Youth wasted on young - so are marketing budgets.

Age is a strange thing. Youth is fetishised by advertising. But it has certain disadvantages to the advertiser. Not least of which is that the young don't have the kind of cash that older people have access to.

I don't know where our pre-occupation with youth began. Certainly in Victorian society (European) children were something to be seen but not heard. The obsessive protectiveness and doting on children's every whim is a curious aspect of our culture.
As recently as my own grandfather's time a child would be sent out to work when they were in their early teens. My grandfather went to work on the shipyards of the Clyde in Scotland just so. My father, likewise, had little more than a rudimentary education in post-war Scotland.

The idea of a contemporary childhood is that it lasts into one's 20's. Are we better for it? I wonder. The culture is increasingly narcissistic. Kids seem obsessed with their 'rights' but have little concern for their responsibilities.

I was interested to read a post by Tom Peters on his blog about the skewed perceptions of marketers when it comes to youth versus the market with the money. Some of the facts are quite astonishing:

We are the Aussies & Kiwis & Americans & Canadians. We are the Western Europeans & Japanese. We are the fastest growing, the biggest, the wealthiest, the boldest, the most (yes) ambitious, the most experimental & exploratory, the most different, the most indulgent, the most difficult & demanding, the most service & experience obsessed, the most vigorous, (the least vigorous,) the most health conscious, the most female, the most profoundly important commercial market in the history of the world —and we will be the Center of your universe for the next twenty-five years. We have arrived!

Median Household Net Worth

<35: $7K
35-44: $44K
45-54: $83K
55-64: $112K
65-69: $114K
70-74: $120K
>74: $100K

Source: U.S. Census


$7T wealth (70%)/ $2T annual income
50% all discretionary spending
79% own homes
40M credit card users
41% new cars/48% luxury cars
$610B healthcare spending/74% prescription drugs

5% of advertising targets

Source: Age Power: How the 21st Century Will Be Ruled by the New Old

44-65: “New Customer Majority”

45% larger than 18-43; 60% larger by 2010

“The New Customer Majority is the only adult market with realistic prospects for significant sales growth in dozens of product lines for thousands of companies.”

Source: Ageless Marketing: Strategies for Reaching the Hearts & Minds of the New Customer Majority David Wolfe & Robert Snyder

“One particularly puzzling category of youth-obsession is the highly coveted target of men 18-34, and it’s always referred to as ‘highly coveted category.’ Marketers have been distracted by men age 18-34 because they are getting harder to reach. So what? Who wants to reach them? Beyond fast food and beer, they don’t buy much of anything. … The theory is that if you ‘get them while they’re young, they’re yours for life.’ What nonsense!” —Marti Barletta, Primetime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders

“Advertisers pay more to reach the kid because they think that once someone hits middle age he’s too set in his ways to be susceptible to advertising. … In fact, this notion of impressionable kids and hidebound geezers is little more than a fairy tale, a Madison Avenue gloss on Hollywood’s cult of youth.”—James Surowiecki (The New Yorker) (Strongly recommend you read this article).

“Baby-boomer Women: The Sweetest of Sweet Spots for Marketers” — David Wolfe and Robert Snyder, Ageless Marketing

“For today’s emancipated, educated, high-expectation women, the mid-forties to mid-fifties is the Age of Mastery.” —Gail Sheehy (in More)

…and so on. Getting the picture?

I have seen the phenomenon at first hand. As creative director for Lion Nathan's online brand activity in New Zealand and Australia a few years back I found it increasingly disturbing that the target audience was described as 'The Emerging Drinker'. It was a secret code that avoided the truth that we were directing our efforts to the very young. Much of the logic was premised on the concept of creating the kind of loyalty for a brand that might extend into adulthood. Aside from the morality of it, the fact was that the strategies were misguided and driven by brand managers not long out of school, hired for their apparent ability to connect with the youth audience and given silly post modern-Internet bubble titles. Needless to say the re seemed to be a revolving door policy in the marketing department as a lack of depth led to a lack of results.


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