Learning from Pew Research: Global mood swings
The world is realigning as we all know. This research from Pew illustrates the underlying forces driving consumerism as it shifts to a global force mitigated by new values and old disappointments. The West is disillusioned as the euphoria of half a century of consumer culture disintegrates into a divided society where the haves have too much and the hove nots have not enough. Consumerism is, at its heart, the culture Capitalism, and here in this Pew research we can see that even in the USA faith in the Capitalist ideal is waning. As powerful a force is the rise of non Western cultures, The Majority World, who are embracing economic development and the benefits of both the industrial and technology revolutions. They are simply less committed to Capitalism as a philosophy.
Western commentators love telling stories of Ferraris in China so as to bolster their belief in the myth that the Capitalist ethic is the predominant human impulse. This is clearly not the case; even in China the party is over. The huge coming trend, in Indonesia, a realigning Middle East and the Indian sub continent is that traditional cultural identities are not being subsumed by capitalism’s consumer culture.
Interesting to note that the US, despite the narrative of the Presidential Election, is beginning to report an improvement in perceived economic strength. It is Europe that is in the doldrums. Only 19% of Europeans think that Economic conditions are good in their country.
The big cultural difference between the US and the rest of the world is how Americans believe in “hard work”. At its heart America is a working nation, despite inescapable gulfs in income. Cultures that remain grounded in either aristocratic or theocratic governance are less likely to believe in “hard work” (as an engine of personal development) because there are other cultural forces at work that define personal success.
Europe has the lowest percent of its people believing that they can be successful if they work hard. Presumably because there are other forces influencing their destiny, denying opportunity or mitigating the value of their own work.
These values are in flux and are reshaping the culture of consumption. Aspirational values are changing across the world and becoming more in line with Asian communal values than American individual values. As this recession passes we will be left with a very confident Majority World and a wounded Western World. Each will transform the other. Majority World citizens such as those in Bangladesh, South Africa and Brazil, who have seen incredible economic growth will carry with them deep cultural values stemming from ancient cultural traditions. Meanwhile the The West is on a search for its soul and is finding it in social networks and shared values, away from traditional Christianity. Within a decade these two trends could very well align to define aspirations, especially in an urbanized context, in terms of communal success more so than individual success.
The implications are huge for Western Brands. The fast growing retail and apparel brand Uniqlo is a paradigm of these values and should be watched intently. The idea of “Made for All” is the antithesis to Western consumer philosophy as taught in business schools and underpinned by Maslow’s hierarchy (itself a Western construct). We will be looking increasingly to The Majority World as new marketers invent a new consumer philosophy that competes with the oldest of Western brands.
In 2016 The Olympics will be in Rio and the spotlight will be on The Majority World where these trends may very well come together and be on display.