Geek looking at data

Got the Blues?

Published Jan 25, 2013, 02:38 PM by Emily Anderson

Got the Blues?

If you’re reading this, you’ve made it through not only the Apocalypse of December 2012, but more recently, the most depressing day of 2013: Blue Monday.

Why are the expectations so low for the third Monday in January? There’s room for debate, yet popular culture has embraced the idea of a post-holiday slump. The excitement and activity of the holidays have passed, and a few weeks into January, many of us have put away the festive décor, cheated on our resolutions (possibly with some guilt) and re-entered so-called normal life with the recognition of a long time until our next break. Adding insult to injury, it’s dark, slushy and cold outside, and those holiday credit card bills are rolling in.


A dreary winter afternoon in downtown Toronto.
Photo by Jack DePoe

At Environics Analytics, we study the patterns in the ways people respond to a set of stimuli, and we know that there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” response. We see evidence of this every day: some lifestyle groups bank with one big-name firm over another, act on one direct mail piece over a similar one with a different message, or seek travel experiences that quench a specific set of desires—whether they’re on or off the beaten track.

So, of course, the question I asked myself was whether the January Blues are felt more strongly by some of us than others, and which Canadians are the most—and least likely—to feel a little blue at this time of year. And as a marketer, I wanted to know what our Bluest lifestyle types were doing to cope.

One of the things I enjoy most about working at Environics Analytics is that it’s like being a kid in a candy shop: we have so much great data at our fingertips that we can use to investigate nearly any question that comes to mind involving Canadians orAmericans. And it’s all linked to PRIZM, our lifestyle segmentation system.

For my little case study, I started off by determining which variables had the most to tell me about susceptibility to the January Blues. Since we can’t control the weather, I looked for variables that speak to aspects of the Blues that we can do something about. First, I looked at some PRIZM-Linked PMBpsychographics that spoke to one’s propensity to break those resolutions and feel guilty about it. Then, I developed some debt-to-income ratios using WealthScapes that highlighted who is most likely to feel the added pinch of holiday credit card debt. After running PRIZM profiles of these variables, reviewing their distributions and fine-tuning my selections, I identified profiles of six variables as key drivers of my study:


I calculated a Blues Score for each PRIZM cluster – basically reflecting indexation across these profiles – grouped the scores into quartiles and then investigated what types of lifestyles were found within the highest and lowest quartiles. Clusters with the highest Blues Scores – the ones I speculate are most vulnerable to the January Blues – were classified in the highest quartile. I found the results to be surprising and insightful. Some fast facts on the Most and Least Blues lifestyle types in Canada are below.

The Bluest lifestyle types intrigue me because of the similarities that persist amidst their differences. Containing 22% of Canadian households, these lifestyles are found predominantly in the larger cities, often in desirable “trendy” neighbourhoods and established ethnic enclaves.

The Bluest lifestyle types are found predominantly in the larger cities, often in desirable “trendy” neighbourhoods and established ethnic enclaves.

Looking at the PRIZM clusters captured by this group, I was initially surprised to see my own PRIZM cluster—#44 Rooms with a View—scoring high. These neighbourhoods contain Canadians of all ages, levels of affluence and ethnic backgrounds who still have something critical in common: their lifestyles are undergoing great transition. The residents include lower-income roommates figuring out how to make it on their own, newlywed young professionals learning to accommodate each other and immigrant “sandwich generation” families balancing the needs of parents back home with those of their second-generation adult children. Residents here may be more likely than others to confront myriad social expectations: of parents, partners and children; of multiple cultural traditions; of first- and second-generations; of dreams and reality. And balancing these expectations often means perpetual adaptation, shifting priorities, and a sense of impermanence.

Speaking as a young professional, a newlywed, a renter, an immigrant and the wife of a 1½ generation immigrant, I wonder whether the weight of these expectations drives us to eat, drink and spend too much. Or, we may simply feel more aware of our excesses, idealizing that stability and sense of permanence that feels just out of reach. Why shouldn’t we feel Blue?


And who’s on the other side of the spectrum, perhaps feeling better-adjusted this January? We see lifestyle types that are more firmly rooted in their habits and traditions. Whether it’s established empty nests, families with older kids and tweens, the very rich, or traditional Francophone lifestyles (and combinations thereof), our Least Blue lifestyle types share characteristics that suggest permanence and stability. They spend in proportion to their ability to pay, are more comfortable with their diet choices and tend to feel as if they are in control of their stress and goals.

But back to me and my fellow Bluest Canadians. I want this story to end well. I want to know more about my Blue neighbourhood, and seek some reassurance that we are still on the right track.

For clarity on this matter I went back to the data. I used our PRIZM links to PMB, Social Values and Asking Canadians™ to learn more about what should make us feel good. For starters, we are expert media users. We’ve integrated tons of traditional and digital media into our lifestyles, shifting fluently among newspaper articles, TV shows, the radio, Wikipedia and YouTube. Our Social Values say we’re Discriminating Consumers:After we see an ad for a camera on TV (we’re into photography), we’ll research it online, check out the specs in a magazine and then set an alert so we can buy it on sale via our mobile phones. And then we tell friends across many timezones about it on Facebook or Twitter.


We also seek healthy, balanced lives. Whether we’re old or young, we keep up with city events (via a range of media, of course),

attend baseball games, the symphony and yoga classes, reflecting a priority on mental and physical fitness. Our friends and family are important to us, as is buying organic and knowing how to cook a good meal. We shop Food Basics and the farmer’s market. We’re constantly seeking personal growth throughSocial Learning, support Equality of the Sexes, take Ethical Consumerism seriously and enjoy the Cultural Fusion to be found in our constantly changing, far-from-perfect, non-traditional neighbourhoods.

So what am I, a proud member of Cluster 44 and one of the Bluest neighbourhoods in Canada, doing this year to keep the January Blues at bay? You guessed it: I’m on Skype with my folks, eating my organic carrots and planning to enjoy a taste of Winterlicious this weekend. I’m doing some cross-country skiing, and trying not to be too hard on myself when I skip the gym. This year I’m trying to stay away from the TV and maintain a healthy balance of debt to discretionary income.

Yes, it’s dark outside, we’ve finished our Christmas candy and winced as we opened the bills. But we’re not alone. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood, we can take comfort that we’re all in this together.  And that makes me feel happily in the pink.

emily_andersonAs Director of Client Advocacy in the finance, insurance, travel and telecommunications practice, Emily Anderson leads a team of client advocates who ensure customers realize the most value from their relationship with EA—whether that involves strategic guidance, ENVISION training or project work. 
Back to top