Discovering The
Cultural Creatives


Market research guru Paul Ray speaks out on how he found them and why you should care.

After more than a decade of research, sociologist Paul Ray's groundbreaking 1996 study on American values identified a newly emerged societal group, one he called the Cultural Creatives (see related story, pg. 35).

The Cultural Creatives are a new breed - a subculture that has gained a place among the two other major U.S. subcultures, the Traditionals; and the Moderns. The heartlandvalues-bound Traditionals tend to believe in a nostalgic image of small towns and conservative churches. They are in perpetual conflict with the more materialist-consumerist Moderns, who tend to see the world through the same filters as Time magazine, Ray says.

In an exclusive interview with LOHAS Journal, Ray outlines how he came to discover the Cultural Creatives and what they mean for businesses looking to participate in the LOHAS marketplace.

LOHAS JOURNAL: What got you into this business of identifying big changes in American life in the first place?

PAUL RAY- Since my undergraduate days in anthropology at Yale, I've had one main interest: social change. But I'm also interested in the more practical issues of how to deal with the transformations society is going through. I've been doing applied social research since the mid-1960s and market research on values and lifestyles since the mid-1980s.

LJ: How did you discover the Cultural Creatives?

RAY: We spent two years sort of tinkering in

the garage to get good predictors of consumer behavior. But after five years of smaller studies in many different consumer areas, it became clear that what we had was not the usual market segmentation scheme. We were always getting the same answers in terms of market segments, and it was a very stable result, replicated year after year. This wasn't just information about consumer psychology and demographics, it was about how American culture is changing. It was about values: what's most important in our lives, and how we five. Most of all, it was what really predicted best what consumers actually do.

The big question was, what accounted for it? Those dozens of surveys showed that values point us to culture, really different ways of fife that are trying to be whole and complete. We saw there are three competing ways of fife, each with its own values, lifestyles and views of how the world works: Traditionals, Modems, and this new third group that really didn't believe in what the others did and was going off in its own direction. That was the big "Aha!" I suppose I was able to see it because I came out of sociology and anthropology, not from only a market research background.

LJ: How did you come up with the term Cultural Creatives?

RAY: it took a long time. We tried Innerdirected, Green, Person- centered, and a whole lot more terms that felt like they were about opinions. But they didn't capture what we saw. Then I saw the way they are innovating in American life: These are the people who are being very creative culturally- not technologically like the Internet, but with new kinds of businesses, new movements, new ways of life, new ways of seeing the world.

LJ: You say in your February 1997 American Demographics article on Cultural Creatives that this is a more powerful way of analyzing markets than using just demographic groups. Explain, please.

RAY: Values and lifestyles tell why they buy, how a new product already fits into the lifestyle they've got, and show the symbols and meanings you can sell from. Demographics don't tell why people buy, just whether they can afford it, or maybe their stage of the fife cycle, when they need some things. Well, most people can afford most things, so it's not enough. The CCs' demographics are pretty much the same as the larger American population. They're just above average on education and have age, income and race profiles that match the country as a whole. They , re not demographically different, except that a lot of them are women.

So if LOHAS business marketers pick people by their demographics, they won't see the CCs and will be wondering why their ad campaigns don't work. Two consumers can have identical demographics and have totally different cultures and buying patterns. They can have identical cultures and ways of life, and different demographics. Neither demographics nor psychographics show you this consumer. What really delivers is culture, values and lifestyles. To be a player in the LOHAS market, you must understand your customers' values and lifestyles.

LJ: Does the Cultural Creative fade with the

end of the baby boom generation, or is there evidence that succeeding generations will come to hold similar values? In other words, is the Cultural Creative subculture sustainable?

RAY: CCs are steadily growing in numbers. In the '60s there were too few to measure with surveys. By 1995 it was 23.6 percent of the U.S. population, and in 1999 it was more than 26 percent. The Traditional subculture's children are being recruited into the Modems subculture, and Moderns are being recruited into the Cultural Creatives. Traditional heartlanders have declined from half of the U.S. population at the end of World War 11 to under 30 percent of the population now. The flow in and out of the Modems has been about equal. They are losing at the same rate as they are gaining. It's the CCs population that's growing.

LJ: Where did the Cultural Creatives subculture come from?

RAY. What we discovered about CCs is that they have been involved in or cared intensely about three to six social movements: very strong environmentalism, the condition of the whole planet, civil rights, peace, social justice, new spiritualities, organic food, holistic health and the like. Not all of them carried placards, but they read about those who did and gave them money. About half also are doing personal growth, following a spiritual path. These Cultural Creatives account for a high proportion of the people using alternative healthcare and every other LORAS product and service. On all these things they're twice as likely to see these as very important as any of the rest of the population.

In addition, a lot of them are psychologically very good at making up their own big picture, putting together their own synthesis from very diverse sources of information. They pay attention to what's going on in the world as a whole-big environmental issues and so on. They compare and contrast and have very good BS detectors.

This is very important for marketers. Advertising and marketing strategies that work for conventional markets often don't work for CCs. They hate what they see on TV and are readers and radio listeners. In focus groups they tear TV ads and news spots apart for lack of logic and consistency. Moderns, on the other hand, are just fine with the eye candy on TV. The stockin-trade of conventional advertising agencies leaves CCs cold, or ticks them off.

LJ: You note that there are two subgroups within the Cultural Creatives: the Core subgroup and the Greens. How do they differ, and what does it mean to LCHOS marketers?

RAY. Think of it as stair steps. All Cultural Creatives have Green values, meaning they all are committed to sustaining the planet. The Core Cultural Creatives are the ones who subscribe to the whole packageenvironmental responsibility and the spiritual and personal development path-and they are much stronger in their orientation. They really are the core of the market. They are more likely to buy and more likely to pick up early on a product or service. Green CCs are opinion followers rather than opinion leaders. Core CCs, however, have the extra spending power and are more likely to make the decision to spend on something new and influence the rest to follow.

Our 1996 study showed that Cultural Creatives were equally divided among the Cores and the Greens. Core CCs may be growing a little faster than the Greens, but it's not a big enough shift to be sure of

LJ: Do you think individual Cultural Creatives are comfortable being labeled as such? Should companies marketing their goods and services to this subculture use this term when they talk to their customers? who is respected, Loudon says. The publisher also does well with books on Taoist sexuality. According to Loudon, Harper San Francisco's strongest retail channels are Borders Group, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.

Cultural Creatives and Younger Readers

Asked about the demographics of bodymind-spirit readers, Marilyn McGuire, founder/president of Eastsound, Wash.based trade association New Alternatives For Publishers, Retailers & Artists (NAPRA), says, "Cultural Creatives 50 million people; and six out of 10 of them are women" (see story, pg. 35).

Loudon says that spiritual issuesBuddhism in particular-are also popular with so-called Generation-Xers as well as with Generation Y, the teenagers coming up behind them.

"People from all walks of life who resonate with the way I express universal principles are my audience," says bestselling author and international speaker Dan Millman. "Most people who attend my workshops have read one or more of my books."

Similarly, author, homeopathic physician and psychotherapist Ambica Wauters says that virtually all the people who attend her seminars read her books, which are about angels, chakras, color healing and homeopathy. According to Wauters, those who attend her workshops are often younger people who are seeking empowerment and people who are ill from lessthan-healthy lifestyles.

Trend Began in the 1960s

The current boom in body-mindspirit book publishing goes back to the 1960s, according to Jeff Cox, president and business manager of Ithaca, N.Y.-based Snow Lion Publications, which publishes and distributes books and materials on Tibetan Buddhism.

"In general, the '60s generation is now in their 50s and 60s," Cox says. "They've always had an interest in these [spiritual] matters, [and] they now have the money to pursue it."

Before the '60s, people got their religion through institutions, Loudon notes. But baby boomers tend to freelance their spirituality due to their distrust of authority, and books are a convenient way to get their spiritual information, Loudon says.

A growing interest in health and complementary and alternative medicine is also driving the market for body-mindspirit books. "People want to heal," says Shauna Gunderson, marketing manager at Freedom, Calif-based publisher The

Crossing Press. "Over the years, people have gotten disillusioned with traditional medical care and want to be in charge of their own care. My health care includes acupuncture, massage and a variety of health care modalities." Gunderson adds that the majority of The Crossing Press's readers and authors are women, and she thinks that women's tendency to be nurturing creates a natural segue into healing themselves and being agents of healing in their families.

McGuire agrees that people are interested in participating in their own health care and that body-mind medicine offers them a means to do so. "Life magazine did 30 or more covers on alternative health in 1998 and 1999," McGuire says. She sees concerns about the health of the environment and food, as 'Well as the sustainability of the economy, as natural extensions of concerns about personal health and well being. "As people become more interested in their health, they want the planet to be healthy," she says. "The health of the planet and the health of the individual go hand in glove."

Looking to the future, it is likely that the Internet, through e-commerce, will play a strong role in both the dissemination of spiritual information and in sales of bodymind-spirit books. Loudon points to websites with religion and spirituality content such as Beliefnet.com, a $20 million start-up that uses a number of Harper Collins authors as columnists. Beliefnet.com fists Amazon.corn and MotherNature.com among its partners on the site, and there are links from books and music featured in the beliefnet store to Amazon.com.

Some industry insiders predict that body-mind-spirit books will lead those who rebelled against traditional religions back to the fold. In a November 1999 article by PublishersWeekly.com regarding future trends in spiritual books, Joel Fontinos, director of religious publishing for Penguin Putnam and publisher for the Tarcher imprint, says: "I think people are going to get tired of their diet of fast-food spirituality and want to get back to good, nutritious meals." He adds that in publishing, that means the "new agey" spiritual books that have fueled the growth in the religion category will be replaced with titles by authors who connect with specific "wisdom traditions" of more conventional faiths. faiths.

Back to Top

Back to Misc Directory