The new affluence: harder to spot and not based on money

Indicators of affluent consumers are becoming more subtle and difficult for brands and people to detect, with most people that are ‘affluent’ unaware of the fact, according to a global study, which also confirmed the notion that time is more valuable than money for this group.

The study by McCann heralds a “new era of stealth wealth,” given that 88% of respondents said they were unaware that they were deemed affluent, despite being in the top 20% of the population as measured by annual household income and net worth. The study argues that the primary indicators of affluent consumers are more subtle and harder for brands and individuals to detect.

“Ultimately, we discovered that ‘time’ is more important than money and that affluent people most wanted to spend that precious resource with their families, enjoying enriching experiences with the people they love the most,” says Karl Bates, national head of planning, McCann Australia. “To succeed in today’s market, there’s an opportunity for brands to develop a more modern understanding of the subtleties of affluence and resist the urge to rely solely on the obvious visual cues.”

‘The Truth About Affluence’ study is based on a quantitative 4000-person online survey across 16 countries and 21 cities, representing key centres of commerce and culture around the world, including Sydney, New York, London, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Bombay and Shanghai.

Qualitative in-home dinner parties with groups of affluent people in key cities were also conducted on six continents, with Sydney again taking place.

According to the study, depictions of affluent people engaging in exclusive and opulent activities set apart from average consumer behaviour are outdated. Instead, affluence has evolved into something more intangible, with 55% of respondents agreeing that affluence is a state of mind rather than a number in the bank.

“For the new wealthy, affluence means freedom from monetary constraints, the freedom to pursue career and passions and the freedom to live their lives as they choose,” Bates says.

The report outlines three new rules of engagement required in today’s era of ‘stealth wealth’.

1. Recognising that time trumps money

The research sought to understand what truly matters to this unique group of people. Overall, affluent consumers agree that the way you spend your money is less important than how you spend your time. Time is recognised as the most precious resource (33%), more so than mental energy (28%) and physical energy (16%), personal space (13%), or finally money itself (10%).

2. Honing your rich radar to locate the stealthy wealthy

Even affluent people have a hard time identifying fellow wealthy individuals, the study found. The vast majority of global respondents (84%) agree that nowadays it is harder to tell how affluent someone is just by looking at them. In fact, the primary indicators of affluence were intangible. The top affluence indicator globally for both men and women was ‘poise and posture’ followed by facial expression.

Secondary indicators were more external. For men, the next most important factor was shoes (31%) followed by the person’s coat (22%) and then jewellery (16%). Men’s shoes were particularly important affluence indicators in Paris, Sydney, New York, and London. For women, jewellery was cited as the top gauge of affluence, ranked number one in Sydney (with 54% of respondents), Europe and Brazil. A woman’s bag and then her choice of cosmetics followed as the other top signs of wealth.

3. Building fluency in affluency requires a global perspective

With affluence becoming more globalised, the report suggests brands should look not only to the local community but also the global community to understand affluent people. Conducted solely in metropolitan areas, the survey sought to determine how affluent people viewed the various leading centres of culture and commerce around the world.

Globally, respondents agreed that Paris is still the centre of culture and fashion and New York is the top city in which non-New Yorker affluents would most want to live (17% of Sydney respondents nominated New York as the city they would most like to live in, followed by London (15%) and Paris in third place (14%).

New York was also chosen as ‘the world capital of tomorrow’. Shanghai and Dubai were not far behind, ranked respectively second and third as prospective world capitals of tomorrow.