Friday, December 19, 2003

The Young and the Pointless

This is a great article on how advertisers over-value the 18-34 demographic.

Advertisers have their reasons for targeting teens and 20-somethings. First among them is the belief that long-term brand loyalties are set when people are young and impressionable. The problem is that the belief is based on market research that is 40 years out of date. "It's a cliché and a fallacy to think you can build a customer for life," says Al Ries, a longtime New York ad exec who is now a marketing consultant in Atlanta. "As people grow up, they change brands."

This isn't just a problem for advertisers:

Why should we care if advertisers have been duped into paying extra for teenage eyeballs? Because it's one big reason that so much of the dial--and the broader culture--is filled with dreck. "Network executives lose a lot of sleep trying to figure out what will hold fast the slippery attention of people in their late teens, 20's and early 30's," writes Jonathan Dee. "It is the principle by which a great deal of our popular culture--not just TV, but music, movies, radio--comes into existence." Take away the unearned premium demanded by shows that skew young and there might be more room for entertainments that aren't embarrassing to grown-ups.

One major hurdle to correcting this over-valuation is that the people who create advertising and buy advertising time tend to be 18-34 college-educated urbanites. They will still tend to advertise on programs that appeal to and flatter them (Friends, Seinfeld).

The author overstates his case here, however.

The "customer for life" cliché isn't the only blunder behind advertisers' youth fixation. Mr. Cracknell tells of a gin brand he worked for that would panic every few years when research showed the average age of its customers to be 50. They were acting on the "my customers are all about to die" fallacy, which leads companies to look for replacement customers on the playground. (This strategy may work for cigarette manufacturers, but is not widely applicable otherwise.)

Sears and GM (especially Buick, Olds, and Cadillac) were badly hurt when baby boomers failed to behave as their parents had. The advancing age of their average customer was an indication that their assumptions about customer lifecycle behavior were out-of date.

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