Since the beginning of the decade, consumers have been uncertain about some of the heaviest of issues: the economy, the government, job security.
Now that the nation is reaching the decade's halfway mark, consumers still are nervous about what lies ahead in 1995. Those who make a living tracking the mood of the U.S. consumer say confidence is likely to rise, but that feeling of edginess will linger.
What the U.S. consumer will seek next year, more than anything is hope, comfort and a renewed sense of spirituality. The marketers who understand and meet those needs will win them over.
Gone is the quest for status, so prevalent in the 1980s. Instead, consumers will seek products that reward their search for self-fulfillment.
"As nervousness persists we are going to see more and more spiritual themes in advertising," says Allison Cohen, president of PeopleTalk, a marketing consultancy.
Designer Karl Lagerfeld and Parfums International, a division of Unilever's Elizabeth Arden Co., are acutely aware of this need. They used a spiritual theme to market the new fragrance Sun Moon Stars. Using the angelic Daryl Hannah as spokeswoman, the 30-second spots created in-house take viewers to a heaven-like place to escape the experiences of everyday life.
Spirituality already is appearing in U.S. pop culture as well. In a recent week, six books with spiritual themes topped The New York Times best-seller list: "Embraced by the Light," by Betty Eadie with Curtis Taylor; "Where Angels Walk" by Joan Wester Anderson; "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck; "A History of God" by Karen Armstrong; "Cure of the Soul" by Thomas Moore; and "The Book of Virtues," by William Bennett.
The current popularity of angel products, TV programs and literature also is indicative of consumers' needs for spirituality and hope.
The trend got its start with the 1990 publication of "A Book of Angels" by Sophy Burnham and has gained momentum ever since, with all signs pointing to a continuation of the angel rage next year.
"It is far more mainstream than we would have thought. It's a step beyond New Age," says Ms. Cohen.
In 1995, people will continue to question institutions such as government.
"There is a growing sense of depression in the country due to the fact that this industrial age is ending and people are losing faith in the systems and institutions that are supposed to enrich their lives," says Gerard Harrington, managing editor of Trends Research Institute's quarterly Trends Journal.
"People are realizing that they can't depend on our society as a whole to do a lot for them and that you can't trust a lot of people," says Bradford Fay, VP at Roper Starch Worldwide. A national identity crisis has been fueled, he says, by the loss of communism as a unifying threat.
To combat consumers' lack of trust in institutions, "marketers will be offering comfort and hope [in 1995]," says Mr. Harrington.
Like Karl Lagerfeld and Parfums International, some companies already are taking steps toward this approach, using various key words like "genuine" and "trust" to nurture consumers-a trend that's likely to continue next year.
For example, General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division used the "Genuine Chevrolet" campaign to recapture consumer trust in the brand and AT&T Corp. uses the tagline "Your True Voice."
The lingering feelings of mistrust in institutions and disappointment about the economy, government and job security will cause consumers to turn inward next year, becoming more self-reliant.
Roper's Mr. Fay believes people are coming to the realization that "a booming economy does not mean a booming paycheck. ... In 1995, there will be a focus on self-separation from society-going it alone."
For marketers, the must-do task is to build relationships by using things like frequent-flier clubs and consumer-reward programs. Marketers' involvement with local communities also will be important.
As the turn of the century approaches, people will "desire something more satisfying than professionalism," says Mr. Harrington.
Such feelings already are popping up among consumers. Jobs are becoming less of a priority. People are spending more time with family, getting involved in outdoor activities and taking short vacations close to home on the weekends. More career women, particularly in upper-income brackets, are leaving the workplace to raise children. The office dress code is becoming less strict.
"The family will regain strength," says Mr. Harrington. However, its definition is beginning to change. (See story on Page S-17.)
Partly because of this consumer move to autonomy, one of the market segments poised for strong growth is the high-tech industry. People will become more comfortable with technology and start bringing more products found at work into the home.
Roughly a third of the U.S. workforce reportedly is working part-time from home. Reflecting that trend, as many PCs were sold for home use in the U.S. as to businesses this year, according to Link Resources, a consultancy.
"Consumers are gaining comfort [with high-tech products]," says Michael Krauss, a partner at consultancy OmniTech Consulting Group.