In TIME magazine (8 July 2013), Jeffrey Kluger asked: “What happens to a breed of people hardwired by genes or culture or both to build, build, build when most of the building is done? What happens when the sprinting dog actually catches the car?”
In South Africa, which is one of the world’s most unequal societies, we would assume that most people are still sprinting to catch the car, win the lottery, buy the house, goods and lifestyle of the rich and famous.
futurefact finds that assuming the majority of South Africans are highly materialistic and driven by conspicuous consumption could (like most assumptions) be rather dangerous.
Six out of 10 adults living in all but the rural areas of South Africa felt: “I might want lots of things, but I actually do have most of the things I need.” As would be expected, those least likely to support this view were people living in villages or in informal settlements, working class people and those in lower LSMs who are still striving to catch up and lead a better lifestyle.
This is where inadequate education and skills limit employment options to the most poorly paid, labour-intensive work, where job opportunities are scarce and unemployment is highest. But it was interesting that even among the working class, half felt that there were things they could do without. Three quarters of those in the upper-middle and upper classes acknowledged they already had most of what they really needed even though there were things they still hankered after.
This may be what Kluger describes as “consumptive happiness, the happiness that comes not from sowing but from reaping, not from building the house but from watching TV in your new living room”. Perhaps marketers and advertisers would do well to consider adopting messages about the experiences to be derived as a result of one’s efforts in achieving adequate resources, rather than an emphasis on constant acquisition of goods.
What may well resonate with consumers (at least those who are not at the subsistence end of the market) is an emphasis on the experiences that bring pleasure and peace. These are the joy of what one can experience (using their products and services) in terms of family and friends, joint activities, relaxation and ‘being’.
It is also somewhat surprising and reassuring that despite living in a developing country like South Africa where we are a long way from catching the car, levelling the economic playing field and satisfying the needs of everyone, South Africans appear to be relatively happy and more positive than their American counterparts. That it is young South Africans who are among the most positive has important implications for the future (of course we need to acknowledge that it is essential that they are able to acquire the skills they will need to find jobs if they are to retain this outlook).
But for marketers, an optimistic market is fertile ground, as it is often optimism that determines uptake of goods and services rather than income per se. Communications that build on this are likely to create a positive resonance with markets they serve.
The findings presented above are from futurefact 2012, which is based on a probability sample of 2 946 people aged 15 years and over, living in communities of more than 500 people throughout South Africa representing 21.6 million adults. To find out more, check out www.futurefact.co.za