The Europeanizing of America: a Study in Changing Values

ABSTRACT - The theses is that technological, environmental, governmental and economic changes in America have produced changes in terminal and instrumental consumer values. Metaphorically speaking, these changes appear to approximate the European mode in terms of their social-psychological implications. These specific value changes are identified along with some of their marketing and advertising consequences.


Donald L. Kanter (1978) ,"The Europeanizing of America: a Study in Changing Values", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 408-410.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 408-410


Donald L. Kanter, University of Southern California


The theses is that technological, environmental, governmental and economic changes in America have produced changes in terminal and instrumental consumer values. Metaphorically speaking, these changes appear to approximate the European mode in terms of their social-psychological implications. These specific value changes are identified along with some of their marketing and advertising consequences.


With American products, fast food franchises, and United States multinational corporations girdling the globe, one has customarily thought in terms of the Americanizing of Europe, not the opposite. Changes, however, in the external conditions in America seem to have occurred producing changes in terminal and instrumental consumer values and attitudes (Rokeach, 1973; Rokeach, 1960).

Interestingly enough, this rapid shift in socio-psychological outlook seems to more or less approximate a European mode in terms of behavior as well as weltanschauung. It should not be startling to say these changes have vast implications for consumer marketing strategy (Katona, 1971).

There will be fewer retreats for Americans to former days of conspicuous consumption. External conditionsBtechnological, psychological, environmental and govern-mentalBare the constraints.

For instance, government has become an anonymous, regulatory force in American life with all the depersonalization this implies. As the bureaucratic structure, described by Max Weber and Prof. Merton, has mushroomed, Americans have come to question the immediacy and responsiveness of the Democratic process. Recent candidates of both major political parties have campaigned on this point.

Moreover, Americans no longer perceive that they control the world, so to speak. European countries lost their colonies long ago and felt the destruction of two world wars. It is only recently, however, that Americans have felt diminished power over world affairs, with all of the concomitant threats to security and potency this implies. Terrorism, along with diminished control, has also become part of the collective unconscious, adding to feelings of general slippage and unrest.

To add to this decline of perceived omnipotence is the realization and acceptance of finite and limited resources. It is, for example, a significant development that American oil companies have undertaken massive advertising campaigns urging consumers to conserve their product, petroleum, not to consume it.

Under these changing conditions, marketing premises posited over the last twenty years of the "Marketing Revolution" are virtually invalid. Those assumptions of unlimited affluence, boundless food, fuel, and productivity; andBmost importantlyBa vision of the American consumer as voracious, eager, hungry, and greedy, no longer seem accurate (Webster, 1974).

The future has arrived bringing changed aspirations and new social and sexual roles. Americans will make new attempts to cope with increasing depersonalization and anonymity brought about by over-population and bureaucracy as well as inflation and psychological diminution. People are seeking different means of achieving equilibrium in a continuously clamorous world, bringing about different ways of consuming and evaluating goods and services.

It is in these differencesBthe response to a changing total environmentBthat the Europeanizing of America may be seen. Clearly, the analogy is imperfect; but it may be descriptive of a new values constellation. As conditions of scarcity, bureaucracy and inflationBrecurring European experiencesBoccur in this country, the modes of adjustment appear to become closer in substance and style.


First there is the American loss of innocence. Something very simple is meant by this loss of innocence which goes beyond Mark Twain, Edith Wharton or Henry James. Americans never before had military and diplomatic defeats approaching the magnitude of Vietnam. They had not recently come close to a Watergate or an international oil cartel, or known crime and violence to such an unprecedented and televised extent.

What is the significance, however, of loss of innocence to the Europeanized American? It means, among other things, that what is vulnerable and uncertain about life has been brought home to most Americans. Certain mainstream cultural assumptions lost validity in the late 60's and the life of everyday quiet desperation is not so easily tolerated among many people. People feel they cannot manipulate their destinies as much, formerly an article of faith. This contributes to feelings of anomie. Psychologists might say that the locus of control has shifted from the self to external forces (Thornbill, 1975).

America's adult generation was raised to believe that one can be virtually anything he wants to be, including President of the United States. But Americans are moving towards a more fatalistic attitude, resembling that found in Europe ("que sera, sera"). There is a lowered expectation about the ability to manipulate one's environment. In addition, the parameters have been narrowed in regard to the invincibility of self-help. Boundless optimism in achieving traditional American goals seems inappropriate.

A related aspect of Europeanizing is the enormous growth in skepticism and cynicism. People question other people's motives more than before. The concept of the blunt, open-faced American, a guileless, Candide-like character, is not a valued aspiration. In the current environment this does not help survival.

What does this increased cynicism mean? For one thing, authority figures are suspect. A study conducted at the University of Southern California to examine reactions to public service advertisements about illegal drugs is illustrative (Kanter, 1974).

Star athletes (ostensibly reference group symbols) in effect said: "I can't do my thing if I'm high on drugs." These ads elicited disbelief in 88% of the grade school children tested. When questioned further, the students felt one can't play that kind of game without being high and that the revered athletes were lying.

The current American approach to skepticism and cynicism may be characterized in part as trading off. This approach recognizes that things are rarely absolute, ("What do I have to give for what I get?") People appear to have arrived at a certain shrewdness in their dealings with this realistic and cynical approach to life. "Street smarts" have become operative in our society. In a phrase, this is the ability to "aim off"Bto take one's time. Don't quite reveal oneself; maintain a facade; feign ignorance. This is the time-honored peasant's protection.

Another basic characteristic of Europeanizing is the changing time-frame of Americans. No longer is immediate response a virtue. From the customary American spontaneity and rapid closure, people tend to feel that it is notoriously unsafe to enter into a situation, to make decisions without waiting for events to clarify. This is an old English technique of negotiation identified by Charles Dickens in Bleak House in the 1860's, when he spoke of "fogging the issue." In other words, conditions change, hence wait, it may even go awayBif not, continue to obscure the point and postpone a decision.

But a most crucial element of this phenomenon is that people want timeBalmost more than things. The marketing implications of this are enormous. Time will be a reward assuming many formsBlonger holidays and shorter workweeks; temporal instead of financial bonuses.

The Europeanizing of Americans is also expressed in new levels of aspiration. Not everyone wants to grow up to be President or leader. Many would prefer simply to "play the game," collect time and have fun, being cooler and less hassled. Increasingly, aspirations are not so much power oriented as time oriented: Narcissism or self-absorption is the new patriotism, up to a point. This is absolutely crucial to the leisure, automotive, cosmetic, and a multitude of other businesses.

The trade-offs between risk taking and security are also changing. As corporationsBincluding multinationalsBgrow, loyalty does not tend to keep pace, it is actually quite limited. People prefer to keep their options open. By "hanging loose," to use the argot, one doesn't have to commit all that much of oneself. One may try something, stay detached, then moveBa shrewd "street-smart's" way of operating. Literally, take the money and run.

Also, there is a growing appreciation of natural simplicity and a European-type sensuality. Americans have come to realize the existence of basic body truths; that biological man is a very natural entity, smells and sights included.

In terms of sex, for instance, more people wallow less in guilt than in pleasure, no matter how transient or shallow. But discretion, rather than confrontation (I've sinned) is the style of coping with an extracurricular relationship because people accept that simple bodily functions are natural, not perverse.

Along with these simplicities come things like walking out, European promenading. Even in those American cities where inhabitants fear there's no place to walk safely after dark, the urge is transformed as it were into getting away; the Friday afternoon get-away is becoming a mass ritual. People are more pastoral rather than less. Camping is enjoying phenomenal growth in popularity. Clothing for the rugged outdoor lifeBblue jeans, hiking boots, work shirtsBis high fashion.

The natural and simplistic trends have led, among other things, to a reevaluation of the foods one eats. The empty calories of junk foods are now part of the mental geography of most people, not only mothers. "Health" foods, as they were called, are now everyday fare.

Notions of quality and obsolescence have also undergone changes re-emerging in highly European form. More and more, Americans purchase goods for reasons of durability and repairability not just for the sake of change, even if they pay more initially. Automobiles are expected to last longer; refrigerators are expected to last longer. Things are nurtured not discarded.

This emerging mentality is an expansion of the idea that less is more. Things and their accumulation bring far fewer rewards than do accumulation of time, leisure, and freedom in being one's self.

Related to simplicity and the downplay of accumulation is a new esteem for physical fitness. Exhilaration for a bike ride or a ski slope are just as important as shopping (with all its psychic transactional satisfactions) for the odd piece of furniture. This means, among other things, new channels for dollars and opportunities to express individuality in even eccentric kinds of ways.

Europeans have lived with scarcity, limited resources and minimal locus-of-control feelings and have developed other means for asserting their dignity and individuality. This is the situation Americans are not dealing with. As Americans come to face limits on their positions, possessions and power, their quest for viable modes to assert themselves becomes crucial. This phenomenon of self-assertion under new environmental conditions can impact the advertising and marketing processes. This question will not be examined using Advertising as an example.


How may these insights about the emerging state of the consumer mind be used to further communications between manufacturer and consumer? The position this paper takes is that understanding the values orientation of the consumer should help to develop more sympathetic and instrumental approaches to communication from manufacturers which are perceived as such by consumers (Delano, t975).

The opportunity lies in the recognition that people are actively searching for an identity in an increasingly depersonalized world. In this process, they're trying to discover not only themselves, but also these goods and services which might give them a certain individuality and uniqueness. It is as if the Americans are using goods and services to reach a sharper level of separation from their homogenized peers. In a comparatively materialistic society, the substitution of "things" for spirituality is probably a natural if not altogether salutory outgrowth of on-going values trends.

Helping consumers to discover elements of a brand's uniqueness (to them) is really a major function of advertising and communications. Advertising drops cues, hints and generally leads the consumer to rethink his relationship to brands that he may have taken for granted.

By rethinking his relationship he is, in effect, projecting an element of discovery of "me-ness" upon a brand product or service. In many cases, it is not enough (or too much) to tell people directly what brand benefits are: It probably is a more reinforcing learning process for the consumer to discover for himself that there is a fit between a brand and himself. Discovery for oneself becomes critical when the perception of authority figures is unfavorable as it is in the present values configuration.

In other words, to communicate effectively within the context of current values the consumer must intrude himself, aided and guided by advertising cues and suggestions. This Discovery Process is one way out of anonymity and depersonalization into identity partly through goods and services. And therein lies its enormous attraction to the consumers of the 1980's who do value uniqueness even though they are pessimistic about achieving it.

Rightly or wrongly, then, consumption is one of the last remaining avenues of self-expression in most Western cultures. To quote Lester A. Delano, President of Campbell-Ewald International:

"Viewed this way, it seems evident that advertising's role is to tap the consumer's Discovery Process by continually surfacing new cues to help the consumer in his on-going search and to get him constantly to rethink his relationship to the brand instead of taking it for granted. There is ample evidenceBignored by many advertisersBthat repeating the same cue (advertising) over and over is wasteful in the extreme."

"We need many inputs, many cues . . . but of the kind that helps people to discover things. The kind that gets them to project themselves into the message. To involve themselves in our selling argument, so to speak, we must personalize the message so that the consumer can respond personally and we must be unafraid to be slightly fuzzy, unclear, funny, incongruous or ambiguous . . . just as people are. In this way we can draw the consumer in, let him make his own closure."

The use of The Discovery Process techniques, e.g. ambiguity, novelty, incongruity, etc., has attraction for the consumers because it is a way through an increasingly computerized, depersonalized existence. The very process of searching for these goods and services while distinguishing one from the others is rewarding per se. The excessive preoccupation with self has gone so far as to be labeled by New York Magazine when they call it the "Me Decade." It is as if people are urgently trying to hive themselves off from mediocrity, ordinariness and conformity.


If one postulates that the thrust of marketing advertising productivity is to trigger The Discovery Process, then it is possible to measure advertising to see if in fact it does get people to rethink, reopen, or underscore their relationship toward the brand. In other words, it is possible to see if an advertisementBin pretesting conditionsBdoes make for links to the self or the shock of recognition (Kanter, 1970).

It is possible to set up codes to classify response to advertising pretests which do in fact measure whether The Discovery Process has been activated. These codes, in rough terms, relate to at least the following:

- a brand's character in terms of expanding the consumer's fantasy

- personal problem solving

- projecting and elaborating the advertisement

- uncovering unsuspected relationships to the brand

- the rehearsal for purchase

- the embracing of symbology

- and the general process of dialogue with the advertisement.

The point is that each of the above responses may be measured and evaluated in the pretesting situation. This fact allows the manufacturer to be able to predict what will be sensible, appealing, and meaningful to his customers before spending a great deal of money on an actual campaign.


It has been the contention of this paper that significant changes in values are taking place in the United States which more often than not approximate the European model. Some of these tendencies have been described and some of their implications drawn. Moreover, the use of the techniques of The Discovery Process have been discussed as a way through general consumer depersonalization.

Finally, the measurement implications have been mentioned and the opportunity for pretesting developed.

It is indeed the aware and sensitive marketing person who understands his audience well enough to stay in appropriate touch with it. As values change in society so must the marketing approach.


Milton Rokeach, The Nature of Human Values (New York: Free Press, 1973).

Milton Rokeach, "A Theory of Organization and Change Within Value Attitude Systems," Journal of Social Issues, 24(1960).

George Katona, Aspirations and Affluence - A Comparative Study (New York: McGraw Hill, 1971).

Frederick E. Webster, Jr., Social Aspects of Marketing (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1974).

The Yankelovich Monitor (New York: Yankelovich, Skelly and White, Inc.).

Michael A. Thornbill, "A Computerized and Categorized Bibliography on Locus of Control," Psychological Reports, (April, 1975), pp. 505-506.

Donald L. Kanter, The Government Anti-Drug Campaign, A paper read to the American Psychological Association, (Honolulu, Hawaii, September, 1974).

Lester A. Delano and Donald L. Kanter, "Over-Advertising: A Creative Solution," Advertising Quarterly, (London, England, Spring 1975).

Lester A. Delano, "Beyond DAGMAR," published A. N. A. Information Service, (New York, December, 1975).

Lester A. Delano, "Fresh Ad Input Termed Key to Keeping Brand Alive," Advertising Age, (November 22, 1976), p. 7O.

Donald L. Kanter, "Communications Theory and Advertising Decisions," Journal of Advertising Research, (December, 1970).



Donald L. Kanter, University of Southern California


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05 | 1978

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