Archive for December, 2011

Our Bags, Ourselves

Dog Whistling our way past the great recession

Stealth status. Permissible exclusivity. Whatever we call it, the rules of telegraphing who we are by what we consume have changed since the Great Recession. Our culture has blown past conspicuous consumption to a full-out embrace of conspicuous connection. Now what we consume shows how connected we are – to others, to ideas and culture, to experiences.


The most recent tangible sign? The rise of the new “It Bag” – more about in-the-know than in-the-money.  A New York Times piece, A Message on Every Arm, referred to the phenomenon as “encapsulating the idea psychologist Daniel Gilbert popularized that happiness grows more through experiences than purchases.”

Sure, Sarah Jessica Parker will still carry her multi-thousand dollar designer bags, but she’s just as likely to be spotted on the street with her Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) tote, signaling her connection and commitment to the arts. Many of the message-in-a-bags are more obscure and insider, serving as dog-whistle differentiators to others connected to the same experiences or causes.

So, if what we wear, drive and do says who we are, how do Americans see themselves (or want to see themselves) now?

(Total adults)

Responsible: 85%

Loving: 83%

Hardworking: 83%

Ethical: 79%. And among the affluent ($150,000+), “ethical” is the number one self-descriptor: 91% say “ethical” describes them very well/perfectly.  (Source DYG SCAN®)

Adults increasingly are describing themselves as smart, courageous and what we call more “We” than “Me”: giving higher grades to their relationships with family and friends.

From cars to clothes, consumption in America has often been as much about rationales as reality… a nonverbal form of social storytelling. The “Prius-ing” of the It Bag is another illustration that consumers are bringing revised and more complex rationales to the marketplace.

Business Implications:  Whether you’re marketing a luxury or value brand, consumers are telling us that purchase and possession decisions are as much about their story as your story. Cautious, conscientious consumers have raised the bar on expectations. What do they want? True quality, trusted value, a sure thing. And now more than ever, if your brand helps them project their best version of themselves, you’re in.