Anxiety is the new mood of America, and it’s here to stay. Why? Because this pervasive sense of uneasiness is more than just war worries or fears of domestic terrorism. It’s a deep-seated, multifaceted feeling of apprehension and concern. Consumers are anxious about many things, and have been for some time. Anxiety is the undercurrent to everything we see in the attitudes and behavior of consumers, even if it doesn’t always show up in the particular ways that we track our categories.
The end of the ’90s left most consumers feeling disenchanted, not because they had missed out on the opportunity to get rich quick but because more than ever before they had begun to rethink the values and priorities in their lives. In the Yankelovich Monitor tracking of consumer attitudes, this was manifested as a significant shift in the definition of success and in the relative importance of things like family and work/life balance.
The dot-com crash and the bursting of the stock market bubble added to the uncertainty consumers were feeling about the future and their aspirations. The economic turnaround didn’t just cut luxuries out of consumers’ budgets. Layoffs returned and retirement portfolios lost value. The economy began to sputter, and as Labor Day 2001 approached, the big question was whether consumer confidence could stay strong enough to sustain the economy through the end of the year.
Then came 9/11. In a morning, the existing uncertainties were dwarfed by much darker possibilities. Even so, outrage rallied the consumer mood for a few months. But this rally faded as the need for honesty, integrity, trust and authenticity was betrayed by scandals in business, church, sports and government.
Just at the moment when consumers most needed reassurance and support, every institution let them down, further intensifying that sense of unease. Historic state budget deficits and proposed changes to retirement savings programs have further undermined the confidence consumers have about the future.
Against this background of reversals and disappointments comes all of the recent geopolitical turmoil