NEW YORK: Affluent global consumers are harder to identify than conspicuous luxury indicators might suggest and they consider time and happiness to be more important than money, new research has suggested.

"The Truth About Affluence" study from McCann Truth Central, McCann Erickson's global intelligence unit, argues that brands should not rely solely on obvious visual cues but should take account of the subtleties of affluence in a changing world.

Its online survey of 4,000 people covered the top 20% of populations, as defined by annual income and net worth, in 21 leading cities across 16 countries.

Time was regarded by 33% as their most precious resource, followed by mental energy (28%), physical energy (16%) and personal space (13%) while only 10% mentioned money.

Furthermore, obvious indicators of wealth were considered less important than social cues, such as poise, posture and facial expression.

Laura Simpson, global director of McCann Truth Central, told Luxury Daily: "We were amazed that the more subtle indicators were ahead of the more conspicuous luxury indicators such as carrying the right handbag, wearing the right watch."

In other surprise findings, as many as 84% agreed it is harder nowadays to tell whether someone is affluent or not just by looking at them while 88% said they were unaware that they were technically affluent.

The report also advised brands to adopt a global perspective when trying to understand affluent consumers.

For example, when asked to identify the leading characteristic that led to their wealth, 69% of Parisians cited hard work whereas nearly 33% of respondents in Mexico City put it down to competitiveness.

New York emerged as the global city regarded as "the world capital of tomorrow", closely followed by Shanghai and Dubai, while Paris remained the city regarded as the centre of culture and fashion.

Data sourced from Digital Journal, Luxury Daily; additional content by Warc staff