August 01, 2007

Aiming Low

Of all the dumb things that advertisers do, one of the dumbest is aiming their message too young.

There seems to be an irresistible need for marketers to target young people despite monumental evidence that older people have far more money, are far easier to reach and all-in-all make better customers.

Of course, there are some products that rely on the youth market for their survival. But for most companies, targeting young people is simply senseless. When’s the last time you saw a car ad with an old person in it? And yet, of the 13 cars the average American will buy in a lifetime, 8 of them will be bought after the age of 50.

The rationale for always showing young people in ads is the old canard that older people want to be like younger people. In fact, not only do older people not want to be like younger ones, but a recent study showed that half say they tune out when they see a spot pitched to young people and one-third say they actively avoid products whose ads are directed at younger people.

The worst and perhaps most pervasive rationale for targeting young people is the notion that if you get them young you’ll have them for life. This is the idiotic “lifetime value” argument that spawned the dearly departed “new economy.” Someone please show me one 50-year-old who drives the same car, drinks the same beverages, wears the same clothes, or eats the same food he did at 18. I mean, besides my brother-in-law.

Some facts:

* People over 50 comprise 29% of the population
* They control 77% of financial assets
* They control 50% of all discretionary spending
* They watch 50% more television
* They are the target for 10% of all advertising

There are only two possible explanations for the above. Either advertisers are crazy, or they are hopelessly out of touch with, and prejudiced against, the people who economically control this country.

Since I don’t think they’re crazy, the explanation has to be the latter. They have become so used to accepting the 30-years-out-of-date wisdom that every brand has to be “youthful”; they are so used to young and hip advertising winning all the awards; they are so sure that the rest of the world is just like them that they are blind to what is perfectly evident to anyone who looks at this objectively.

Not convinced?

According to Federal reserve data, since 1989, nearly all additional wealth in USA has gone to people 55 and over. In the same time period, adjusted for inflation, people 35-50 have actually lost wealth. In the 15 years ending 2004 (the latest year for which data is available) median net worth rose 97% and income rose 52% for people 55-59. In the same period, net worth dropped 28% and income dropped 10% for people 35-39. “(Baby) boomers...outspend other generations by about 2 to 1 across all product categories.” Marketwatch, March 6, 2007.

Not only is most advertising not appealing to the people who have and spend most of the money, it is alienating them with imagery, values, and cultural references that are actively disliked and resented.

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