Is the American Dream Dead and Gone?

John Krautzel
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A critical function of advertising professionals is to understand what motivates individuals in the market. In past years, the American dream was an obvious place to begin with advertising strategies. Marketing campaigns told consumers how different products and services could help them obtain or maintain their homes, families, and overall dreams. Advertising professionals now need to consider whether the American dream is dead and whether it matters.


The clichéd image of the American dream involves owning a house with a white picket fence, raising two to three children, and spending Saturday afternoon grilling in the backyard. The imagery still highlights a few facts about the traditional American dream. Middle-class America worked for a certain level of material comfort, security, and the ability to enjoy time with friends and family. Over the past two decades, changes in social and economic structures have changed what people are working for. According to recent Federal Reserve statistics, American families saw a $49,000 fall in average net mean worth from 2007 to 2010; approximately half of all Americans are living at low income or poverty levels. For many, a tough economy pushes the American dream aside in favor of making it from day to day.


Given the economic drain on the American dream, advertising professionals must come up with other ideas for marketing to the struggling lower and middle classes. Some advertising strategies make use of value perception by offering discounts, sales, BOGO offers, and coupons. Within the past decade, almost every major retailer has come up with a customer rewards program, from grocery-store loyalty cards to popular drug-store customer card programs.


Just because people are struggling and definitions about family and success are changing doesn't mean the American dream is dead. Individuals still want to succeed, and advertisers can take advantage of that desire. One strategy companies are taking is to market Made in America brands. Consumers who still believe any version of the American dream is possible want to support that dream for themselves and others; buying American-made products helps support job growth within the country, giving everyone a better chance at the dream. Even large retailers like Wal-Mart are using this strategy—the company has committed to investing an additional $50 billion in American-made merchandise over the next ten years. Letting Americans know you support their dreams by helping to create domestic job growth and wealth is currently a strong strategy for advertising.


Although the American dream has evolved over the years, it's safe to say that individuals' desires for happiness and success are still strong. By understanding today's market and how you can speak to consumer hopes, you can develop successful advertising campaigns around modern definitions of the American dream.


(Photo courtesy of digitalart /


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