Kevin Lonnie (head of research firm KL Communications and IMRO Vice President) argues in a recent blog post that market researchers should consider a re-engineered model for gauging consumer attitude and behavior. In the process, he mentions the Wall Street Journal’s recent article about P&G: the consumer packaged goods giant that built its success on Middle America has just released, for the first time in 38 years, bargain-price dish soap. It looks as if P&G is a new adherent to the “Consumer Hourglass Theory,” which describes a partitioned marketplace comprised of high-end and low-end buying publics.

Sure, there are brands that have banked their success on targeting and engaging these segments of the market before. But when dish soap, that basic household necessity, needs to factor such considerations into its sales and marketing strategies…that’s a little different.

This isn’t some variation to the Long Tail theory. It’s an indicator that there’s a fundamental shift afoot in consumer self-perception―potentially even, most significantly, among those whose income and security have remained stable throughout the economic downturn. P&G is assuming that those folks who used to be in the aspirational middle have now hunkered down. An attitudinal change like this could have serious ramifications for how a wide range or brands and products ought to handle their branding, messaging, and even channel distribution.