Efficiency and Practicality

Americans greatly appreciate technical excellence and constantly search for better ways of doing things. Our entire economic system is founded on these ideals and emphasizes mass production and mass consumption.

Americans are interested in the performance features of products, such as speed, economy, safety, and durability. This appreciation of the practical as opposed to the intellectual also helps explain why certain advertising messages are very successful. Advertising effectiveness tests consistently show that using oriented headlines does better than using a non-problem solving approach. Similarly there is a far more widespread market for Reader’s Digest and Popular Mechanics than for Smithsonian and Omni.

Another example of our culture’s value of practicality concerns the orientation toward informality. We have moved away from the formal traditions (long associated with the eastern United States) and have adopted mote informal habits in manners, dress, speech and social relationships. This decline is reflected in the US market for men’s and boy’s suits which was shrunk from the over 25 million made in 1979 to about 15.5 million made in 1990. Hartmarx Corp., maker and retailer of such suit labels as Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner & Marx has lost millions of dollars and plans to close sixty five stores and seven factories. Responding to this trend toward in formality and naturalness, Revlon has changed its cosmetics ads from elegantly dressed famous models posing in studios to more natural situations featuring some models in denim and cotton T-shirts in more realistic places such as outdoors, sitting in a chair or leaning on a motorcycle,. Moreover, the United States has never place as much emphasis on formality, ceremony and traditional as has Europe. Consequently, Americans tolerate, in fact welcome, less structure and rigidity and more comfort in the way they work and relax. Certain regions of the country are particularly high on this scale of informality. The celebrated Southern California lifestyle of casual dress, informal entertaining, and outdoor living is a prime example.

Mastery over the environment:

Americans do not like to be controlled by their environment; rather they seek to control it. This not only includes controlling the weather and harnessing the sun and tides as energy sources, but also extends to areas like genetic engineering. Even the nature of products introduced in America is indicative of this underlying cultural value. For instance there seems to be a product answer for every chore the consumer might face. During each Christmas season our television sets bring us news of products that knit our clothes, attach our buttons, and spin, chop, slice, and dice our vegetables. All of these items attest to our desire to provide an engineered answer for almost every situation we face. A Wall Street Journal consumer survey found that the recent inventions that Americans prize most are those that yield convenience and control: the microwave oven, VCER, TV remote control, smoke detector, home computer, and automatic coffee maker. These are products people perceive as making their life a lot better. Products such as the car phone, CD player video camera and pulsating shower massage are perceived as just modern frills.

Another dimensions of this value, but also of a countervailing trend is voluntary simplicity which is a reaction to all the unavoidable complexity consumer are victims of traffic jams, delayed airplane takeoffs, junk mail, and other hassles of contemporary life. Many consumers seek escape from this problem through simplifying their lives. For example, many have moved to rural areas to find a simpler, more controller lifestyle. Also related tot his value is the frontier fantasy not only of Americans, but of many people in the world. They dream of climbing on a horse, wearing a cowboy hat, and riding off into the western sunset. This desire of many city dwellers accounts for the huge success of products ranging from Louis L’Amour western novels and the movie Dances with Wolves, to Marlboro cigarettes.