Here’s an odd subject to tackle in an adland still ravaged by years of recession: affluence.
The well-off and wealthy may not take up much bandwidth as you dash out another digital banner on two-for-one sun cream, but they are a critical audience for brands looking to find growth in a sea of stagnation. You don’t need to be Jaguar or Burberry to realise that the affluent matter.
According to Capgemini, the number of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) is now 13.7 million globally, and there has been an 80 per cent rise in the number of billionaires over the past decade.
Yet any consideration of the advertising excreted in the direction of the well-off suggests that we have all had a collective creative lobotomy. You know the kind of thing: stock photography of high-fiving businessmen; vacuous women walking through Dubai shopping malls festooned with shopping bags; and financial ads with impenetrable language that passes for English on subjects such as "diversifying your asset portfolio".
As a business, we are routinely accused of being challenged when it comes to talking to people with little cash, but we are doubly challenged when it comes to talking to those with loads of it.
Much of this failure has to do with the picture we carry around in our minds of the wealthy. So, as part of our recent relaunch of HSBC’s Premier account, we spent nine months interviewing thousands of HNWIs around the world.
The results of our "Global Affluence Tribe" study reveal a picture of contemporary wealth somewhat at odds with the one-dimensional clichés that pollute advertising.
1. Wealthy people don’t look like wealthy people
One of the most significant myths that we seem to hold to be true is that affluent people’s wealth comes from corporate careers – from the boardroom or the trading floor. But anyone in advertising knows that working for "the man" only takes you so far. For real wealth, you need to have created something.
The truly affluent are increasingly likely to have taken a different and more unusual route to success, to be more entrepreneurial, creative and youthful.
Think Dr Dre rather than Warren Buffett – and, please, no more people in suits.
2. Women are the future of wealth
When imagining the rich, our blind spot is invariably women. This is a catastrophic mistake at a time when women hold the key to the globe’s economic health at all levels of society and, most specifically, among the very rich. While only 10 per cent of Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list are women, their number has doubled in the past two years and, by 2025, 65 per cent of Britain’s private wealth will be in the hands of women, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
Misogyny has no place in depictions of contemporary affluence – women should be appropriately represented both in number and the subject matter.
3. People with money aren’t that interested in it
Of course, people with money care about the money, but the idea that increasing wealth correlates with greater interest in managing it is entirely erroneous. If people are wealthy, it is because they are successful, and successful people would far rather spend their time enjoying that success than sorting out their finances or, heaven forbid, "diversifying their asset portfolio".
You won’t find a product message on the HSBC Premier campaign: it’s all about taking the tedium of money management away from clients and creating a sense of calm and well-being.
4. Rich people are people first and rich second
The route to a wealthy person’s heart is through that heart and not their wallet. The things that rich people care about are not the yachts and fast cars of our imagining, but their families, who are often the inspiration, support and beneficiaries of their success. Not to mention their homes, their passions and the experiences they pursue.
Chase the money and you will fail to connect; chase the driving force behind it and you might just begin a dialogue – which is why the "your personal economy" strategy has resonated with HSBC’s Premier clients.
5. Consumption is getting more constructive
Capgemini also reports that 23 per cent of HNWIs around the world say charity is one of their top three spending priorities, while 60 per cent say that making a positive social impact is important to them.
Legacy used to mean the money that you passed on to your kids, but it now means the mark that you make on the world and the values that you leave behind. And while it is still the case that the newly rich value a more conspicuous approach to consumption, this is changing very fast. Among HNWIs in India, 91 per cent believe it is important for them to give time and money to others – not quite the ostentatious cliché that populates our conversations about the rich in fast-growing economies.
Ah, yes – cliché. One of the great battles for a planner is fighting the myths and orthodoxies that grow rampant and unchecked in the collective minds of clients and agencies alike. What was once a revelation, a new perspective on an audience, becomes in time just a shallow and redundant cliché.
Our study is an attempt to paint a new picture of affluence and unseat the orthodoxies around the wealthy – an audience changing as quickly and as profoundly as any other. Not just in order to better understand this audience, but also to give creatives new and more interesting places to start the conversation.
Now, back to the two-for-one sun-cream ads.
Richard Huntington is the chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi