Special Report: Six Months Later


Affluent Consumers Have Changed Buying Rationale Rather Than Habits

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Six months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, affluent American consumers have changed their
Read executive summary of Ad Age/Ziccardi study (Microsoft WORD format).
purchasing rationale but not their buying habits, according to a new survey.

Commissioned by Advertising Age and conducted by Ziccardi Partners Frierson Mee, New York, the study found that high-income consumers now say they purchase luxury goods in a quest for well-being rather than a quest for status.

"For my well-being" is the No. 2 motivation they gave. The top motivator for luxury purchases is "To buy things I know will last."

No longer a badge
In the current environment perforated with fear of terrorism and financial losses, "there's a quieter, more internal, more reality-based reason why you're buying luxury products -- it's no longer about making a statement, it's no longer about things that are external, about wearing a badge," said Heather Mee, managing partner-strategic planning at Ziccardi Partners.

Buying luxury goods "as a status symbol" ranked 14th among motivations to purchase. Ziccardi concludes, in fact, that well-being has become the new status symbol,

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and that nurturing a feeling of well-being has become an important rationalization for making luxury purchases.

"When it comes to indulging oneself," Ms. Mee said, "it doesn't feel correct somehow to be indulgent in a decadent way. The need to satisfy is not so much impulsive or to be fabulous or to make an impression -- but it's really about 'I want something of luxury that's well-made, but it's also about giving me a sense of well-being and feeling good.'"

Brand names less influential
Quality and value rise to the top as attributes that motivate purchases in individual luxury segments, and brand name alone isn't nearly as influential, the study suggests.

Ziccardi probed affluent respondents about buying habits in five luxury segments -- fashion, jewelry/watches, high-end retailers, hotels/resorts and wine/champagne -- and quality and value usually vie to be the top two motivators, followed by price. Brand name lags well behind, even though on the overall list of top motivators "To enjoy my favorite brands" ranks third.

The idea of enjoying a favorite brand -- rather than a brand name standing on its own -- can contribute to a sense of well-being.

"Brands are important to people because brands have meaning," said Ms. Mee, whose agency's luxury clients include Ellen Tracy Inc., Loews Hotels and Allied Domecq's Champagne Mumm. "It's not like brands are over. Consumers are going to

Photo: AP
Only 12.8% said fashion brands matter now.
continue to buy into your brand because of what it stands for, not necessarily for the name. I think it's the end of the brand as a badge. ... You can buy into a brand idea and a brand concept, which is what all of these luxury brands stand for ... [but]wearing a brand with a label on the outside is less about what people are searching for."

Fashion brands
In the brand-conscious fashion segment, for example, only 12.8% of respondents said the brand name itself was among the top three reasons for buying a product. But 65.7% cited quality and 58.4% cited value, which can be attributes of specific brands. Price was noted by 41.7%.

"To be lighthearted" ranks 10th as an overall purchase motivator; "To be impulsive" ranks 12th and "To be fabulous," 13th. "

Even though consumers showed their serious side in the survey, Ms. Mee doesn't advise a shift to more somber ad messages if such seriousness doesn't fit the brand -- attributes such as lightheartedness can contribute to well-being, too.

In the luxury wine/champagne segment, for example, 58.1% ranked quality among the most important reasons to purchase, while 24.6% cited price and 24% cited value -- but topping all three, and cited by 66.9%, was taste.

Knee-jerk reaction
"People don't want to feel like marketers are trying to have some kind of knee-jerk reaction to quote-unquote being in touch with them [after 9/11]," she said. "I also think marketers need to be true to their values, what their brand is about. If it's about being fun, being optimistic, being sporty, then they should continue [with those themes]. Those are the aspects of the brand that are going to fit within somebody's concept of well-being.

"What do marketers do?" Ms. Mee continued. "They make sure they understand their own consumers and their own brand value. Everyone's going to have their own definition of well-being [and] well-being can have personality that's intellectual or whimsical or care-free."

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