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Book Review: Mass Affluence
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Book Review: Mass Affluence by Paul Nunes and Brian Johnson

Mass Affluence: Seven New Rules of Marketing to Today's Consumer

Written by: Paul Nunes and Brian Johnson. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004. 269+xvii pages.
Reviewed by: Joseph C. Miller

Mass Affluence

In the early pages of Mass Affluence, Paul Nunes and Brian Johnson display a chart of the year 2000 income distribution set in the foreground against the 1970 distribution. Comparing the two charts shows that the American middle class has become markedly wealthier in real dollars. The authors warn that business ignores this nascent class of semi-elites at its own peril. Thus, they offer a new set of rules for firms to apply in targeting goods and services to this middle class, a section with both greater means and greater expectations.

The format of Mass Affluence is conducive to comfortable reading: each rule is the subject of a chapter, which provides a few paragraphs explaining the rule followed by numerous examples. Often, such a formula signifies a dearth of theoretical foundation; however, Nunes and Johnson's highly pertinent choices help the reader to envision and understand their theory naturally.

Mass Affluence endeavors to appeal to professionals from all levels of the organization. However, the book's division into three parts provides some segmentation of professional interest. New product development professionals will be particularly interested in the middle section of the book, titled “The New Rules of Design Offerings,” which has three chapters called “Find an Occasional Use,”“Introduce a New Math of Ownership,” and “Grow the Return on Consumption.” In these chapters, the authors suggest that because of the ostensible desire for luxury that accompanies the rise of the well-funded bourgeoisie, products no longer need be tailored to fit the utilitarian, the low-cost, or even the product life-cycle paradigms. Today's new products, the authors maintain, must be developed with sensitivity toward giving consumers a taste of luxury—that is, giving them “versions of the ‘everyday’ that are suitable only for special-use occasions” (p. 85), while keeping in mind that these new consumables should “perform like investment opportunities” (p. 141).

Sometimes, the authors are overly enthusiastic in advocating their rule-based ideology without considering the long-term, ethical, or environmental repercussions of its implementation. For example, in oral care, the authors write that “… toothpaste manufacturers recently made the disconcerting (to the manufacturer) discovery that many families share a single tube of toothpaste. In an effort to correct this problem, the companies have started introducing toothpastes targeted not at problem areas … but at users” (p. 96). In this example and in others throughout Mass Affluence, Nunes and Johnson often do not consider that their ideal might lead to excessive differentiation and paralysis in consumer decision-making. Regrettably, the authors never address whether it is acceptable to sell multiple iterations of the same product to an unsuspecting general public. Finally, the authors seem to succumb to the notion that the sole attributes the moneyed masses desire in new products are luxury and quality. Mass Affluence gives no consideration to the production of environmentally friendly green products, not to mention the residual benefits that they pay to producer firms (Brown, 1995; Ottman, 2002).

Regardless, Mass Affluence is a timely, important book—a recommended read for any decision-making member of the firm with particularly insightful passages for new product professionals.

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