Analysis & Opinion

The Extreme Makeover of America

June 16, 2009 MullenLowe

America is going through a significant and profound cultural makeover. Exacerbated by the Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama and accelerated by the social implications related to the Great Recession – there are Macro Trends at large that are fundamentally changing consumer behavior: “from the way things used to be to the new reality.” As consumers shout out “move-that-bus” – what will the new consumer reality look like? Here’s what we found:

1. Old is new
A new type of consumer is emerging – the “unconsumer:” who isn’t as quick to default to always buying new. They’re looking to make things last longer (e.g., they repair shoes at a cobbler) and are unashamedly shopping at nearly-new stores. Their “unconsumer” stay-with-the-old mindset also impacts big ticket purchase behavior, influencing decisions like buying “certified used” vehicles vs. new – and remodeling or purchasing older homes over new construction.

2. Goodbye me, hello we
It’s not cool to be self-indulgent and egotistical. An entitled “me-me-me” attitude is becoming less common as the Millennial “generation-we” comes of age, and consumers in general become more connected – and more concerned about finding purpose in life. Racial barriers continue to be broken down – as the growth of cultural diversity and increased levels of mutual acceptance signal a shift to the “collective-we” and the birth of an ethnically rich, new socially conscious Americana.

3. Help yourself rules
Tainted by an era of “greed is good” and abuse of power, consumers are highly skeptical about the motives of corporations – and are especially wary of service providers. Rather than turn to the experts for advice, consumers will increasingly trust themselves to make their own decisions – or seek out the opinion of peers. As a result, consumers are becoming more self-reliant and self-sufficient, in everything from preparing their own taxes, managing their financial affairs, even educating themselves by earning degrees and MBAs online.

4. Openness trumps fear
In the wake of 9/11 fear preyed on the minds of Americans, but since then that fear has gradually receded as consumers have recovered their sense of fortitude and resilience. What has evolved most recently is the increased desire for sharing – and an unleashing of the need to be more self-expressive and to behave less privately. Through their adoption of social networks, consumers have exhibited behavioral therapy in being more outwardly driven, candid in their opinions and less restrained.


  • Align your brand with the new realities – is it time for an extreme brand makeover?
  • Extend the life of your brand by making money out of “re” branding: e.g., repair, resell, renewal, or refill, etc.
  • To increase brand relevance, enable consumers to help themselves – e.g., tools, mobile apps, widgets
  • Open up your brand and make it part of the community of greater good – otherwise, it will be excluded