The Emerging Inconspicuous Consumption of the Privileged

The affluent are not spending like they used to. Wealthy individuals represent a powerful, global economic force, but they can be a difficult audience for brands to target due to their changing values and elevated expectations.

Around the world, the ultra-privileged have begun to invest less in material goods and more in immaterial experiences as a way to express themselves and their ability to access a broader range of opportunities. The flashy materially-oriented status symbol of the past is losing its standing as a reflection of success or wealth. In its place comes cultural capital, the accumulation of cultural engagement and unique experiences.  Elites worldwide are investing significantly more than ever in the immaterial—education, unique and enriching experiences, retirement, social causes, health, wellness and spiritual exploration—all of which cost significantly more than what the general population can afford.

Now that globalization has made them affordable to the middle class, high-quality material goods (and their knock-offs) have become increasingly accessible to people of a wide range of means, and their standing as symbols of wealth and status has diminished. Luxury goods are no longer the symbol of elitism; luxury lifestyles and experiences—still out of reach to the general public—are.

As the rise in inconspicuous consumption reverberates around the globe, its perceptible shift influences how the rest of us make choices.


The value of education is immense in virtually every dimension, from the financial doors it opens, to nourishing positive self-esteem, to driving a more meaningful life. The uber affluent have access to the greatest quality of education as a result of their mobility and their considerable means to pay tuition no matter the cost. Pursuing education beyond undergrad and graduate degrees, simply for the love of knowledge and to gain a deeper understanding in areas of interests are on the rise among the affluent class. It is they who have the luxury of learning simply in order to evolve themselves intellectually.


According to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness is a $3.72 trillion industry world-wide, comprised of preventative medicine, anti-aging, beauty, nutrition, weight loss, spa destinations, and more. For the ultra-wealthy, the purpose of travel has shifted from indulgent and party-driven one-off experiences to health and wellness-oriented excursions. Luxury detox destinations and resorts offering spa treatments regeneration and self-development programs, and even energy healing and therapy seasons.

Personalized health care

The new rich take personalized health care far beyond general check-ups and over-the-counter vitamin supplements, acupuncture treatments and massage. Many emerging companies are providing concierge healthcare services that collect health data, monitor personal health needs, and provide real-time recommendations and suggestions to keep patients in optimal health.


Travel has become an integral and fluid part of the lifestyle of the new privileged consumer. Unique experiences and ultra-remote destinations are more sought after than opulent materialistic destinations. Global consciousness and international cultural awareness are becoming badges of honor. Experiences that are unique, immersive, educational, and potentially transformative are the new Holy Grail.

What’s next?

For consumers, it will be interesting to see what kind of trickle-down effect this trend has on the broader consumer base. Will material goods begin to lose their luster with the general public as the affluent seem less seduced by showy brands and products? Will they, too, begin to seek more from quality experiences than the quantity of material goods they can accumulate?

Emerging enterprises that are hoping to attract this segment of consumers will need to understand these shifts in global culture and may need to reprioritize consumerism in order to thrive.

Cynthia Dalagelis

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