Barbara Caplan, Spotter of Consumer Trends, Dies at 93

Barbara Caplan, Spotter of Consumer Trends, Dies at 93

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Barbara Caplan, who was trained as a psychologist, built a career on predicting what consumers would crave, when and why. Ms. Caplan was also a trendsetter herself among women in the workplace.

Physically fit but afflicted with dementia, she was admitted to a hospital in April and tested positive for the novel coronavirus. After she was released, her condition continued to deteriorate. She died on Aug. 7 in Dedham, Mass., outside of Boston. She was 93.

Her daughter Amy Caplan said the cause was complications of Covid-19.

After raising five children, she enrolled in graduate school, earned a master’s degree, taught child psychology at Pace University and was wooed to the marketing research firm established in 1958 by the public opinion analyst Daniel Yankelovich.

There she advised major companies and organizations — including American Express, Avon, General Mills and the American Association for Retired Persons — about how best to tailor their promotional and advertising strategies to reflect and anticipate changes in the way that Americans spent their time and money.

As a vice president, associate director and partner in the firm, she offered the kind of homespun advice that she had learned on her own.

“What is interesting about her is that she was born into her generation of post-World War II, Dr. Spock-following child raisers, staying home, joining the P.T.A., et cetera,” her daughter said. “But her sensibilities and outlook were in line with the women of a different generation.”

“She was invested in making sure the world responded to and found ways to support women who were trying to balance work and home,” she added. “Barbara knew that perfection is not practical or attainable. As a marketing tactic, it can be intimidating and a turn off.”

Ms. Caplan was frequently quoted as a trend spotter, suggesting in an interview with The New York Times in the late 1990s, for example, that while people were still health conscious and into exercise, the self-denial “‘no pain, no gain’ approach of the ’80s and early ’90s is now being seriously reviewed.”

People still counted calories, she said, “but people are saying, ‘I want to bring back the pleasure of food into my life.’”

She called this phenomenon “new realism.”

Barbara Ann Rudolph was born on April 14, 1927, in Chicago to Abraham Rudolph, a doctor, and Mabel (Klompus) Rudolph, a hospital volunteer.

She graduated from Smith College in 1948 with a degree in political science. She enrolled in a graduate studies program at Columbia University in the mid-1960s and earned a master’s in psychology from Sarah Lawrence College in 1970.

In 1952, she married David Caplan; he died in 2015. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by four more children, Nancy, David Jr., Patricia and Tom Caplan; and six grandchildren.

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