August 19, 2013

The "Youth Car" Delusion

This post is adapted from a piece on the Type A Group website.

According to The Wall Street Journal, it's not young people who are buying "youth cars," it's older people.
"Appealing to the young has auto makers designing and marketing to the "millennial generation"—that group of consumers in their 20s and 30s... But senior citizens are making Swiss cheese of those efforts."
The auto industry continues to target 18-34 year olds who account for only 12% of subcompact car sales. Meanwhile they essentially ignore the 88% of the population who actually buy these "youth" cars.

Of course the dimwits responsible for this ineptitude have to justify their stupidity...
"The baby boomer generation is the largest cohort in the marketplace," (said one executive) "Just by virtue of their numbers being so large, we'll continue to see them skew the data for a long time."
So, you see, older people aren't really customers. They don't really buy things. They don't spend real money. All they do is "skew the data."

And we love this one. The president of a market research firm had this to say:
"So when marketing messages are for millennials, there are a lot of things that are attractive to the older generation."
What utter nonsense. Older people are buying these cars in spite of the horrible, mis-targeted advertising, not because of it.

There is no other group in the pantheon of marketing that anyone would claim is best influenced by targeting someone else. The whole science of marketing is based on finding the most relevant message and delivering it to the most probable buyer. Except when it comes to people over 50. Then all the rules are suspended. Because these people don't count. They're just "data skewers."

So instead, you deliver the wrong message to the wrong people and this is called "advertising strategy." And pathetic "market researchers" endorse this idiocy.

The advertising and marketing industry are absolutely, totally, hopelessly clueless.


Cecil B. DeMille said...

A-yup. I'll give you an example from real life, and it uses the auto industry.

I have a lot of friends who are "car guys." I'm on as well. Many of use bounce from car to car to car regularly. All of us are basically 35-40 years old. Ergo, we're above the 18-34 curve. And all of our parents and family come to us when they buy cars.

My aunt did so last year. And I quote: "There doesn't seem to be any car out there that's aimed at me. Even Cadillac seems built for someone else. What car should I buy?" My grandparents, who are in their 80s, did the same thing.

Yes, the over 50 crowd are being ignored. But, on the rare occasions when they aren't, it seems like the assumption is that they're swimming in money. There's a reason Scion's median buyer is over 50. The cars are cheap and relatively reliable. The last thing any automaker wants is what Caddy and Buick had for years – the reputation for being an "old folks" car.

To your point, my question is: Why the Hell is that such a bad thing?

TCWriter said...

Yep. Maybe if someone actually spoke to 60+ folks in the car market, they'd realize they're not looking for performance or luxury or prestige (which I often hear associated with retirees).

Mostly, they're looking for economy and reliability. They hate shit that breaks. And small, simple cars break less.

If they were like my parents (children of the Great Depression), then they don't see the need to sink $60K into a car that isn't used all that often.

Meanwhile, the same cars are being marketed to millennials on the basis of their ability to get them and their porkpie-hatted friends home after the clubs close.

Yeah, my parents would have found that message compelling.

Craig said...

You're right. I'd buy many more Nikes if they'd just stop featuring elite athletes and replace them with slightly overweight thirty-something desk-jockeys. Then I'll know they're talking to people like me.

tim said...

The Honda Element Syndrome. Followed by the Kia Soul Syndrome. Two vehicles perfect for middle class retirees, even though you'd never guess it from their marketing efforts.

Deborah Fisher said...

Another home run Bob! I read the stats yesterday too, but I couldn't have said this better myself! When will these ad guys realize that the data-skewers were the reason that the damn age breakouts were developed in the first place. grrrrr

Shanghai61 said...

What you say is absolutely true.

Cars are classified by the auto industry into A/B/C/etc segments by size, starting with the smallest.

But in reality, models like those mentioned fit into their own 'B/AC' segment - 'before and after children'. Because it's your lifestage, rather than simply your age, that mainly shapes the kind of car you need.

These cars are small, easy to drive and park, cheap to maintain and run - perfect for one or two people. So they sell to singles and couples who don't have to worry about whether the kids (and all the shit that goes with them) will fit into the back, either because they don't yet have kids, or the kids are grown up and have cars of their own.

Why is it so hard to broaden the message to include the 'after' part of this audience? Mainly because of the egotism of 28 year-old brand managers, and the 28 year-old advertising people who serve them - all terrified of making something seem 'old'. For them, it's just easier to advertise exclusively to the young (and hope the old will still buy) than to find a proposition that doesn't depend on 'lifestyle' or 'youth' appeal.

Someone wise once told me "the art of segmentation is to find out what makes people the same, not what makes them different". That still seems to be beyond most marketers (and market researchers).

Disclosure: The writer is 63, with thirty plus years worth of experience advertising all kinds of cars to all kinds of people. He drives a tiny hatchback designed for twenty somethings, but does not own a pork pie hat.

Liz said...

Craig's comment is dead-on. Not all auto marketers aren't as stupid as you believe them to be...although some are, indeed, hopelessly clueless. I'll give you that.

Of course, it's worth mentioning that you making such a blanket statement about advertisers is actually doing the same think you're slighting them for. The irony!

Bob said...

The most successful Nike ad of the past few years DID feature someone who was overweight. Not slightly; massively. It was the best expression of "Just do it" in a very long time.
I suspect you're referencing the old canard that old people aspire to be young people. Hoffman has addressed this thoroughly. And exposed it for the nonsense it is.