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Experiencing it More, Enjoying it Less and Less

by Alf Nucifora

From the respected Yankelovich Monitor, which provides a continuously running study of consumer attitudes and values in America, comes news of a newfound phenomenon that the Monitor identifies as the Boredom Factor. We see it manifested in day-to-day life in a wide variety of instances. Interest in and coverage of political conventions has dropped precipitously. Offsetting that decline has been the rapid growth of interest in reality-based television programming like CBS' Survivor and pseudo-violent, non-antiseptic events such as WWF Wrestling and the proposed XFL.

Says David Bersoff, Research Director of the Monitor, "Consumers have traded peak experiences for dull events. Originally, refuge from mundane reality was considered fantasy. Now, mundane virtuality lies in watching other people's reality."

The Paradox
Unquestionably, novelty in today's marketplace is conspicuous by its absence. Hence, the boom in boredom. But as the Monitor notes, "Paradoxically, we are bored despite living in remarkable times." Exposure to "amazing" events such as the Clinton impeachment, The Dow reaching 11,000, the Oklahoma City bombing, have resulted in consumers developing a tolerance for the extreme and seeking even larger doses to maintain the high.

The Monitor also notes that "we try to eliminate mystery and then we miss it. Our lives have become entirely too predictable," as a result. Blame that on a variety of influences, everything from Caller ID, to knowing the gender of babies before they're born, to consulting lists for every conceivable need. As an example, Top 10 lists deliver high expectations against which we are inevitably disappointed. In the process, the homework is done for us, obviating the need for exploration, personal discovery, surprise and mystery.

The Numbers Tell the Story
The statistics prove the point. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of all American consumers sixteen plus (16+) years of age agree that "even though I have so much to do, I'm always looking for something new and exciting to do." Seventy-one percent (71%) of those same Americans state that they "would welcome more novelty and change in their lives," up from sixty-four percent (64%) in 1995. And, it's the Boomers who are forcing the change. In fact, the growth in boredom is largely a Boomer-driven phenomenon. Twenty-six (26%) would engage in dangerous activities (a ten point gain in a two year period). Seventy-five percent (75%) would welcome novelty and change (a +six point one year change).

Boredom in Perspective
According to the Monitor, breaking the boredom barrier requires remarkably little effort. Change can simply be novel or, at the very least, interesting. Boredom-breakers only need to be new to the person in question. Consider the recent popularity of "retro" products and experiences such as swing dancing, martinis and the 70's fashion rebirth. And boredom-breakers need not be expensive. Witness the interest in inexpensively-produced, independent films such as The Blair Witch Project.

Marketers Must Wake Up
Consumers believe that marketers are no longer providing the unique products and services that meet their needs and expectations. Eighty-four percent (84%) believe that today's TV programs are boring. Seventy-one percent (71%) believe the same about big budget movies. The retail vista is crowded with sameness for as far as the eye can see. House & Garden calls it, "The Retail Fatigue Syndrome," with everything looking and feeling the same. The fast food parity of McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell is matched by the mundane experience of the Category Busters and Big Boxes, e.g. Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Even the clothing looks the same as is witnessed by the products on the racks of Old Navy, the Gap, et al.

Seeds of discontent are being sewn and mass customization is on the rise. Says Bersoff, "We must build surprise, novelty and interest in the products that we market... the experience must appear 'new' to the people you're selling to, even though uniformity is seen as driving profits." To that end, the Monitor foresees something new on the horizon, which it terms the "experience economy" in which mystery and surprise may return. But, it won't be easy to pull off. Already eighty-eight percent (88%) of Americans say they're bored with the Internet.

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