Years ago, while watching the Occupy Wall Street movement, it felt a bit like a youth movement. It’s easy to see why when you look at the sad statistics regarding unemployment rates among 20-somethings. The Census Bureau reports that a U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35. But the struggles of the bottom third of the income spectrum are wide-spread.
The New York Times recently reported that nearly one-third of the population in the U.S. can be defined as “deep poor,” “poor,” or “near poor” (this last classification is new and includes those less than 50% above the poverty line). That’s 100 million people who are living with the stress and threats of a low income existence.
The statistics fail to bring home the harsh realities of the working poor in this country. We worked with Advance Auto Parts to better understand how to position that brand. People who do their own auto repairs are diverse, but a portion of them are at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. We heard single mothers who would almost start crying as they explained the pressure they felt to keep their cars working. A broken-down car meant they couldn’t get to work at their hourly-paid positions. The ramifications of losing that job were catastrophic for people living so close to the edge.
It wasn’t just single moms. Often they were immigrants or the children of immigrants, who worked hard and cared about making their homes into safe-zones for their kids. One of their biggest concerns was hiding their stress so the kids didn’t feel it too. This head-on collision with the intense pressures of raising a family on limited income was shocking to most of the folks who were listening to the interviews behind the glass.
We saw this pain again when working with Second Harvest Heartland. They work hard to feed those in need in our region. Not just the indigent homeless, but families and the elderly. People in suburbs. People who were working at low-wage jobs but caring for grown children who could not find work.
You couldn’t walk away without feeling a great deal of respect for the courage of these people. They are truly working without a net. One false move and they lose the roofs over their heads and any sense of security or tentative hold on the middle class. It made us want to create brands that support these people. Forget the rose-colored picture of a middle-class existence we see in most advertising. How about brands that serve the intense needs of the working poor — the 100 million people struggling mightily?
Marketers have coined a term for this group (as we do): The BOP (bottom of the pyramid). We know it’s a large (and unfortunately growing) market. Companies like Procter & Gamble now recognize the need for an hour-glass strategy to serve the very different needs and mind-states of the haves and have-nots. For our part, we look forward to working with more organizations and brands that serve this unheralded, but heroic, hard-working group of people.
It’s riveting and good work for brand strategists to find ways to encourage and support this group in hard times. Let’s help the invisible hand serve their cause too.