Half a world away in Rio de Janeiro, a young media executive coddles her 5-year-old VW Parati, praying for its long life and dreading the high cost of insurance, often as much as 20% of a new car's price.
And in Poland, Coca-Cola spends $350 million to create regional plants in anticipation of what one analyst calls "Twinkie-ization": a rising number of consumers able to afford small luxuries.
The accoutrements of middle class living are becoming available to increasing numbers of people in countries once considered Third World.
In most cases, the unscientific criteria for middle-class status are more in the hearts and minds of the purse-string holders than in anything measurable. Purchases of everything from bottles of Coke and Evian water and the nearly ubiquitous Big Mac, along with the status of owning a Toyota, Sony, Toshiba, Whirlpool and an American Express card, is causing marketers to perk up and target these emerging middle classes.
This activity offers significant opportunity to multinationals who find their marketing efforts going flat in developed markets.
Igal Litovsky, director of the research department at Leo Burnett Mexico, appears to reflect the views of colleagues around the world: "I think clients here may be having a hard time defining what the middle class is."
No matter: The real significance is that the emerging Third World middle class has an apparently insatiable appetite for consumer goods.
Jasline, a 23-year-old single waitress from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who earns 11/2 times the country's average per-capita income of $3,000, already owns a Sony color TV that cost her $78, and a Luxor refrigerator purchased for $97.
She's saving for a stereo, unconcerned about the brand name.
Klibson Jose de Renato Silva, an entrepreneur, lives with his wife and three kids in a two bedroom apartment in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. The family earns about $6,000 a month, and Mr. Silva says he avoids financing purchases because of the high interest rates.
The Silvas own two automobiles, one beach house, five TV sets, four radios, one computer, one video camera, one videocassette recorder, one freezer, one microwave oven, one refrigerator and two washing machines, which were all purchased five years ago when times were easier.
The most desired status symbol: a yacht, which might cost something around $100,000 nowadays.
Almost all aspire to own more.
Like Shyam and Seema Apte, 32 and 27, respectively, who live in a 350-square-foot apartment in Bombay, with their son, Amar, 6, and Mr. Apte's elderly parents.
Although they have most of the comforts of the middle class, such as a 14-inch Sanyo TV, Singer sewing machine and an unbranded computer, Mr. and Mrs. Apte long for larger living quarters-and a Maruti (Suzuki) Omni van that will cost 11/2 times their annual income of $5,738.
The Aptes-he owns a printing company while she is a bank clerk-are saving to buy the van in December 1995. Mr. Apte also plans to obtain a MasterCard, joining the million-plus Indian credit-card holders now doing more than $638 million in annual business, with a yearly growth rate of 40%.
Marketers are responding to opportunities everywhere. In India, the multinationals have caught the scent. Kellogg last month introduced its Wheat Flakes, Corn Flakes and Basmati Flakes cereals and will run advertising by Hindustan Thompson Associates, Bombay, to tell consumers that cereals are healthier than a traditional Indian breakfast of tea or milk with biscuits or grain snacks and eggs.
McDonald's is scheduled to open three outlets by 1995. KFC also is planning to enter. Other companies just arrived: Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola Co. (a year ago), H.J. Heinz Co., Black & Decker, Jos. Seagram & Sons, Sony Corp., Matsushita, Shell Oil, Samsung Electronics, AT&T, Sprint, Daewoo, Daimler-Benz, Peugeot, Whirlpool, Compaq Computer, Electrolux and the list goes on.
"For multinationals like us, [the middle class] obviously gives us a fair amount of money, has the right kind of attitude-they are willing to try out new brands, new tastes. So the future looks quite bright for us and other marketers," says Pradeep Gidwani, marketing manager at Bombay's United Distillers International, soon to introduce Black & White whiskey from its repertoire of world-famous brands.
Poland isn't far behind. In addition to Coke's $350 million outlay for plants, Procter & Gamble called on Polish President Lech Walesa to help inaugurate its new $70 million Pampers factory, expected to produce 2 billion disposable diapers annually for Eastern Europe.
P&G is expected to invest $10 million in TV advertising in Poland this year for its Pampers diapers, Wash & Go shampoo and Ariel detergents, a figure representing about 11% of the country's entire ad spending. P&G works with the Warsaw offices of its internatonal agencies, Leo Burnett Co., D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and Grey Advertising.
Alan Gottesman, an analyst at Paine Webber in New York, thinks the rise of the new middle class is "unparallelled in the consumer sector."
"People are going from having nothing to having something. That's not happened before," he says.
Yet he cautions about overexcitement at-and overestimation of-the new market: "I look at it as the Twinkie-ization of the world," he said, referring to the popular individual creme-filled sponge cakes that American children love to have in the lunchboxes. "It's the little things that are treats and don't cost much and feel like a luxury."
"Refrigerators and cars, that's a different deal," Mr. Gottesman elaborates. "To have a refrigerator, you have to have electricity. To drink a Coke or eat a Twinkie, you just have to have a mouth."
Certainly Twinkie-ization applies to part of a growing market like Brazil's-where franchising for low-price goods like fast food, such as KFC, McDonald's and Domino's, and Benetton clothing, is a booming $49 billion business generating 700,000 jobs and where shopping malls are growing by leaps and bounds (40 at last count in SÌo Paulo alone).
But the hunger for consumer goods in Brazil doesn't stop at the odd pair of Levi's or a Nestle Milky bar.
Sales of televisions have been hot-and even those with limited incomes are buying them. In 1993, a total of 3.4 million color TV sets were sold, 48% more than in 1992. A further growth of up to 20% is expected this year.
Brazil's ad spending is reflective of the growing number of consumers who own televisions: 65% of the $3.5 billion spent annually goes into TV commercials.
China's huge population has long been a source of marketer fantasy. But the market potential of more than a billion people-about a quarter of them, or 300 million, middle class by Chinese standards-has, until recently, remained a fantasy.
Now urban Chinese families, restricted to one child, find they have disposable incomes.
Hao Xiadong, 32, and his 30-year old wife, Zheng Xiaolin, epitomize the conspicuously consuming middle class: owners of a $270 Chinese-made refrigerator and $700 foreign-made color TV, telephone that carried a $600 installation charge, $600 Panasonic VCR, $1,200 Toshiba air conditioner and their most prized possession-crammed into the miniscule Beijing apartment-a $1,200 piano made by a Chinese-German joint venture.
The family has its future mapped out. He will retain his government job as an engineer and she will soon quit her job as an English interpreter and start her own business-or failing that, find a higher-paying job with a foreign company.
That, Mr. Hao reasons, would enable the couple to buy a flat and other comforts and perhaps give their daughter a private school education that can run into thousands of dollars a year at elite schools, compared with the $35 to $125 public school costs.
In a country where the monthly per capita income is about $35, the two are very well off on his salary alone, which is nearly $300 a month.
"Twinkie-ization" notwithstanding, even high-ticket items like automobiles are becoming increasingly available to a middle class in countries where the thought of private transportation would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
Fiat's Uno and GM's Corsa have enjoyed great success in the Brazilian market. With prices around $7,000, Uno last year experienced a 44.4% sales increase from 1992.
Spending to support the Corsa has made GM one of Brazil's largest advertisers, with ad expenditures estimated at $49 milion this year, up 88% from 1992. McCann-Erickson Publicidade, SÌo Paulo, handles Corsa in Brazil. Poland's automobile market has experienced a similar growth spurt.
The availability of credit in countries like Mexico also appears to have boosted sales, although consumers are wary about high interest rates, often more than 20%.
Mexico's slumping auto industry offers a new Nissan Tsuru (Sentra) for a down payment of $2,374 and 41 monthly installments of $270, a total outlay of just over $13,000. But the option of credit is welcome to many Mexicans who could never afford the upfront cash payments required five years ago.
Credit cards have become the boon and the bane of Mexico's middle class-now available to people earning as little as $650 a month.
The National Association of Credit Card Holders now estimates 5 million Mexicans are carrying credit cards-although the downside is that a million of them can't pay their bills, says Association President Francisco Castro de la Cruz.
Says Luit Mulder, sales director of Lever Polska, Warsaw, "We know the more expensive brands are going to increase their share over time. People are making more money, but there is still a lot of pressure on their incomes."
Written by Kathleen Barnes with contributions from Mir Maqbool Alam Khan, Rick Butler, Christine Hill, Elisabeth Malkin, Claudia Penteado and Sheila Tefft.