The number and power of special-interest groups have increased over the past three decades. Political-action committees (PACs) lobby government officials and pressure business executives to pay more attention to consumer rights, women's rights, senior citizen rights, minority rights, and gay rights. Many companies have established public-affairs departments to deal with these groups and issues. An important force affecting business is the consumerist movement—an organized movement of citizens and government to strengthen the rights and powers of buyers in relation to sellers. Consumerists have advocated and won the right to know the true interest cost of a loan, the true cost per standard unit of competing brands (unit pricing), the basic ingredients in a product, the nutritional quality of food, the freshness of products, and the true benefits of a product. In response to consumerism, several companies have established consumer-affairs departments to help formulate policies and respond to consumer complaints. Whirlpool Corporation is just one of the companies that have installed toll-free phone numbers for consumers. Whirlpool even expanded the coverage of its product warranties and rewrote them in basic English.
Clearly, new laws and growing numbers of pressure groups have put more restraints on marketers. Marketers have to clear their plans with the company's legal, public-relations, public-affairs, and consumer-affairs departments. Insurance companies directly or indirectly affect the design of smoke detectors; scientific groups affect the design of spray products by condemning aerosols. In essence, many private marketing transactions have moved into the public domain.
Society shapes our beliefs, values, and norms. People absorb, almost unconsciously, a worldview that defines their relationship to themselves, to others, to organizations, to society, to nature, and to the universe.
■ Views of themselves: People vary in the relative emphasis they place on self-
gratification. In the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, "pleasure seekers" sought fun, change, and escape. Others sought "self-realization." People bought products, brands, and services as a means of self-expression. They bought dream cars and dream vacations and spent more time in health activities (jogging, tennis), in introspection, and in arts and crafts. Today, in contrast, people are adopting more conservative behaviors and ambitions. They have witnessed Analyzing harder times and cannot rely on continuous employment and rising real income.
^^^ Marketing They are more cautious in their spending pattern and more value-driven in their
■ Views of others: Some observers have pointed to a countermovement from a "me society" to a "we society." People are concerned about the homeless, crime and victims, and other social problems. They would like to live in a more humane society. At the same time, people are seeking out their "own kind" and avoiding strangers. People hunger for serious and long-lasting relationships with a few others. These trends portend a growing market for social-support products and services that promote direct relations between human beings, such as health clubs, cruises, and religious activity. They also suggest a growing market for "social surrogates," things that allow people who are alone to feel that they are not, such as television, home video games, and chat rooms on the Internet.
■ Views of organizations: People vary in their attitudes toward corporations, government agencies, trade unions, and other organizations. Most people are willing to work for these organizations, although they may be critical of particular ones. But there has been an overall decline in organizational loyalty. The massive wave of company downsizings has bred cynicism and distrust. Many people today see work not as a source of satisfaction but as a required chore to earn money to enjoy their nonwork hours.
This outlook has several marketing implications. Companies need to find new ways to win back consumer and employee confidence. They need to make sure that they are good corporate citizens and that their consumer messages are honest. More companies are turning to social audits and public relations to improve their image with their publics.
■ Views of society: People vary in their attitudes toward their society. Some defend it (preservers), some run it (makers), some take what they can from it (takers), some want to change it (changers), some are looking for something deeper (seekers), and some want to leave it (escapers).32 Often consumption patterns reflect social attitude. Makers tend to be high achievers who eat, dress, and live well. Changers usually live more frugally, driving smaller cars and wearing simpler clothes. Escap-ers and seekers are a major market for movies, music, surfing, and camping.
■ Views of nature: People vary in their attitude toward nature. Some feel subjugated by it, others feel harmony with it, and still others seek mastery over it. A long-term trend has been humankind's growing mastery of nature through technology. More recently, however, people have awakened to nature's fragility and finite resources. They recognize that nature can be destroyed by human activities.
Love of nature is leading to more camping, hiking, boating, and fishing. Business has responded with hiking boots, tenting equipment, and other gear. Tour operators are packaging more tours to wilderness areas. Marketing communicators are using more scenic backgrounds in advertising. Food producers have found growing markets for "natural" products, such as natural cereal, natural ice cream, and health foods. Two natural-food grocery stores, Whole Foods Markets and Fresh Fields, merged in 1997 with sales of $1.1 billion.
■ Views of the universe: People vary in their beliefs about the origin of the universe and their place in it. Most Americans are monotheistic, although religious conviction and practice have been waning through the years. Church attendance has fallen steadily, with the exception of certain evangelical movements that reach out to bring people back into organized religion. Some of the religious impulse has been redirected into an interest in Eastern religions, mysticism, the occult, and the human potential movement.
As people lose their religious orientation, they seek self-fulfillment and immediate gratification. At the same time, every trend seems to breed a countertrend, as indicated by a worldwide rise in religious fundamentalism. Here are some other cultural characteristics of interest to marketers: the persistence of core cultural values, the existence of subcultures, and shifts of values through time.
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