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This article was prepared for the October 24, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Post-September 11: Consumer Priorities Shift

America Online has just started promoting its new


7.0 by giving away seven trips to New Zealand. This could be a bad

idea. Jim Lustenader says research on post-September 11 consumer

behavior strongly suggests that offering air travel as a grand prize

is not the incentive it was just a few short weeks ago.

Lustenader is executive vice president, strategic services, of the

DVC Group, a marketing communications firm with headquarters in


Part of 1,250-person DVC Worldwide, the group specializes in


advertising. It recently supplied questions for a Harris Interactive

poll of 2,000 consumers, which probed their attitudes and sought


on their priorities in what Lustenader says is an unprecedented time

in American history. Asked if he sees any parallels, the marketing

pro, says "In my lifetime, no."

Lustenader speaks on "Consumer Trends Since September 11,"

at a meeting of the Public Relations Society of America, New Jersey

Chapter, on Tuesday, October 30, at 11:30 a.m. at the Madison Hotel

in Convent Station. Adam Geller, president of National Research,

speaks on political trends. Call 973-984-6184.

Lustenader, a Dartmouth graduate (Class of 1966), who holds an MBA

from Cornell, has been in marketing for his entire career, and with

DVC for 15 years. DVC does behavioral marketing, which means that

it creates promotions through which consumers interact with a product,

whether it be beer or a life-saving drug.

When Labatt wanted to market its beer to young adults, the company

decided to advertise its Rolling Rock brand through a concert in


Pennsylvania. DVC’s job was to bring non-local potential consumers

into the picture. It did so by creating a website for the concert,

selling tickets through it, and using the website to broadcast the

concert live.

When Sheering Oncology wanted to increase patient compliance with

the regime for Intron-A, its drug used to treat malignant melanoma,

DVC set up a program called Crossing Bridges, through which the


receives help in sticking with the drug, whose side effects are often

substantial, and unpleasant. There is a 24-hour hot line manned by

nurses to answer the patient’s questions, and another hot line to

connect the patient with those who have already completed the


And DVC mails out little incentives once a month, maybe coupons for

Gatorade to slack the thirst the drug induces or a Blockbuster coupons

to ease the hours some patients must spent at home because of fatigue.

Family, employer, friends, doctor, and HMO are also included, and

given, among other things, help in answering the patient’s questions

and reacting positively to his struggle with cancer.

Like other marketers, DVC needs to be tuned into what consumers crave

at any given moment, whether it be entertainment at a rock fest or

encouragement in fighting a disease. Some of the things consumers

crave remain the same after September 11, but many have changed, and

quite dramatically. Lustenader suggests that marketers who are aware

of these changes not only will be successful in selling their


but may even play a role in the nation’s psychic recovery. In times

of national crisis, marketers tend to pull back, but Lustenader says

that is exactly the wrong thing to do. "Embrace consumers,"

he says. "Consumers are looking to be embraced."

The embrace may need to be different, though, because consumers’


have shifted. Here is a look at how Americans answered the questions

DVC put on Harris’ poll, which was conducted between October 3 and


No more reality. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said

they would be much less likely to watch reality TV programs. "They

have enough reality on the news," comments Lustenader.

Less air travel. Thirty-nine percent said they would be

much less likely to plan an air travel vacation. Twenty-four percent

said they would be less likely to enter a sweepstake if the prize

was a trip. "They used to offer trips to Europe as a grand


says Lustenader. Something else may need to be found to place atop

the giveaway pyramid.

Fewer new wheels. Thirty-nine percent said they were much

less likely to shop for a new car. Here we see the effects of an


slowdown along with the uncertainly that burst upon us on September

11, and that has just kept coming ever since. Manufacturers of all

big ticket items, not just cars, need to be sensitive to this double

whammy. Lustenader says the auto manufacturers’ financing incentives

— zero percent interest in many cases — was a good idea from

a marketing perspective.

Less time on bar stools. Twenty-four percent said they

are less likely to go to a bar with friends. This, says Lustenader,

ties in with a finding that consumers want to cocoon, to entertain

more at home. Twenty-one percent said they are more likely to


more at home, and 18 percent said they plan to prepare big,



Less Internet shopping? This one was a surprise. "Our

hypothesis was that people would want to stay at home," says


But no, "they want to socialize," he says. "They want

normalcy in their lives." For many consumers, and especially,

the survey finds, for women, that means lots of time at the mall.

More money for charity. Fifty-three percent of consumers,

says Lustenader, "would be much more likely to buy a product


a portion went to relief." Philanthropy has gotten much stronger,

he says, especially in families with children. This impulse to give

extends beyond the relief effort, he says, suggesting that using a

charity tie-in could benefit businesses, whether or not that charity

is directly related to helping victims of the terror attacks.


has been a groundswell," he says. "People are more interested

in doing something that has a positive effect."

More money in the cookie jar. Forty-five percent said

they are reevaluating their finances. "They’re more attentive

to savings," says Lustenader. In fact, 28 percent said they will

save a larger percentage of their income, and 21 percent said they

will use more coupons.

More attention to kids’ use of media. Marketers be aware.

Parents, especially moms, said they are now much more likely to screen

their kids’ TV watching, possibly to screen out news images that the

children could find disturbing. They are keeping a closer eye on the

websites their kids visit, too.

A healthier life, sort of. Twenty-eight percent said they

are much more concerned with living a healthy life. But, Lustenader

says, "they are not more likely to quit smoking." And those

who are making a stab at going nicotine free say they are not more

likely to try harder to accomplish that goal.

Seeking security in Skippy and Oreos. Twenty-four percent

of respondents said they are more likely to stock up on groceries.

"It’s the fall out mentality," says Lustenader. And while

it may be okay to put house brand canned chili on the back shelf,

consumers want well-known national brands on their plates. This was

one of the study’s big surprises, says Lustenader. "We expected

to see a shift to store brands because they are more economical,"

he says. But, no, "national brands give a sense of security.


don’t want to upset the routine."

Women much more affected. Another big surprise the survey

turned up is that women’s attitudes and priorities shifted much, much

more than did men’s after the September 11 attack. Women’s reactions

were more extreme both on the negative and on the positive side. Women

are 16 percentage points more likely to avoid air travel, 6 percentage

points less likely to shop for a car, and 10 percentage points less

likely to spend time in a bar with friends. "The difference


men and women is really quite striking," says Lustenader. One

reason for the disparity, he posits, is that "women are the


Survey results are just being put together, but already the

landscape has changed. As horrific as the attacks of September 11

were, Lustenader says the anthrax scare could be worse — at least

psychologically. "Anthrax is different," he says. "It’s

going to bring the whole terrorist issue closer to home. It’s one

thing to watch terror on television. You could get away with `I live

in a low rise building in New Jersey.’" Facing the possibility

that terror could come through the mailbox raises the ante.

Anthrax already has affected direct mail advertisers. Lustenader says

they are being urged to include the name of their product and return

address, things some avoided in the belief that consumers would throw

away mail that looked promotional. Now, if still not an overwhelming

positive, promotional looks good compared with some of the other


For all marketers, says Lustenader, everything has changed because,

"consumers have reshuffled the deck on their priorities."

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