are still prevalent 12 months out. That goes back to the whole issue of a `new normal.' "

Time has not eased preoccupation with the events of Sept. 11. In August, 64% of respondents said their daily routines are marred by thoughts of the attacks, up from 62% in March. The percentage of people thinking daily of 9/11, however, fell, (15% vs. 23% in March) along with adults saying they thought of Sept. 11 at least once per week (66% vs. 76% in March). The survey's margin of error was 2%.

"It may get easier, but we will never feel safe again," one survey particpant wrote.

reactions

Reactions ranged from revised wills to nurses wondering how they would respond to sudden disasters. Married moms continue to be most affected. "I'm still uncomfortable having my family split up at all," said one. "My children now have cellphones. Even though they aren't supposed to have them in school, I still have them take them and keep them turned off."

Though Americans credit the recession rather than terrorism with changes to their financial situation, more adults report there has been an impact on their finances-66% in August vs. 63% in March. A full 44% report reduced value of personal assets such as 401K plans. While 57% of respondents reported no spending change since 9/11, those who are retrenching are cutting deep despite well-advertised 0% financing on autos and historically low mortgage rates. And 37% are six times as likely to spend less, compared with 35% in March.

Safety continues to be big, with August respondents saying they felt less safe in public than they did in March, though it could not be determined if the sensitivity stemmed from the coming anniversary. In March, 46% said they felt "very safe" in offices, vs. 39% in August; for cinemas, it declined from 38% to 36%, and at malls, 33% to 30%.

hunkered down

"I am less likely to attend large public functions. I do not go to the city to shop," one respondent said. "I try to get my kids not to go over the Golden Gate Bridge or go to large events. My family thinks I'm crazy because I am afraid."

Consumers are increasingly hunkering down on personal safety. In August, 16% said they are installing locks, bars or burglar alarms (vs. 12% in March), with 11% buying guns (9% in March).

Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they were concerned about airport security, the same as in March, though fewer are confident about airport security (13% in August vs. 19% in March).

"I have metal orthotics in my shoes. I have been stopped up to three times on the same flight," another respondent said. "In the history of aviation, how many hijackings have been attempted by overweight, out-of-shape, middle-age white guys?"

Though some Americans revel in closer family ties, they realize the cost. Trips to the airport are cause for anxiety, and everything from drinking water to dark-skinned foreigners suspect.

"Two days before the Fourth of July, I was at Kinko's. An Arab-American sitting next to me asked me how to spell `congratulate.' I told him but I was thinking to myself `What is the congratulation for-a successful attack?' I would have never have thought that way before Sept 11," wrote another respondent.

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