Affluency: Being 'Technology-Infused' Proves Taxing for Affluent

Adoption of New Toys Such as E-readers, Tablets Has Been Rapid by Well-off, but Study Finds It's Made Their Lives More Complicated

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As people of means acquire more technological devices to simplify their lives, their lives have actually become more complicated.

It's a finding arrived at in January of this year -- the dawn of a new decade (of sorts) -- when Ipsos Mendelsohn, which surveys monthly households earning more than $100,000, decided to divine how the world, and the lives of this "Affluent" demographic, had changed in the previous 10 years.

On the world stage, the prior decade was a decade of tremendous change, most of it undeniably bad -- 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, economic boom years that ended in the Great Recession, the rise of China, massive deficits, political polarization and more.

Credit: Source: Ipsos Mendelsohn
A new study from Digitas, based on data from the Mendelsohn Affluent Survey and Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer, explains why mass affluence is over, which households are likely to achieve wealth in the next decade, and how media use changes the wealthier one becomes.

When we asked Affluents in January 2011 how their lives had changed in the previous decade, the top answer -- selected by 79% -- was that they'd become "technology-infused." And it is easy to see why. Consider that :

  • Fully 98% of Affluents are online, averaging over 25 hours of internet use a week.
  • Affluents own an average of 3.5 TVs, and three-fourths have at least one high-definition TV.
  • Two-thirds have a digital video recorder, of which 58% report always or frequently fast-forwarding through commercials.
The list of touchpoints we measure -- the potential places where the Affluents may consume media and be exposed to advertising -- has now risen to 38.

The most dramatic changes have been seen in the adoption of "new" media platforms. Smartphones barely qualify as "new media" any more, having gone decidedly mainstream -- 52% of the Affluents own them, rising to 92% if we broaden the scope to those with any kind of wireless or cellular phone.

The newest of the new -- tablets and e-readers -- are seeing explosive growth among the Affluents (who, of course, are not only enthusiastic about media and technology, but also have the discretionary income to buy such devices). Our monthly Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer survey shows that e-reader ownership doubled between September 2010 and April 2011 from 12% to 23%. Tablet growth has been just as dramatic, and it is poised to continue. Consider that 14% of Affluents now have a tablet, and an additional 15% plan to buy one in the next 12 months. Put another way, nearly one-third of the Affluents may own tablets within the next 12 months.

But technology, seemingly like everything else from the last decade, is viewed by the Affluents as something of a mixed blessing. When we asked how their lives had changed over the past decade, "infused with technology" was the most widely cited answer. But equally telling are the phrases coming next on the list -- "more complicated," "more stressful" and "focused on finding ways to do more with less." In contrast, fewer than half said their lives had become "more fun" or "easier."

At least in the short-term, expect both trends to continue -- enthusiastic adoption of new technology, and the increasing complication of everyday life. A host of new tablets, e-readers and other platforms are poised for introduction, surely bringing lower prices, new capabilities, and increasingly complicated purchase decisions. For most, a tablet or e-reader doesn't replace an existing device, it becomes a supplement -- another device to carry, manage, troubleshoot and potentially pay monthly charges for. And it's another device to be accounted for in the complex calculus of choosing a media platform for a particular task or occasion (e.g., a smartphone for calls and texting, a tablet for app usage, a print magazine to read on the train, a laptop for document creation and internet use).

Expect another trend to continue: Life will continue to get more complicated for those of us in advertising and media. We must understand the growing adoption and use of new technology, as well as the evolving "topography" of platforms and occasions. At each point in this topography, we must understand consumers' level of engagement, receptivity to advertising, preferences for apps vs. web-based content, unmet information needs and much more. And we must do it all in an environment in which consumers feel they are facing more complex and stressful decisions than ever before.

Life will be getting more complicated, indeed.

Bob Shullman and Stephen Kraus are president and chief research and insights officer of Ipsos Mendelsohn, respectively. The Affluency column appears monthly on AdAgeStat.
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