Should Marketers be concerned about Consumer Happiness?

Consumer Happiness - Man Happy versus Money

Here’s a thought that could make marketers miserable: Maybe discretionary spending does not make consumers happy.

Ignoring economists’ declaration that the recession officially ended two years ago, Americans have continued to keep their discretionary spending — i.e., the fun kind of spending — in check. A new Harris Poll (fielded in May) found 61 percent of respondents saying it’s likely they’ll reduce their outlays on eating out in restaurants during the next six months. That’s nearly unchanged from the 63 percent saying the same thing when Harris queried them on this topic in January. Fifty-nine percent in the new poll said it’s likely they’ll reduce their expenditures on entertainment (as did 59 percent in the January sounding). Fewer than three in 10 (28 percent) in the new poll termed it likely they’ll “have more money to spend the way you want,” down a hair from the 30 percent saying so in January. Moreover, the numbers on these questions have improved just slightly since November 2008, when the near-meltdown of the global economy was vivid in people’s minds.

So, with people spending less on things they enjoy in life, one might reasonably expect them to be enjoying life less. But there’s no sign of that in surveys that ask respondents to gauge how happy they are. A recurring AP-GfK poll by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications has been asking adults to say how happy they are, and the numbers have barely budged during the past couple years. In May, 37 percent said they’re “very happy” and 44 percent that they’re “somewhat happy”; 9 percent said they’re “somewhat unhappy” and 5 percent “very unhappy.” The numbers a year earlier differed by no more than a single percentage point in each of those categories. Going back a couple years, the variations from one poll to the next amount to little more than static, seldom exceeding the margin of error.

It’d be nice to think the tough economy has brought families closer together and that, as such, the increased satisfaction of home and hearth has offset the decrease in enjoyment people get from discretionary spending. Sad to say, though, there is little evidence that most families have in fact drawn closer together amid the economic struggles of the past few years. The findings of a new Rasmussen Reports poll may disabuse you of any such warm-and-fuzzy notion. It did find 31 percent of respondents saying the tough economy has drawn members of their family closer together. But nearly as many, 28 percent, said the economy has “drive them farther apart,” while most of the rest said it hasn’t had an effect one way or the other. (Results of a similar Rasmussen poll a year earlier were nearly identical.) Perhaps every cloud does not, after all, have a silver lining.