Analyst predicts consumer revolution

November 24, 1991|By Pat Baldwin | Pat Baldwin,Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- Jobs are no longer forever. Streets are not safe. Earth is in ecological danger. Food may be deadly. And advertising bombards consumers with ever-so-mixed messages.

But not to worry.

Faith Popcorn, trend analyst and the so-called "Nostradamus of marketing," is predicting a "socioquake" -- a grass-roots shake-up of society prompted by more changes in the next 10 years than in the last 90.

Signs of the consumer-driven revolution are already apparent, Ms. Popcorn says. As consumers change what they buy -- and how they buy it -- they change who they are. Businesses that intend to survive had better be quick to get in on the act.

Since 1974, Ms. Popcorn's New York market-research company, BrainReserve, has been predicting what Americans will buy, where they'll work, how they'll live and what they'll think. The company's client list includes American Express Inc., Campbell Soup Co., Coca-Cola USA, Eastman Kodak Co., Nabisco Brands USA, Procter & Gamble Co., Rubbermaid Inc. and Timex Corp. Her credits also include such published predictions as the fall of New Coke.

In September, Doubleday released Ms. Popcorn's first book, "The Popcorn Report," which identifies 10 trends reshaping the country's consumer culture.

"I've never seen any changes as total as these before," the former advertising executive declares. Everybody but the very rich and the very poor will be taking part in this revolution, she says.

Here's a look into Ms. Popcorn's crystal ball. Her predictions are based on 10 trends that together provide "a map to the next decade." The trends include:

* Cocooning in a new decade. "The need to protect oneself from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world." In other words, this is the stay-at-home trend. We're hunkering down in a sort of hypernesting.

* Fantasy adventure. "Modern age whets our desire for roads untaken." Consumers are seeking vicarious escapes through consumption -- without risk. Illustrating this trend is the popularity of video rentals, foreign cuisines and perfumes with names such as "Safari."

* Small indulgences. "Stressed-out consumers want to indulge in affordable luxuries and seek ways to reward themselves." Consumers get an emotional fix by choosing one small category and buying the best. This could include regular visits to Victoria's Secret or indulgence in Haagan-Dazs ice cream and other special treats.

* Egonomics. "The sterile computer era breeds the desire to make a personal statement." Everyone wants a little recognition of "no one's quite like me." Consumers seek out the individuating, differentiating, customizing.

* Cashing out. "Working women and men, questioning personal-career satisfaction and goals, opt for simpler living." People are choosing to leave the corporate rat race in search of a better quality of life.

* Down-aging. "Nostalgic for their carefree childhood, baby boomers find comfort in familiar pursuits and products of their youth." This is the refusal to be bound by traditional age limitations, as when CBS-TV's Connie Chung, at 43, saying, "I want to have a baby."

* Staying alive. "Awareness that good health extends longevity leads to a new way of life." This trend used to be called fitness but has been expanded into a hyper-quest for health.

* The vigilante consumer. "The consumer manipulates marketers and the marketplace through pressure, protest and politics." There is no forgiveness of megacorporations that hide behind huge, complicated corporate structures. The consumer wants to know a biography of the product and the ethics of the maker.

* Ninety-nine lives. "Too fast a pace, too little time, causes societal schizophrenia and forces us to assume multiple roles and adapt easily." Time seems to have become faster than it used to be. Immediate is really immediate. This trend includes fast food, multifunctional products and cluster marketing techniques.

* Save our society (S.O.S.). "The country rediscovers a social conscience of ethics, passion and compassion." There's an effort afoot to make the '90s the first truly responsible decade -- the "Decency Decade," dedicated to environment, education and ethics.

Ms. Popcorn says her organization identifies trends by "Brailling the culture" -- a process that includes monitoring cultural signals such as magazines, newspapers, books, videos, movies, television, music, events and even fad foods.

"The consumer doesn't invent the future, but reacts to it," Ms. Popcorn says. "We talk to 3,000 consumers a year. We listen to children. We brainstorm and come up with ideas and patterns. We do a lot of hypothesizing."

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