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American Dream in the Balance (September 2012)

This is a complex time for the American Dream, and the run-up to the presidential election makes for an ideal moment to take stock of how this enduring concept is being both affirmed and challenged.

This report spotlights findings from a recent JWTIntelligence survey that tracked how perceptions have shifted in the four years since we conducted a similar study, during the last presidential campaign. It details how Americans define the Dream, the extent to which they believe in it, how and why attitudes toward the Dream are changing, and how these differ by generation. It concludes with takeaways for brands, along with examples of how marketers have tapped into the American Dream in the recent past.

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American Dream in the Balance (September 2012)

  1. 1. AMERICANDREAMIN THE BALANCESeptember 2012 Image credit: Pete.Mac
  2. 2. WHAT WE’LL COVER• Introduction• Methodology• Study Findings 1. Defining the Dream 2. Is the Dream still alive? 3. What’s different about the Dream today? 4. Why has the Dream shifted? 5. A less achievable Dream 6. Why is the Dream less achievable? 7. The Dream by generation 8. Corporations and the Dream• What It Means for Brands• Appendix – More About Our Experts/Influencers – Additional Charts – Topline Findings From 2008A note to readers: To make the report easy to navigate, we’ve added hyperlinks to this page, so you can jump immediately to the items that mostinterest you (or, alternatively, you can read the material straight through).This is a report from JWTIntelligence. Go to to download this and other trend research. 2
  3. 3. INTRODUCTION Image credit: justinday
  4. 4. INTRODUCTIONIt was in 1931 that the phrase “the American Dream” firstcropped up, in a book by historian James Truslow Adams.More than eight decades later, the phrase still resonates withAmericans and the rest of the world. “[Barack Obama] knowsthe American Dream because he’s lived it,” the first ladydeclared in her speech at the Democratic National Conventionin September. But what does “living it” mean for those whodon’t aspire to the presidency? [The American Dream is] that dream of a land in which life shouldThe Dream is a fuzzy concept, and definitions vary greatly. be better and richer and fuller for everyone,To some it’s about a comfortable home, others a high-paying with opportunity for each according to ability orjob. But the Dream is more than money and material goods. achievement. … It is not a dream of motor cars andIt connotes an attitude and an ethos: a willingness to strive in high wages merely, but a dream of social order in whichthe face of adversity, a belief in America as a land ripe with each man and each woman shall be able to attain toopportunities for success (however one defines it), a potent the fullest stature of which they are innatelysense that anyone can achieve a better life, for oneself and capable … regardless of the fortuitousone’s children. circumstances of birth or position.” —JAMES TRUSLOW ADAMS,This report investigates what the Dream means to Americans The Epic of Americatoday, spotlighting findings from a recent JWT survey andalso tracking how perceptions have shifted since our 2008study on the same topic, also conducted in the run-up to apresidential election. (For a list of our topline findings from2008, see Appendix.) 4
  5. 5. INTRODUCTION (cont’d.)Since our 2008 report, Americans seem less engaged with theconcept—perhaps not surprisingly. Four years ago, citizens Key takeawayswere riding high on Obama’s promise of “hope.” Since then, • While enthusiasm around the Dream is declining and thethey’ve seen the country lose more than 8 million jobs and concept is under stress, Americans still largely believe in it.home values sink by about a quarter. For many, the Dream has • The Dream resonates most strongly with older generations,lost its luster. All the same, we found that 7 in 10 Americans wealthier Americans and Republicans.still believe in the idea, not much fewer than in 2008. • The Dream’s core components have remained largelyFor marketers, understanding the Dream is understanding a stable, but Americans see traditional elements likeslice of the American mindset. By speaking to it, brands can community and family being replaced by aspirations fortap into Americans’ core beliefs, values and desires. fame and fortune. • Americans feel the Dream is becoming significantly harder to achieve for most, especially the middle class and— reflecting a streak of resentment toward immigrants—white Americans. • Unemployment and high expenses are considered the key external obstacles to achieving the Dream, with the government and Wall Street bearing some blame as well. • While less so than four years ago, America is still seen as the prime land of opportunity. • Corporations have a role to play in helping Americans achieve the Dream. 5
  6. 6. METHODOLOGY“American Dream in the Balance” is the result of research conducted by JWTIntelligence throughout the year. Specificallyfor this report, we fielded a survey of 503 American adults aged 18‐plus from July 26-30 using SONAR™, JWT’s proprietaryonline tool; data are weighted by age, gender and income. We have also included some open-ended responses to surveyquestions. This report also uses comparative data taken from our September 2008 American Dream survey of 2,112Americans aged 18-plus that we fielded using SONAR™. In addition, we interviewed four experts and influencers on evolvingattitudes toward the American Dream.EXPERTS AND INFLUENCERS* ERIN CURRIER, MELISSA LAVIGNE-DELVILLE, project manager, Economic Mobility Project, VP of trends and strategic insights, Pew Center on the States NBCUniversal MICHAEL FORD, JOHN ZOGBY, founding director, Center for the founder, Zogby Poll Study of the American Dream *See Appendix to learn more about these experts and influencers. 6
  7. 7. STUDY FINDINGS Image credit: Pete.Mac
  8. 8. 1 DEFINING THE DREAM “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”: The basic definition of the American Dream remains stable, changing little since 2008. For most, it’s an aspirational concept, closely echoing the Declaration of Independence’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The notion of liberty pops up twice in the top five components of the American Dream, while freedom of speech and freedom from fear of oppression follow shortly after, at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively. What the Dream means generally Top five factors that respondents say are a big part of what the American Dream means today 1 FINDING HAPPINESS To me, it means being able to have freedom to achieve goals such as having 2 PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE or owning your own business, being able to buy a home and have cars and live 3 FULFILLING MY POTENTIAL a life with freedom to choose how you dress, where you work, how you practice religion 4 HOME OWNERSHIP and so on.” —FEMALE, 54 5 FREEDOM TO BE ABLE TO GO ANYWHERE YOU WANTFor a complete listing of responses in 2012 vs. 2008, see Appendix,Figure 1A. 8
  9. 9. 1 DEFINING THE DREAM (cont’d.)The Dream’s key traits: This word cloud is based on open-ended responses to the question “What does the phrase ‘theAmerican Dream’ mean to you?” The relative size of each word is based on the frequency with which it was used; westripped out the words “American” and “Dream.” For a comparable word cloud from 2008, see Appendix, Figure 1B. 9
  10. 10. 1 DEFINING THE DREAM (cont’d.) Boosting the next generation: For most Americans, the Dream means not only attaining a certain level of financial stability and comfort for themselves but securing a better future for their children. Again, when it comes to defining the Dream personally, the top five responses remained stable since 2008. What the Dream means personally Top five factors that respondents say are a big part of what the [The American Dream is] American Dream means to them personally the ability to work hard and see rewards, either in possessions 1 FINANCIAL SECURITY or in a legacy for your children.” 2 BEING ABLE TO SAVE MONEY —MALE, 58 3 A COMFORTABLE LIFESTYLE If we had to say one thing [Americans] are striving toward, it is a very general but consistent answer, 4 A BETTER LIFE FOR and that is, ‘Making a better or creating MY CHILDREN a better life for my family.’” 5 EQUAL OPPORTUNITY MICHAEL FORD, founding director, Center for the StudyFor a complete listing of responses in 2012 vs. 2008, see Appendix, of the AmericanFigure 1C. Dream 10
  11. 11. 1 DEFINING THE DREAM (cont’d.) The “ideal” American: The definition of the “ideal” American—the set of traits needed to achieve the American Dream—has remained: motivated self-starters who are willing to work hard to achieve what they want. Traits needed to achieve the Dream Top five factors that respondents say contribute to someone’s ability Americans are so convinced to achieve the American Dream that personal attributes are the biggest influencers of their economic mobility: whether they work hard, whether they 1 DETERMINATION are ambitious, whether they do the things they need to do. They are very confident that those efforts 2 HARD WORK will have their just rewards.” The American Dream, when you get down to it, is really not a search for a thing, it is an attitude. 3 DISCIPLINE ERIN CURRIER, It is a willingness to struggle, based project manager, on the probability that you have a Economic Mobility chance to achieve.” Project, Pew 4 SELF-BELIEF Center on the States MICHAEL FORD, 5 INTELLIGENCE founding director, Center for the Study of the American DreamFor a complete listing of responses in 2012 vs. 2008, see Appendix,Figure 1D. 11
  12. 12. 2 IS THE DREAM STILL ALIVE? The American Dream is under stress…: After four years of economic turmoil, the American Dream has undergone severe challenge. Skepticism about the current and future viability of the idea is relatively high, and negative sentiment has increased. 40% Down on the Dream “MORE AND MORE, THE AMERICAN DREAM IS 2012 BECOMING UNATTAINABLE” think the American Dream 61% 2008 “I DON’T THINK MY is alive and well, 56% GENERATION BELIEVES IN THE AMERICAN DREAM” down from 42% 52% in 2008 “I THINK THE AMERICAN 38% DREAM IS DEAD” My wife and I were able to 31% “THE AMERICAN DREAM achieve the American Dream, but my kids and granddaughter will 23% WILL BE HARDER TO ACHIEVE IN THE FUTURE”* not be able to have what we have had. The way things are, with 64% so many obstacles, the dream is dead.” —MALE, 70Percentage who agree with the statement *Not asked in 2008 12
  13. 13. 2 IS THE DREAM STILL ALIVE? (cont’d.)…but the Dream endures: Somewhat surprisingly, belief in the Dream has slipped only slightly since 2008. “It is amistake to conflate the state of the Dream with the state of the economy,” explains Michael Ford of the Center for theStudy of the American Dream. The Dream is an aspirational concept that’s not directly tied to day-to-day realities. 70% personally believe in the Americans are very forward- thinking and very optimistic, both about the health and status of American Dream, the American Dream and their ability to be a part of it.” down only 4points since 2008 ERIN CURRIER, project manager, Economic Mobility [The American Dream] is very Project, Pew [The American Dream] Center on much alive. True, it’s taken some hits, the States is what keeps [the middle but that’s the nature of this country. … class] alive. In a period like We will have tough economic times, and this, it’s what motivates those will be brought on by circumstance them to get up in the and greedy people. But we are a strong, morning.” diverse and generous people who JOHN ZOGBY, together weather the bad years political and revel in good times.” pollster —FEMALE, 47 13
  14. 14. 2 IS THE DREAM STILL ALIVE? (cont’d.) Biggest believers: The most enthusiastic American Dreamers remain Republicans and the wealthy. While belief in the Dream declines as Americans move down the income scale, the dip isn’t dramatic, with almost two-thirds of lower- income Americans believing in the Dream. Republicans, the wealthy most enthusiastic POLITICAL AFFILIATION 81% 72% 62% INCOME LEVEL* 77% 69% 64%Percentage who say they personally believe in the American Dream (2012 data) *$$$ = $70,000+, $$ = $40,000-$69,999, $ = <$40,000 14
  15. 15. 2 IS THE DREAM STILL ALIVE? (cont’d.) America remains the land of possibility…: A majority of Americans still believe the country is a place that enables its citizens to reach for the stars, although fewer than in 2008. 52%believe the U.S. is a place I believe that America 61% believe people around the is the land of opportunity and world aspire to comewhere anyone can achieve to America to achieve that anything is possible here fame and fortune, their dreams, if you work hard and follow down from your dreams.” down from 58% in 2008 —FEMALE, 47 75% in 2008 15
  16. 16. 2 IS THE DREAM STILL ALIVE? (cont’d.) …and by far the biggest land of opportunity: Compared with other nations, America is seen as the most prominent land of opportunity by a wide margin, even if agreement has slipped since 2008. Notably, over the last four years, respondents There is quite a bit of evidence, perceived an increase in opportunities in Brazil. from policymaker speeches alone, that we as Americans have this perception that the United States has better mobility USA still without rival than anyone else. And in reality we have worse mobility than everyone else, save for the U.K.” ERIN CURRIER, 76 project manager, 65 Economic Mobility Project, Pew Center on the States 2012 43 34 2008 30 21 20 23 19 19 17 17 13 13 12 15 7 10 6 6 5 8 9 9 U.S. CANADA CHINA U.K. JAPAN GERMANY BRAZIL INDIA FRANCE UNITED MEXICO RUSSIA ARAB EMIRATESPercentage who believe each country is a “land of opportunity” 16
  17. 17. 3 WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE DREAM TODAY? 65% Dialing down FINDING HAPPINESS 2012 95% of Americans believe the Dream is different 87% 2008 from what it used to be, PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE up from 59% 95% in 2008 87% FULFILLING MY POTENTIALDeclining enthusiasm: The most notable 95%finding from our survey was the consistent 86%decline in engagement with the American HOME OWNERSHIPDream since 2008, with response to ourquestions weaker across the board. For 93% 84%instance, while the top five core components ofthe Dream haven’t changed over the last four FREEDOM TO BE ABLE TOyears (see Section 1, slide 8), the percentage of GO ANYWHERE YOU WANTrespondents who selected each of those factors 92% 84%dropped by 8 or 9 points—a pattern repeatedthroughout the survey. Belief in the Dreamseems more tepid. Percentage who say each of these factors is a big part of the American Dream today 17
  18. 18. 3 WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE DREAM TODAY? (cont’d.) Show me the (easy) money … and put me in the spotlight: More Americans see the ability to spend—whether by accumulating wealth or accessing credit—as a component of the American Dream. Respondents were also more likely to regard achieving fame, recognition and top-dog status as part of the Dream. Only 3 of 14 potential factors defining what the Dream personally Likewise, only 2 of 14 potential factors defining what the Dream means to respondents garnered higher responses this year: in general means today garnered higher responses in 2012: BECOMING WEALTHY 58% 2012 MAKING IT TO THE TOP 2012 55% 2008 63% 2008 ACCESS TO EASY 61% SOCIAL RECOGNITION CREDIT/LOANS AND STATUS 54% BECOMING FAMOUS 54% 50% 25% 20% 49%Percentage who say each of these factors is a big part of what the Percentage who say each of these factors is a big part of what theAmerican Dream means to them personally American Dream means today 18
  19. 19. 3 WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE DREAM TODAY? (cont’d.) Moving from family and faith to fame and fortune: Americans sense that the country is moving away from traditional notions of the ideal life: one centered around community and family, with religious faith and middle-class values as the guiding ethos, and marriage and a mortgage as necessary milestones. Respondents perceive that today Americans are more likely to dream about making money and spending it, continuing a theme spotlighted on the previous slide. Past Present For a complete listing of responses, see Appendix, Figure 2A. ATTENDING COMMUNITY RELIGIOUS SERVICES 41% FAMILY 39% CONSUMPTION 38% FAME 40% MAKING A LOT OF MONEY 35% MIDDLE-CLASS 37% VALUES 39% GETTING MARRIED PAYING OFF SUCCEEDING 38% A MORTGAGE EQUALITY PROFESSIONALLY 36% 29% 26%Percentage who feel each factor better fits what the American Percentage who feel each factor better fits what the AmericanDream meant in the past (2012 data) Dream means today (2012 data) 19
  20. 20. 4 WHY HAS THE DREAM SHIFTED? Fewer opportunities: When asked in open-ended Changing values: Another theme is changing questions why the American Dream has changed, values—not only among the older generations— many respondents cite the economy, not and the sense that Americans are becoming surprisingly, or see a broader picture of decline. more self-centered and greedy and less community-minded. Ultimately, the Dream is personal freedom, Too many selfish, and that freedom exists only to greedy people out for the extent that we have actual themselves and not the opportunity. Opportunities today community as a whole.” are few and far between.” Money is what everybody —FEMALE, 51 —FEMALE, 57 is after. Values and beliefs are kind of left behind.” Jobs are hard to find, health care costs —FEMALE, 33HY HAS THE DREAM SHIFTED? too much if you can get it at all, banks are robbing people of their homes, CEOs are People are less caring of the getting outrageous paychecks for doing nothing, world around them. They are more politicians make too much money and aren’t self-focused than on the community really representing the people, taxes are in which they belong. Technology always rising while services diminish, roads are crumbling while the U.S. spends brings us close while also all kinds of money to help pulling us apart…” other countries.” —FEMALE, 26 —FEMALE, 53 20
  21. 21. 4 WHY HAS THE DREAM SHIFTED? (cont’d.) Partisan-driven perspectives: A clear split along political lines also emerges in the open-ended questions. On the left, the perspective is that income inequality and the rising power of the wealthiest tier are primarily to blame for the Dream’s decline. People now are selfish, they want things without earning it. The current government is killing the American Dream by trying to do away with accountability, morals and a good work ethic. It is interfering too much—once theThe 1% in America believe that government controls everything and they do not need to pay taxes, people have no responsibility,and at the same time they want The idea of the American Dream was they then have no freedom.” to take from the middle perverted by those select few individuals —FEMALE, 47 and lower classes.” who found a way to cheat the system … to make more than a fair share of the People from other countries —MALE, 70 American Dream (money, fame, whatever) come over and we support them with no intent to spread the wealth to those who need it. Politicians have Liberals are determined and help them achieve the American exacerbated this situation, with the to beat down everyone who works Dream, yet the people from the not taxing of big corporations hard to create their own success U.S. are struggling to have making billions of dollars.” by taxing them to death to pay Values based entirely on the American Dream.” —FEMALE, 36 for entitlements for those selfishness, condemnation that are lazy.” —FEMALE, 54 and disregard for the poor, —MALE, 36 materialism. Constantly expanding gap in On the right, respondents believe the Dream is threatened because too distribution of income…” many Americans are lazy and entitled; because America is too open to —MALE, 61 immigrants; and because the government has taken away some freedoms. 21
  22. 22. 5 A LESS ACHIEVABLE DREAMFor most, the Dream slips out of reach: Whilea wide majority of Americans still believe inthe American Dream as a concept, they feel Our survey found a drastic rise in the percentage of respondentsit has become far more difficult to actually who believe it has become harder to reach the Dream, whetherachieve in the past 5 to 10 years—at least, for young or old:most cohorts—and will only become harderstill. Almost 4 in 10 believe they missed out onthe best years of the American Dream. Harder to achieve the Dream for… 2012 YOUNG PEOPLE 63% 2008 [I] no longer believe in OLDER PEOPLE 65%the American Dream. Too hard for the lower or middle class 37% that was born in the USA to I think it has become get ahead in life.” impossible to rise far above one’s —MALE, 40 birth for many people. You have to be very lucky, not just work hard or be 29% smart … there are ‘castes’ developing between rich and poor. There is no such thing as ‘middle class’ anymore.” Percentage who believe it’s become harder for each group to achieve the American Dream over the past 5-10 years —FEMALE, 44 22
  23. 23. 5 A LESS ACHIEVABLE DREAM (cont’d.)Easier for the rich: Americans are coming Harder to achieve the Dream for…to grips with the notion that a comfortable 2012 2008middle-class life is getting harder to achieve ormaintain. Between 2001 and 2010, the median MIDDLE-CLASS PEOPLE 69%wealth of America’s middle-income tier fell28%, according to the Pew Research Center,while that of the upper tier remained stable.Americans have grown far more inclined tobelieve it’s become harder for the middle class 42%to achieve the Dream over the past 5 to 10years, and easier for the top tier. Easier to achieve the Dream for… 2012 2008Democrats are more likely to believe it’s easier for thewealthy to achieve the Dream (50%, vs. 43% of Republicans). WEALTHY PEOPLE 52%Independents are most likely to say it’s easier for thewealthy (53%). 32% Percentage who believe it’s become harder/easier for each group to achieve the American Dream over the past 5-10 years 23
  24. 24. 5 A LESS ACHIEVABLE DREAM (cont’d.) Harder for white, native-born Americans: With the middle class feeling squeezed, there’s a growing sentiment that white, native-born Americans have the cards stacked against them, even if statistics indicate otherwise (the Census Bureau reports that white Americans weathered the Great Recession better than blacks, Hispanics and Asians). Compared with four years ago, respondents are far more likely to believe that it’s now tougher for white Americans to achieve the Dream—and easier for ethnic groups that may be regarded as immigrants. (A plurality of respondents said it’s neither harder nor easier for African-Americans.) Harder to achieve the Dream for… Easier to achieve the Dream for… AMERICANS OF MIDDLE-EASTERN EUROPEAN ANCESTRY HISPANIC-AMERICANS ASIAN-AMERICANS AMERICANS 31% 35% 30% 24% 13% 13% 12% 18% 2012 2008 2012 2008Percentage who believe it’s become harder for this group to Percentage who believe it’s become easier for each group to achieve the American Dreamachieve the American Dream over the past 5-10 years over the past 5-10 years 24
  25. 25. 5 A LESS ACHIEVABLE DREAM (cont’d.)Harder for white, native-born Americans: Open-ended responsesreveal a streak of resentment toward America’s newcomers. The misperception of things available to immigrants is stunning. The belief that the government gives them a Our country does house, guarantees them a job, guarantees them not enforce the immigration laws that we currently have. There are too a loan to start a business, all these mythological many illegal immigrants in this country things are clearly woven into a fearful backdrop now taking born citizens’ jobs and getting that we have. It is clear to Anglo-Americans food stamps, etc., right off the bat that they will soon be a minority, if they are when they come here.” not already. And there are some who —FEMALE, 39 are afraid of that.” MICHAEL FORD, founding director, Center for the Study of the American Dream Immigrants are stealing the American Dream from Americans.” —FEMALE, 63 25
  26. 26. 6 WHY IS THE DREAM LESS ACHIEVABLE?Unemployment, expenses, government bedevil the American Dream: While Americans widely regard internalfactors such as laziness and lack of self-discipline as obstacles to achieving the Dream, they also blame a range ofexternal factors (see chart on following slide). A majority of respondents see a dearth of jobs (both unemploymentand America losing jobs to other markets), the cost of living (everyday goods, health care) and personal debt asimpediments to the Dream.Unemployment: When we conducted our 2008 survey, headlines Government policies: The percentage of Americans who see federalcarried news of a five-year spike in the unemployment rate, to government policies as an obstacle is essentially unchanged, but6.1%; today, it stands at 8.1%. So while Americans were most with the transition to a Democratic administration, the demographiclikely to see rising prices as an obstacle to the Dream four years has shifted. As answers to open-ended questions show, much ofago, unemployment has shot to the top of the list, jumping 12 this sentiment stems from the belief that the government is overlypercentage points. involved in citizens’ lives. Unemployment is high and people are having a more difficult time saving up for large purchases such The government is taking away our freedom, our 61% of Republicans now blame federal government policies, as cars and houses when they have to attend to basic necessities first. Even rights, our way of living and imposing their foolish nanny up from getting an education has become prohibitively state laws.” 42% in 2008 —FEMALE, 45 expensive for some.” —FEMALE, 31 26
  28. 28. 6 WHY IS THE DREAM LESS ACHIEVABLE? (cont’d.) Blaming the bankers: We conducted our first American Dream survey in mid-September 2008, just as Lehman Brothers was collapsing and the biggest banking crisis since the Depression was unfolding. Among the repercussions: a wave of foreclosures that saw about 4 million families lose their homes between 2007 and early 2012. Last year simmering resentment of financial institutions boiled over briefly with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Around 4 in 10 Americans now see banks and banking practices as impediments to the Dream (and almost as many blame income inequality, an issue that OWS brought to the fore). These factors weren’t included in our 2008 survey. Impediments to the Dream HOUSING FORECLOSURE CRISIS In better times, it was 46% attainable. The banking system, along with greed, have made the American Dream a thing FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS’ CREDIT of the past.” AND LENDING PRACTICES —MALE, 58 41% WALL STREET BANKS The top earners, 39% along with Wall Street, have rigged the field.” —MALE, 63Percentage who feel these factors most get in the way of people achievingthe American Dream (2012 data) 28
  29. 29. 7 THE DREAM BY GENERATION A fading concept for younger Americans: While belief in the Dream has taken a tumble across the board, the younger generations remain most apt to see the American Dream as a concept that’s lost relevance. An (ir)relevant concept Millennials (18-34) Gen Xers (35-47) Boomers (48-67) Silents (68+) [The American Dream is] a vague and fictional idea of a perfect life within the USA.” “I DON’T THINK 49 —MALE, 21 Younger Americans MY GENERATION 45 realize our place in the world is not what BELIEVES IN THE AMERICAN 40 it was for their grandparents. It is certainly not DREAM” what it was for the World War II generation.… 24 Young Americans today are more aware of a balance in the world, more aware that whatever we achieve we have to earn—and I’ve never that isn’t only for you and me, that 33 appreciated the phrase is for the country.” “THE IDEA OF THE AMERICAN 34 [‘the American Dream’]; it’s DREAM IS always seemed mawkish to me, 26 MICHAEL FORD, KIND OF OLD- and used more for rhetorical founding director, FASHIONED” 19 effect than for any real Center for the Study meaning.” of the American —MALE, 28 DreamPercentage who agree with the statement(2012 data) 29
  30. 30. 7 THE DREAM BY GENERATION (cont’d.) There’s a marked correlation between age and belief in the dynamism of the American Dream. For instance, a clear majority of older generations believe the Dream is unique, compared with fewer than 4 in 10 Millennials. A less dynamic Dream Millennials (18-34) Gen Xers (35-47) Boomers (48-67) Silents (68+) 33 45 “I THINK THE “PEOPLE AROUND THE AMERICAN 40 WORLD ASPIRE TO COME 56 DREAM IS ALIVE TO AMERICA TO ACHIEVE 42 70 AND WELL” THEIR DREAMS AS MUCH 53 AS THEY EVER DID” 89 37 “THE AMERICAN 51 “THERE’S NOTHING LIKE THE 45 DREAM IS PART OF 63 AMERICAN DREAM WHAT MAKES 55 THIS COUNTRY 69 ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD” 65 SO DYNAMIC” 83Percentage who agree with the statement (2012 data) 30
  31. 31. 7 THE DREAM BY GENERATION (cont’d.) Optimism/satisfaction don’t correlate with belief in the Dream: While younger Americans may place less stock in the American Dream, they’re also less likely to see it as slipping out of reach. Characterized as an optimistic generation, Millennials aren’t ready to feel resigned about their futures—though perhaps reality is yet to set in. Whether it’s a matter of life stage or generational mindset, Millennials are notably more satisfied with both their own lives and the state of the union (both up 5 percentage points since 2008) than older generations. Optimism and satisfaction decline with age Millennials (18-34) Gen Xers (35-47) Boomers (48-67) Silents (68+) “IN THE FUTURE, 52 “ARE YOU 68 ACHIEVING THE SATISFIED WITH I have faith that, even 61 THE WAY THINGS 56 though right now I am far from AMERICAN DREAM WILL BE HARDER 72 ARE GOING IN 51 achieving anything (thanks to this THAN IT IS TODAY” YOUR PERSONAL lovely economic downturn), I will 72 LIFE TODAY?” 44 succeed and be happy. … I will find a way to make the money I need in order to better myself and be able to help others the way they’ve 56 “ARE YOU 31 “MORE AND been trying to help me.” SATISFIED WITH MORE, THE 61 21 —FEMALE, 26 THE WAY THINGS AMERICAN DREAM 65 ARE GOING IN 17 IS BECOMING AMERICA TODAY?” UNATTAINABLE” 60 20Percentage who agree with the statement (2012 data) 31
  32. 32. 7 THE DREAM BY GENERATION (cont’d.) Despite what older Americans think, marriage and family are still part of the Dream: At a time when “there are so many different ways to live life,” as NBCU’s Melissa Lavigne-Delville says, older Americans see aspirations for marriage and family as waning—but the fact is, younger generations are less likely to view these traditional milestones as outdated elements of the American Dream. Married with children? Millennials (18-34) Gen Xers (35-47) Boomers (48-67) Silents (68+) Some of these iconic pieces of the American Dream … the white picket “HAVING A FAMILY 28 fence, the home, the 2.5 children—the BETTER FITS WITH 28 traditional family setup—are coming very WHAT THE AMERICAN DREAM MEANT 42 much back in vogue with younger generations IN THE PAST” because we’re at a time where it’s so 41 unconventional, everything’s got mixed up, and there are so many different ways to live life.” “GETTING 31 MELISSA LAVIGNE- MARRIED BETTER DELVILLE, VP FITS WITH WHAT 32 of trends and strategic insights, THE AMERICAN 46 NBCUniversal DREAM MEANT IN THE PAST” 52Percentage who agree with the statement (2012 data) 32
  33. 33. 8 CORPORATIONS AND THE DREAMBusinesses have a role to play: The classicnotion of the American Dream is that it’s self-determined, achieved largely through hard Who should help Americans achieve the Dream?*work and determination. Still, close to half ourrespondents believe that financial institutions FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONSshould help people achieve the Dream, and morethan a third feel that corporations should do so, 46% GOVERNMENT INSTITUTIONSjust 7 percentage points behind governmentinstitutions. 42% CORPORATIONS 35% NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS NONE OF THESE 28% 34% *Not asked in 2008 33
  34. 34. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS Image credit: Thru Mikes Viewfinder
  35. 35. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS Americans are still believers—give them reason to keep believing: Belief in and passion for the American Dream may be slipping, but 7 in 10 Americans say they personally believe in it (down just 4 percentage points since 2008), and almost two-thirds feel the U.S. is a land of opportunity. With the Dream still a potent notion, marketers can inspire by credibly reinforcing Americans’ belief or showing how their brand helps people reap America’s benefits. BANK OF THE WEST | “OPTIMISM”: In celebrating “the spirit of the West,” this financial institution taps into the can-do ethos of the American Dream. “Our customers are individuals, dreamers and most of all, doers,” states the website. A 2012 TV commercial, titled “Optimism,” tells the building-something-from-nothing story of Norwegian immigrant Kjell Qvale, 92, who arrived in Seattle in 1929 and now owns one of the West’s largest car dealerships, among other things. “More important than the money you make,” concludes Qvale, “you set up for your kids to succeed. Bank of the West is good for me and for my family.” Image credit: Bank of the West 35
  36. 36. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) The core values of the Dream endure—tap into them to inspire: As we wrote in 2008, the American Dream continues to “revolve around a gritty, keep-on-keeping-on spirit”; characteristics like determination, discipline and self-belief are integral to the concept. With many Americans still enduring tough times, brands can motivate consumers with language that speaks to these deep-seated beliefs. CHRYSLER | “HALFTIME IN AMERICA”: The automaker has been emphasizing themes of battling adversity, most notably with its two-minute halftime commercial at this year’s Super Bowl, narrated by Clint Eastwood. In “Halftime in America,” Eastwood speaks about difficult, even divisive times America has endured but says proudly, “We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.” The spot’s “simple message,” Chrysler CMO Olivier Francois has said, is that “in the land of opportunity, everyone has the right to dream and the power to turn that dream into reality.” Subsequent commercials continued the theme in more This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. personal ways. A spot for Chrysler’s Ram truck positions We get right back up again and the vehicle as an enabler of success. In a voiceover, when we do, the world’s going to a wife leaves a message for her husband, praising his hear the roar of our engines.” determination in the face of adversity: “I know it’s been —CLINT EASTWOOD, hard, and you never once complained or stayed home “Halftime in America” feeling sorry for yourself. You just said, ‘Where there’s a truck, there’s a job.’” Image credit: Chrysler 36
  37. 37. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) LEVI’S | “GO FORTH”: In mid-2009, the depths of the recession, Levi’s launched an optimistically themed campaign that sought to invoke America’s pioneering spirit. One commercial used lines from Walt Whitman’s poem “America.” Print ads proclaimed “Strike up for the new world” and “Will work for better times.” I am the new American pioneer, looking forward, never back. No longer content to wait for better times ... I will work for better times.” —“Go Forth” print ad excerpt Image credit: Levi’s 37
  38. 38. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) Americans sense the Dream is changing—respond to the anxieties this creates: More than 6 in 10 Americans feel the Dream is different from what it used to be, is becoming increasingly unattainable, and has grown harder to achieve for young and old alike—and especially the middle class. Brands can empathize and connect with their consumers by acknowledging this new reality, understanding that times are harder (e.g., Chrysler’s “Halftime in America”) and circumstances are changing. Brands can also offer modern alternatives to the traditional Dream, showing how they can help consumers navigate new realities. RENT.COM | “TAKE BACK THE DREAM”: For Millennials, home ownership by necessity has become a significantly less important component of the Dream (the percentage of Millennials who say home ownership is a big part of the Dream fell 16 points between 2008 and 2012). Last year tapped into this shifting reality by seeking to debunk the notion that the American Dream is about home ownership. The ad, which mirrors Apple’s famous “1984,” shows black-suited agents chasing a man as he runs past nondescript mannequins and frumpy women outside The time has come to stop suburban homes. Approaching the end of the road, he lobs accepting, without question, that a brick at a large glass house, shattering it and prompting home ownership should be everyone’s the nagging agents to disappear. The tagline incites dream. The fact of the matter is viewers to “Take back the Dream.” that it is not. … You don’t have to own your home to own your dreams.” —Take Back the Dream microsite Image credit: 38
  39. 39. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) Fewer Americans see the U.S. as a land of opportunity—show the opportunities you’re creating: While three- quarters of Americans viewed the U.S. as a land of opportunity in 2008, fewer than two-thirds feel that way today— still a wide majority but a clear area of concern among Americans. In response, some brands have been playing up their “Made in the USA” credentials, showing that they’re enabling American workers to keep striving. FLORIDA’S NATURAL | “MADE IN THE USA”: For the past few years, this orange juice brand has been emphasizing its domestic credentials. “All Florida. Never imported,” says the website, which showcases the stories of the growers that Florida’s Natural relies upon and promotes an offer of a free American flag. A commercial opens at daybreak with a rusty pickup truck driving along a dirt road underneath a sunny Florida sky. With a Southern drawl, the narrator explains the company’s ingredient- sourcing policy as we see slow-motion footage of farmers at work. “People tell us they really appreciate we’re an American company,” he says. “It’s not easy work, but it’s something we’re very proud of.” Image credit: Florida’s Natural 39
  40. 40. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) AMERICAN BRAND PROJECT: This startup, launched on July Fourth 2012, seeks to support domestic endeavors by generating awareness of “great American brands.” The website tells the stories behind various U.S. brands and gives them “Buffalo ratings,” a score that reflects “Americanness.” “Driving growth of great American Brands is the only way to generate real job growth,” says the site, “and that is our ultimate goal.” Image credit: American Brand Project 40
  41. 41. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) Americans see many obstacles to the Dream—be part of the solution, not the problem: Americans fault a range of external factors for intruding on the American Dream, from unemployment to government policies and financial institutions. Many also blame a loss of community feeling, lamenting that people are less inclined to care about one another. Brands, by contrast, can position themselves as part of the solution—whether that entails supporting American jobs, boosting communities, assisting consumers with financial woes, etc. There is a role to play for brands in helping to bring people together and also in saluting community-minded individuals who are working to do so. LEVI’S | “READY TO WORK”: In 2010, Levi’s launched a campaign to assist the struggling former steel town of Braddock, Pa., pledging more than a million dollars over two years to help renovate a community center and develop an urban farming program. Levi’s also featured Braddock residents in a campaign based around the town. A TV spot pays tribute to “the new pioneers” of Braddock, showing the sun rising on the town and images of denim- sporting young people busy rebuilding (restoring stained glass windows, etc.). The voiceover concludes, “People think there aren’t frontiers anymore. They can’t see how frontiers are all around us.” Levi’s also sponsored an hour-long show about the effort online and on the Sundance Channel/IFC. Promotional copy noted, “The people of Braddock are unified by hope for renewed prosperity as they work to become a community again.” Image credit: Levi’s 41
  42. 42. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) JPMORGAN CHASE | “CHANGE”: In the midst of the housing foreclosure crisis in 2010, JPMorgan Chase sought to show its commitment to helping Americans stay in their homes. The bank claims it set up new offices to “work one- on-one with homeowners” and helped more than 200,000 home owners to keep their homes. The bank also says it upped its small-business lending commitment to $10 billion. The final line: “This is the way forward.” Image credit: JPMorgan Chase 42
  43. 43. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) Americans will appreciate a corporate assist: While our research found that about a third of Americans don’t think major institutions need to help Americans achieve the Dream, roughly the same percentage believe corporations bear some responsibility—and as the middle class gets further out of reach, more Americans are likely to believe corporations have a part to play. Various marketers have launched initiatives that help small businesses, entrepreneurs and everyday Americans get ahead, explicitly or implicitly referencing the promise of the American Dream. STARBUCKS | CREATE JOBS FOR USA: In October 2011, Starbucks kicked off this partnership with the community- lending nonprofit Opportunity Finance Network to stimulate small-business job creation. The Starbucks Foundation donated $5 million to seed the effort, which now relies on Starbucks patrons to contribute; a $5 or more donation earns a red, white and blue wristband with a tag reading “Indivisible.” Starbucks chips in donations whenever Indivisible-branded products are purchased. Leading up to July Fourth, Starbucks ran full-page newspaper ads featuring a letter from CEO Howard Schultz, who described himself as a “product of [the] American Dream” who grew up in public housing. He called on Americans to come together, putting “citizenship over partisanship,” because “we have a shared responsibility in solving our nation’s problems. We can’t wait for Washington.” Image credit: Create Jobs for USA 43
  44. 44. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) SAMUEL ADAMS | BREWING THE AMERICAN DREAM: The Boston Beer Co. launched Brewing the American Dream four years ago to help low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry. The company describes founder Jim Koch as an “underdog” in the industry when he started out, and says this initiative “champions the great ideas and dreams of the ‘little guys.’” Along with access to capital via partnerships with two microlending organizations, the company offers business education and finance seminars and “speed coaching” events. CHASE, LIVINGSOCIAL | MISSION: SMALL BUSINESS: This 2012 grant program, launched in May, invited small-business owners to enter for a chance to win $250,000. Twelve companies were selected, for a total of $3 million in grants. In a statement, LivingSocial CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy said the company was proud to “help small-business owners grow and become the next great American success stories.” Image credits: Samual Adams; Chase 44
  45. 45. WHAT IT MEANS FOR BRANDS (cont’d.) The American Dream still resonates abroad: While America’s star has faded somewhat, the American Dream is still a potent concept abroad. Brands can position the Dream as an important and attractive element of classic Americana. BRAND USA | “LAND OF DREAMS”: To ignite enthusiasm for American travel, earlier this year JWT created the first marketing campaign for Brand USA, a new tourism marketing entity responsible for promoting the U.S. to world visitors. Along with a new website and other materials, a commercial for the campaign titled “Land of Dreams” invites viewers to “come and find your land of dreams.” It features Rosanne Cash, daughter of legendary Johnny Cash, and showcases America’s history, culture and landscape. Image credit: Brand USA 45
  46. 46. APPENDIX Image credit: Marian Berelowitz
  47. 47. APPENDIX: MORE ABOUT OUR EXPERTS/INFLUENCERS ERIN CURRIER, project manager, Economic Mobility Project, Pew Center on the States Currier oversees Pew’s efforts to build broad and nonpartisan agreement on the facts and figures related to economic mobility and to spark an active debate on how best to improve opportunity in America. As the lead on Pew’s ongoing research into the status of the American Dream, Currier works with top experts in the field and oversees the project team on its research agenda. She has testified before state legislatures, spoken about economic mobility at conferences and conducted numerous press interviews.Prior to her current position, Currier was acting CEO at Women Work! The National Network for Women’s Employment, overseeing theorganization’s efforts to promote women’s and families’ economic security. MICHAEL FORD, founding director, Center for the Study of the American Dream Ford leads Xavier University’s Center for the Study of the American Dream in its mission to study the history of the Dream, examine and report on the state of the Dream, and identify trends and analyze shifts in the future evolution of the Dream. The Center generates significant original research and survey data, and serves as an academic information clearinghouse on the American Dream. Prior to founding the center, Ford spent nearly 40 years in politics, government and corporate work, serving in nine presidentialcampaigns and more than 100 gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and House, and mayoralty races across the country. He was executive assistant to thegovernor of Ohio and chief of staff to the mayor of Cincinnati. He also served as senior adviser to the EVP for Internet operations at Citibank, hasworked with a number of Internet startups and is founder of, a user-generated advertisement platform. MELISSA LAVIGNE-DELVILLE, VP of trends and strategic insights, NBCUniversal As an expert on consumer culture and trends, Lavigne-Delville guides NBCU’s marketing partners through today’s rapidly changing technology, media and cultural landscape, ensuring they find the most resonant ways to communicate and the most effective places to connect. Before joining NBCU, Lavigne-Delville was managing director of The Intelligence Group, the youth trend and marketing division of Creative Artists Agency, working on research and consulting projects with clients including Procter & Gamble, BBC Worldwide, Microsoft, HBO, Nike and Target. She also headed The Intelligence Group’smonthly trend seminars. Prior to this, she was director of a New York fashion-forecasting firm, and a merchant and youth culture expert forUrban Outfitters. She is currently pursuing a master’s in trend research at New York University. 47
  48. 48. APPENDIX: MORE ABOUT OUR EXPERTS/INFLUENCERS (cont’d.) JOHN ZOGBY, founder, Zogby Poll Founder of the Zogby Poll, Zogby is currently engaged in his fifth presidential election as a national pollster and analyst. With 24 years of experience as a professor of American history and politics, Zogby has delivered more than 100 speeches, public lectures and salon sessions each year since 1999. He writes a weekly column for, a weekly report card on President Obama’s performance for The Washington Times and a monthly column for Politics magazine. His work has also been featured in op-ed pages worldwide. Zogby’s book The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation ofthe American Dream was published in 2008. 48
  49. 49. APPENDIX:ADDITIONAL CHARTS Image credit: Marian Berelowitz
  50. 50. APPENDIX: ADDITIONAL CHARTS FIGURE 1A: What the American Dream means generally Percentage who say each of these factors is a big part of what the American Dream is today 2012 2008 87 82 FreedomFinding happiness of speech 95 92 87 Freedom 77 Personal independence from fear of 95 oppression 91 86 65 Fulfilling my Finding potential spiritual 95 fulfillment 80 84 63 Home Having enough ownership to give to 93 charity 75 Freedom 84 63 to be able to Making it go anywhere to the top 92 61 you want 84 Social 54 Success on my own terms recognition 90 and status 49 50
  51. 51. APPENDIX: ADDITIONAL CHARTS (cont’d.)FIGURE 1B:The Dream’s key traits (2008)This word cloud is based on open-ended responses to the question “What does the phrase ‘the American Dream’ mean to you?” The relative size of eachword is based on the frequency with which it was cited; we stripped out the words “American” and “Dream.” 51
  52. 52. APPENDIX: ADDITIONAL CHARTS (cont’d.) FIGURE 1C: What the American Dream means personally Percentage who say each of these factors is a big part of what the American Dream means to them personally 2012 2008 90 73Financial security A second chance 96 84 88 71 Being able to Being able to save money invest money 93 74 87 63 A comfortable Being my lifestyle own boss 94 67 83 58 A better life Becoming for my children wealthy 91 55 82 Being able to 57 Equal afford/acquire opportunity 90 luxury goods 59 79 54 A college Access to education easy credit 85 50 Being able 79 25 to get ahead Becoming based on famous 82 20 merit alone 52