Generations Blur: Will We Ever Grow Up?
Adam Sternbergh wrote a fun and insightful piece for the April 3, 2006 issue of New York magazine (reg. required, I think) entitled "Grups." In it, he writes about:
"a brave new world whose citizens are radically rethinking what it means to be a grown-up and whether being a grown-up still requires, you know, actually growing up."
As I read it, I laughed and nodded my head in agreement (for I, too, find little connection between how old I am and how old I feel) and then realized, this is a phenomenon that marketers, at big brands or small stores, might want to keep in mind. You can’t assume that "mid-30s woman in heels and a suit" is going to be relevant for your office supply store customers. Maybe your market is a lot more "mid-30s woman in designer sneakers, $100+ jeans and yoga studio t-shirt," for example.
As the market research has started to show, for many, many people, age is just a number. It is no longer all that helpful to segment markets by generations. In fact, pollsters and What Women Really Want authors Celinda
Lake and Kellyanne Conway put "Generational Compression" seventh in
their list of trends for women in the coming years. As they put it:
the first time in memory, women across generations have remarkable
commonality, expressed in their daily concerns, their values, and even
their youthful, optimistic spirits."
So, this generational compression happens across the board, but the particular transition from youth into adulthood has never been more blurry (especially in urban areas, as is the focus of the New York article). As Sternbergh points out, this phenomenon could be considered "evidence of the slow erosion of the long held idea that in some fundamental way, you cross through a portal when you become an adult…" But, as he continues, "This cohort is not interested in putting away childish things."
From music to fashion to the way they are raising their kids and the type of work they do (or the jobs they are not willing to take), this hardly-aging group is not holding on to "youth" as they knew it. Rather, these people are staying in touch with whatever is currently youthful.
If 60 is the new 50, and 50 is the new 40, and so on down the line, does this make it harder for marketers? Yes. Does it further inspire you to ditch your old research methods or any of your company’s long-held "truths" about the 30 – 50 year old consumer (and beyond…)? It should.
This just in: As I was finishing off this post, a story on car marketing in Brandweek (reg. required) popped into my in-box, and I quote:
"Unlike generations before, ‘the baby boomers are not a group that will go gently into the night,’ said Jim Hopson, a Pontiac rep. ‘The young-oriented car ads draw the boomers as well, and I think we are underestimating how youthful baby boomers remain.’"
P.S. The three women in the photo above (yes, that’s me in the middle) are all 35 or older. Who’d have guessed?