Chevy tastes persist on Cadillac income

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$100,000+ bracket doesn't buy sense of wealth

Forget "Dynasty's" Alexis Carrington as the symbol of the way the wealthy live. Murphy Brown is a more typical example these days.

A study conducted for Conde Nast Publications by Roper Starch Worldwide found most people with household incomes of $100,000 or more have made their money the old-fashioned way: They earned it.

"What we had was this significant migration of people who came out of middle-class upbringing, primarily worked their way into affluent status, but kept their middle-class values and sensibilities," said Michael Clinton, Conde Nast senior VP-group sales and marketing.

U.S. Census figures show the number of households with annual incomes over $100,000 is growing. In 1967, the group accounted for 1.7% of total U.S. households and climbed to 2.6% in 1980. By 1990, the total rose to 4.9%, and by 2000 it will have increased again by 50%.

But those who fall into that income group don't really consider themselves wealthy. Of the 1,000 adults surveyed through in-home interviews, 40% consider themselves only moderately well-off.

The study divided the wealthiest Americans into five groups.

There are Luxury Lovers, representing 29% of the group, who are young and image-conscious; Savvy Affluents, 23%, who are most price-conscious and save money; Strained Affluents, 13%, who have the lowest incomes and strive to reach more luxurious lifestyles; Contented Affluents, 14%, who are older, married and least appearance-conscious; and finally, Trail Blazers, 21%, who are heavy travelers and are most into new media and computers.

Marketers must learn how to target their messages to each specific group, Mr. Clinton said. For example, marketing Land Rover North America's Range Rover to the affluents would require five different messages or careful consideration of which group is being targeted. To the Luxury Lovers, the message would be: "Can you afford not to be seen in one?" But to the Contented Affluents the message would be revised to say, "Can you afford not to feel this safe?"

Despite stereotypes, affluent Americans do shop in stores other than Tiffany's. In fact, 64% are cross-shoppers, who are just as likely to shop in a discount mass merchandiser as they are to visit an upscale department store. Twenty-nine percent said they shopped discount and outlet stores more often during the past three years than previously.

When asked where they bought leisure clothing in the last 12 months, department stores topped the list at 65%; small specialty stores, 45%; large specialty stores, 31%; outlet/discount stores, 28%; chain discount stores, 22%.

"The affluent market has been an emerging and fast-growing group of Americans who have broken through income levels and are redefining affluence," said Mr. Clinton. "Ironically, once again, it's those baby boomers who redefined the youth culture, professional life and parenthood, and through each process they have shattered what was the prevailing impression."

Copyright September 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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