- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

The instinct to live large is fading in America, according to the inevitable analyses of what’s in store for the nation in 2009.

It’s a sobering year ahead - but not without promise, said Ann M. Mack, an official “trend spotter” for advertising giant JWT.

She predicts, for one thing, that we’re returning to simple pleasures. It’s not elaborate choco-mocha lattes we seek in the age of troubling recessions and frugality.

A plain old cup o’ joe will do, as will forgoing the salon for a home dye job.

“The reality or the risk of money running short is a major incentive for consumers to find new ways of enjoying what they have, and what they can truly afford,” Miss Mack said.

Related story: As retailers suffer, thrift stores thrive

On a large scale, civic frugality also has taken hold, for better or worse. Some cities and towns, for example, are getting picky about the length of school bus routes and fretting about when - and even whether - they can afford to salt their roadways during a snowstorm.

Overseas observers have advice for Americans getting in touch their newfound thrift.

“For tips on frugality, look to India,” said Anand Giridharadas, a writer with the International Herald Tribune who was amused to observe that Yankees were standing in line, regifting, paying with cash and sacrificing to feed children or pets.

Indeed, a hard economy can sway soft lifestyle.

Smaller will be more appealing, Miss Mack said. Downsized stores, cars and mobile technology seem less of a financial threat; big-box stores will disappear, she predicts. The threat of a global recession has spurred people to cut back on their spending, “trade down” and choose long-lasting quality over quantity.

Tinkering is in, or soon will be.

“We’re becoming adept at relying on our own resources,” Miss Mack said, noting that she has detected a distinct “uptick in do-it-yourself activity.”

Take sales of Color Oops, for example. The California company that makes Oops - the product removes hair color from a botched home dye job - is enjoying a surge of popularity.

“It almost seems counterintuitive,” said David Agrey, president of manufacturer DeveloPlus. “There’s a general financial malaise, and yet we see growth.”

Los Angeles retail analyst Edward Geopfert said it’s not surprising.

“People still have the basic needs of looking and feeling good,” he said.

We still like to be entertained, though - but simple passivity is no longer good enough. Yes, we like to read best-sellers, but we’ll like them even more if the author suggests a playlist of music to accompany the book, Miss Mack said.

“Understanding that people do more than one thing at a time, content creators are turning what could be a negative - distraction - into a positive. An immersive experience,” she said. “By layering a multitude of media into entertainment, they are creating content designed for simultaneous consumption and engagement.”

The morass of activities also caters to younger audiences. Nickelodeon, the children’s cable network, has just launched an “online dashboard for kids” at its Web site that pushes youngsters to blog and vote about playground buzz - and “be their own content providers, programming directors, distributors and news aggregators” on television, movies and sports.

“Anything that is top of mind,” said spokesman Steve Youngwood.

The economic crisis also has created a certain consumer impatience. Folks want truth, not frivolous trimmings - a trend that will force even big brand names to rethink their identities in the marketplace.

“Authenticity matters,” Miss Mack said. “Authenticity will become paramount for brands as they look to regain credibility and trust. Consumers have lost a great deal of faith in brands once deemed unquestionably reliable. They are searching for truths and clamoring for transparency.”

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