A Penny for Your Thoughts

Jerry Johnson, August 2015

How often do people think about money? Or loved ones? Or intimacy?

The notion that men think about sex every 7 seconds is an urban legend. That’s because it’s impossible to measure thoughts with today’s technology.

So in our recent investigation into Money and Investing, we did the next best thing. Since we wanted to get a sense of how preoccupied people are with their finances, we decided to simply ask them what’s on their mind compared with other preoccupations. We posed this question to 600 Americans in a recent national survey.

How often do you think about…?
Money and finances
Politics and policies
Purpose and spiritual life
Sex and love life
Spouse, partner or significant other
Career, work and job

Turns out we think about money and finances nearly twice as much as sex and love life. More than 2 out of 3 Americans (69 percent) said they thought about money finances all or most of the time. Nearly 30 points behind, sex and love life edged out politics with 2 in 5 (40 percent) thinking about it all or most of the time. Money and finances won that contest at every age.

Financial Research graph image

The takeaway: Although we’d never dismiss sex and love as trivial (sex does sell) we’d advise communicators not to overplay that hand. Unromantic as it may be, money weighs heavily on our thoughts.

Other findings:

  • Blood rules. More than 4 in 5 people (83 percent) say they think about their family either “all” or “most” of the time. This datum affirms findings from earlier Brodeur Relevance Research that family is probably the most important factor in determining the personal relevance of a cause, product, or service.
  • We bring our work home. Nearly half (49 percent) of Americans say they think about their work and jobs all or most of the time.
  • Politics trail the pack. Around 1 in 3 Americans (32 percent) think about policies and politics all or most of the time.

(One curious twist: The amount of time people thought about their jobs and work declined with age while the amount of time people thought about their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend increased. I would have assumed the opposite.)

So what does all this mean for communications, branding and public relations?

  • Make a family connection. How does your product, service, brand, candidate or cause help someone care for their family? In today’s society, the concept of “family” is diverse, disparate, and nontraditional. Make the connection.
  • Whatever it is, simplify the “economics.” Our findings suggest that the cost-benefit ratio of a product or service – whether a technology or a college education – matters more to people today than it has in a long time. Sell it.
  • Make your offer a personal development opportunity. People seem to be more preoccupied these days with purpose and career development, perhaps because of the financial crisis of 2008. Marketers should explore how their organization, product or idea advances individual self-realization and growth.

If you can cover all these in one message or initiative, you’ll be tapping into thoughts that occupy Americans every day. If not every 7 seconds.


For a deeper look at this and the rest of our Money and Investing research, click here: Money and Investing