Canucks crave comfort
Stressed out Canadians seek security, reassurance in their buying experiences

Ever wonder why there are so many four-wheel drive trucks, minivans and other sport utility vehicles in shopping center parking lots these days, despite the fact that Canadians are more environmentally conscious than ever before?

If you ask SUV drivers, many will tell you that their size and high-off the-ground driver's seat give a feeling of comfort and security. But according to one pollster, this is largely psychological.

"Do we really need to drive the same jeeps that we use to go in the jungle?" said Alain Giguère, president of CROP Inc. "Our roads are not that dangerous." According to Giguère much of Canadian' increasing demand for comfort and security in the products and brands that they buy, is an extension of the increasing vulnerability and insecurity they feel in their personal lives.

Although CROP is more well-known for its political polling - the firm has been tracking trends in Canadian buyer behavior for corporate clients for more than a decade. In fact corporate work accounts for 99 per cent of its revenues.

CROP research profiles consumers according to 100 hot buttons, values, motivations and social phenomena data that it gathers in a massive survey of 300 questions posed to 2,600 Canadians aged 15 and up.

By analyzing patterns in the survey results, Giguère can give clients a better picture of the public's evolving trends and concerns, so companies can better target new products and advertising campaigns.

"We have seen a fundamental shift in Canadian attitudes, since about the mid-1990s," said Giguère. "People are feeling increasing disenchantment that the promises of the early 1990s are not materializing for them."

According to Giguère, the period from about 1990 to 1995, was characterized by considerable optimism about the benefits globalization and the advent of new technologies would bring.

"People realized that there would be pain caused by restructuring in the economy, but they felt that once this restructuring was over, the benefits would more than compensate, said Giguère. "Now they are starting to think the restructuring will never end. It will just go on and on."

The effect is particularly pronounced on older Canadians." Babyboomers grew up in a linear world, where change was moderate and slow," said Giguère. "Now it all comes and once. You have a job today, it could be gone tomorrow. People feel they can't adapt fast enough."

The result is a nation of consumers beset by feelings of uncertainty, and fears of being left behind in an ever-changing world. Government cut backs haven't helped the public's mood. "Ten years ago, when had a health care system - now all people hear about is its problems," said Giguère. "They look at the schools, and the roofs are falling in."

As for U.S. Fed chairman Alan Greenspan's concern's about the "wealth effect" on the economy: forget it, -- it hasn't shown up in Canada. According to Giguère high stock valuations, did little to comfort Canadians.

That doesn't mean Canadians don't think that we are in an economic recovery, quite the contrary. They just don't feel like they are participating. "It you ask people about Paul Desmarais, they will tell you that he is probably doing fine, said Giguère. "If you ask them about themselves, that's another story.

Canadians increasing concerns about themselves, are reflected in their nuanced attitudes about the environment. They care about it, but are unwilling to pay extra for products that are environmentally friendly. So they have few qualms about driving SUVs, which -- through their carbon emissions - do untold damage to the ozone layer.

So how do companies market to disenchanted, insecure, self-centered consumers? Appeal to their sense of security, and their need to be comforted by the products they consume. People buy, almost as a sedative, to relieve them from the stress and tension of their lives.

That's one of the reasons big theaters, -- with their soft comfortable chairs that wrap around and hug you like a baby -- are so popular. People are also turning back to old-fashioned meals - so called "comfort foods" - that remind them of a more secure time in their lives. And well-known brands, which give people a feeling of confidence and security are also doing well.




Giguère will be addressing a luncheon meeting of the Montreal Marketing Association tomorrow, noon, at the Ritz Carlton Kempinski. For information call 499-1391.

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