What do you value?

I’ve just stumbled upon an old slideshare presentation listing American core values:

Achievement & Success, Individualism, Freedom, Progress, Material Comfort, Activity, Practicality, External Conformity, Humanitarianism, Youthfulness, Fitness & Health.

Many of these values flow from our history as a country promoting life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness in the “land of plenty.”

James Truslow Adams first coined the term American Dream in his 1931 book Epic of America:  He wrote: “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

When we talk about American dreams, we often forget to mention the social order part that Adams mentions…instead, we tend to focus on the part about high wages & motor cars.

The US has long been seen as the prototypical consumption led economy.  Businesses have successfully “helped us” translate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness into consumption terms.  “Free” offers are designed to break down our barriers to purchase, our mailboxes are filled with credit card offers, and we have leaders advocating shopping to cure our ills (Pres. Bush post 9/11 speech).  Clearly, we’re living in a culture revolving around the acquisition of stuff.  We have even turned most of our holidays into “key consumption periods.”

Yes indeed, corporations, shareholders, advertisers, politicians…everyone has helped lure America (and a large part of the western world) into becoming a consumer led culture. We’re taught to buy…and then critique.  Increasingly, we’re even being taught to “take.”  Brands are encouraged to become Brand Butlers (or free service providers) or Brand entertainers, etc.

Buy.  Take.  Free.  Rate & Review…

The Sad Part

The short-term consumer mindset built by elite leaders, organizations and even us (yep, we are shareholders too) has put America in a shockingly deep debt situation.  We’ve prodded the middle class into binge consumption, yet real wages have not risen. In fact, middle class Americans have seen a $2,000 decline in median family income over the past eight years.  That’s depressing and shameful.

Average household debt in the United States is 130% of average household income, up 20% since 2005 and double what it was twenty years ago. The US household savings rate is close to zero.

We’ve taught the middle class and a couple of generations that it is totally OK to live beyond their means.

A day of reckoning is coming…

Refreshing the Dream (at least a bit)

So how can we communicate and build brands by highlighting that lesser known part of the American dream–namely the social order part?  Campaigns like Pepsi Refresh are starting to do this by helping people,  communities, etc. create, build and develop a post-consumption world.  These campaigns tap into those forgotten American values listed above (Humanitarianism, Practicality, etc.)

The Center for the New (Old) American Dream is trying to help Americans consume responsibly, protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice.  Have a look at their website or blog for more thoughts on getting back to basics.

I’ve got some more thoughts on this, but need to quit…so, shoot a couple of comments over if you want.

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