Study: Consumers Anxious, But Ads Bring Some Comfort

Consumers remain more anxious about the economy than they were just after 9/11, and they want ads to inspire comfort and laughter, according to research by RoperASW.

Results of a global “Mood of the World” survey the New York consultancy conducted March 28-30 will be released this week. They show 42 percent of Americans optimistic about the future of the economy. That’s up from 36 percent in January, but below the 52 percent recorded in January 2002 and 49 percent shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Another fundamental indicator of pessimism: The percentage of Americans who say they are “very confident” the country’s free-enterprise system will “continue to work and keep this nation prosperous” has slipped from 62 percent after 9/11 to 53 percent now.

The gloom is affecting buying impulses. In this survey, 20 percent of respondents said now is a good time to buy things, compared with 25 percent in a March 2002 survey; 35 percent said it is a good time to wait, vs. 26 percent a year ago (see chart).

Economic woes and fear of terrorism are contributing to a feeling of resignation and wariness among a large segment of the population, the study says. “The events of the past two years seem to have worn people down —the jobless recovery, three years of a down stock market, the corporate accounting scandals,” said Jon Berry, vp, senior research director at Roper.

The study also suggests advertising plays a key role in making life seem normal in tough times. “It supplies the soundtrack to people’s daily experience,” Berry said. “It’s important that business not lose sight of that.”

Asked what “business should be doing,” 87 percent of Americans said companies should “advertise as usual,” up 12 points from Roper’s January 2002 study. “There’s a kind of escapist factor at work here, as people are looking to television and advertising to take the edge off,” Berry said. “That’s balanced by advertising that provides practical information, thereby grounding them in the mundane activities in daily life but in a way that’s not heavy-handed or ties into the current political or military situation.”

Among other things businesses should be doing, the survey says, are contributing to worthy causes and creating PSAs to support or rally the country. Still, Roper warns companies to tread lightly, as respondents do not want advertisers to get too close to the headlines of the day.

In a separate study from Initiative Media North America weighing response to the war in Iraq, more than two-thirds of respondents said they will carry on as usual in key activities such as dining out (69 percent), going to the movies (69 percent), shopping in retail stores (72 percent) and visiting with friends (75 percent).

“People are going out to eat, they’re going to see movies. Therefore they’re still reachable by advertisers,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, evp, director of global research at Initiative. “Americans still maintain a strong of sense of humor, an ability to laugh at themselves, so given the uncertainties with the economy and the war, humor is naturally the best way to go at this point.”