Luxury, Trends, and Jif Peanut Butter

October 10th, 2009 by LaRae Quy
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 05:  Copies of Gourmet maga...
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On October 5th, 2009 the publisher of Gourmet Magazine announced it will cease publication with the November issue. But Gourmet was always about more than just food; it was about a lavish lifestyle that seems on a downward spiral these days.

The magazine saw a 43% drop in advertising pages over the past year, according to Media Industry Newsletter. The reason? Gourmet relied upon travel and luxury advertisers that sold a lifestyle for the rich and famous. The recession has brought an entire generation of people to their senses. While filling out unemployment forms and looking for jobs, they’ve become tired of the voyeurism that has fed Americans for so many years and are suddenly yearning for a good dose of realism. We still have our action thriller movies and romance novels, but their escapism is childhood mixed with fantasy. Somehow, that’s acceptable in these days of stern economics. But frivolity is taking a hard hit. Instead of literary articles and posh advertisements, we’ve become more interested in feeding our families on a budget and keeping healthy. We’re buying more basic food products like peanut butter (Jif sales are up 39.8%) and ketchup (Heinz is up 967.1%) while air kissing goodbye to our fascination with costly gourmet meals.

The glamour bet is no longer paying off. And it’s not only with food magazines that offer a monthly rally for exotic travel, tips on where to stay, and what to eat while you’re there. The designers Viktor and Rolf recently appeared in Women’s Wear Daily holding a chainsaw and standing in front of a model wearing a freshly sheared tulle ball gown. Their theme was “credit crunch couture” and they promised to make buyers feel better about their extravagant prices by recycling their freshly cut tulle as a cost cutting measure.

The luxury market is not as powerful as it was in the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s. During this time, luxury has been the signpost for the trend in upward mobility. There’s been a shift in attitudes and behavior, however, over the past year. Thrift and frugality have become virtuous qualities, and in the process, created a new trend: back-to-basics. And it’s resonating with consumers across all socioeconomic backgrounds.

A notice to luxury brands: a trend is a hard thing to beat back once it’s taken off. While every woman is going to be on the lookout for the newest handbag, buying a bargain makes her not only feel better about the purchase, it gives her bragging rights with friends. Frugal is suddenly as chic as black. Plus she still has the new handbag.

Trends are powerful because they have the ability to change our thinking. Not only about the things we purchase, but also about people, issues, and voting—to name a few. Sometimes we’re aware of trends, like wide ties, and other times we’re not, like the headline news stories that are selected by editors for us to read. Trends are a type of “shortcut” we take in our thinking because we have neither the time nor the energy to analyze every aspect of every person, event, or situation that comes to our attention. Our shortcut is this: if others are doing it, it must be OK. Every parent has heard that one before!

As an FBI agent, I learned how trends in crime could influence gangs and drive their criminal activities. As an FBI spokesperson, I quickly became aware of how a few media savvy individuals who claim to represent the majority can create trends in public opinion on a variety of topics while, in fact, representing only a small number of outspoken activists.

People are drawn to trends because they are drawn to herds.

When working counterintelligence cases, one of my first steps was to determine whether the target of my investigation traveled with the pack, or alone. Rarely did I ever attempt to recruit an individual if they surrounded themselves with a tight community of peers and colleagues. The reason is simple: herd animals move as a group. They circle the wagons and keep watch. I knew that I’d have little chance of luring the target out alone. That old adage is true: there really is safety in numbers!

Herds, and trends, are heavily influenced by what others think. The woman mentioned above who bought the new handbag on sale was rewarded not only with saving money, but also—and this is important—by the approval of her friends. A trend isn’t a trend unless others are doing it, too.

That’s why the back-to-basics trend will be powerful and hard to turn now that it’s gotten a foothold. For those who grew up with Jif peanut butter, it evokes quality, family values, nutrition, and most of all, a simpler lifestyle.

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    One Response to “Luxury, Trends, and Jif Peanut Butter”

    1. Thanks for the reminder, lots of valuable things you can do with your money if you put luxury aside, like buying Jif Peanut Butter.

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