Back to Gartner for Marketers Blog

The Middle-Class Mindsets of the Moneyed Class

By Derek Stubbs | June 26, 2019 | 0 Comments

MarketingMarketing, Consumer, and B2B Insights

“Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple.” That quote, often attributed to storied football coach Barry Switzer, is a colorful way to explain at least part of the reason why affluent American consumers identify themselves as “hard-working middle-class.” In fact, recent research we conducted demonstrates that nearly 60% of affluent consumers identify as middle-class. We define affluent as having HHI $250K+ with a mix of investable assets under $3M.

Just like the vast majority of us, the American affluent really are hard-working. In the research, consumers across the board correlate their hard work to their financial standing. What’s startling, though, is that the more money you have, the more likely you are to say that the reason you have that money is your own “personal hard work.” Not your privilege, not your luck, not even your education, which ranks a distant second.

It may be funny — or grating — to hear wealthy individuals claim in one breath that they are middle-class while lamenting in the next the difficulties of finding a good nanny, tennis coach and rowing team for their kids — we actually heard this! — but the point of our research isn’t to make fun of them, it’s to understand them. The power of the American Dream, as coined by James Truslow Adams back in 1931, compels affluent consumers in the U.S. to view themselves as “self-made,” even when faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary (PDF).

Now consider how marketing leaders often portray the affluent in advertising: beauty photography, status, rewards, bling. There is a disconnect between how marketers see the affluent, and how the affluent see themselves. It’s not like the affluent outright reject your campaigns, it’s just that the messages and portrayals wash over them without resonating. You can almost hear the affluent saying about such campaigns, “They’re not talking to me.” Too much money is at stake for you to not resonate with this group.

To learn more surprising insights and how to align your offerings, read “Best Practices for Marketing to Affluent Consumers” (subscription required).

Leave a Comment