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Consumer Trends & Insight

US Consumers Find New Ways to Permit Themselves Some Playtime

They work harder than almost anyone else in the world and are now finding new ways to allow themselves some leisure time; marketers must learn how to capitalize

Although a majority of adult consumers in the US agree that “play has an important role in life, and Americans need to relax, have fun and play more”, political anxieties, generally stressful times and work martyrdom have combined to curtail consumers’ feeling that they deserve downtime, and amplified the need for escapism.

While consumers of all ages say that “playtime” is important, in-depth analysis that reveals how they rank the importance of a wide variety of lifestyle values shows they place “success” fifth overall but put “fun” down at 67th.

In a bid to stem the insecurity and establish control, Americans keep busy. US workers not only put in more hours than workers almost anywhere else in the world, they’re also retiring later and taking fewer vacation days. Staying busy is more of a pseudo-lifestyle than any real solution, but consumers are finding new justifications to give themselves some playtime.

New Ways to Play

For US consumers in particular, the “to-do list” mentality is tough to shake, and has dictated their traditional approach to play and leisure – or lack thereof. Originally, consumers attempted what CEB research dubbed the the “free yo’self” pathway: complete tasks first, then play guilt-free.

It’s an ideology baked into American culture. Playtime must be earned by hard work. But the combination of a society fixated on staying busy and consumers feeling guilty about shirking the inevitable responsibilities that remain has eroded the legitimacy of this free yo’self pathway.

When consumers can’t complete their to-do lists to rationalize and justify taking those moments of play and leisure, they circumvent them. Feeling unable to allow themselves important play and leisure time through the “free yo’self” path, consumers take a new route that lets them mentally skip over the cultural and personal barriers of time, money, and guilt.

The first shortcut, “treat yo’self,” involves consumers granting themselves a temporary hall pass: permission to indulge, guilt-free, for a limited time only. The second shortcut, “justify yo’self,” helps consumers inject a level of longer-term practicality and utility into moments of play or indulgence, turning something that was once leisurely into something newly productive.

Marketers can find profitable ways to engage consumers by addressing each of these pathways. They can focus on the free yo’self pathway by helping consumers get their tasks done rather than focusing on the playtime at the end. They can facilitate the treat yo’self by positioning the brand as an enabler of safe, well-earned spontaneity, or they can embrace the justify yo’self approach by embedding indulgence into their marketing campaigns but mixing it with elements of practicality.


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  • Best of Iconosphere 2017

    Learn more about the research and analysis behind these trends by downloading this executive summary.

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