This is the 16th in a series of 32 posts—each one a section from Euro RSCG Worldwide PR’s “The Big Little Book of Nexts,” which in total features more than 150 sightings for 2012. It’s the biggest, most robust annual trends report ever from @erwwpr CEO Marian Salzman and her trendspotting team. To download the entire report, go to the Brainfood tab at eurorscgpr.com.
The age divide has presented an interesting problem for marketers these days: Do you acknowledge the differences among the segments of our population or focus on the universal truths about the human condition (overextended, media-fatigued and concerned for our futures), throwing generational marketing out the window? It’s most likely brand-dependent. Take boomers. Marketers have largely ignored this most potent consumer segment, but 2012-13 will see marketers scrambling at last to earn their attention. AARP is lending marketers a hand by launching a mighty online network consisting of not only AARP.org users but also members from more than 600 other online communities, thereby granting access to 40 million–plus boomers. Look for brands from fashion to beauty to health to start talking (loudly) to the Woodstock generation‚ but first they’re figuring out how; a recent Sacramento Bee article reported on a study that examined how boomers define value. Kevin Kelly, CEO and founder of Civano Development and former president of Canyon Ranch, was quoted as saying, “[B]oomers have shifted from consumerism as status to meaningful relationship as a measurement of a purposeful life. … [They] feel vulnerable as significant events have emotionally affected their lives, due to aging, home equity and investments disappearing, and global competition.” Look for marketers to explore what this value shift means for their brands. In spite of all that, guess who the most joyful people are in Singapore? Boomers. According to a new survey by marketing communications agency Grey Singapore, the happiest people are between 45 and 59 years old, while young people aged 18 to 29 were the least happy. And speaking of the younger generation, what’s going on with millennials these days? That coveted and oft-misunderstood generation is facing a dismal future when it comes to job growth and employment post-college. That’s why so much effort has been put into entertainment escape routes for millennials. For a long moment, it seemed that everything ’80s was on fire for this group, but look for 2012-13 to channel the ’90s. USA Today recently dubbed the ’90s the new “good old days” for this generation; look no further than MTV’s decision to bring back “Beavis and Butt-Head,” as well as the return of “Pop Up Video” on VH1. MTV2 also resuscitated “120 Minutes,” the favorite of indie kids everywhere. And “Barney” is making a big rebirth in retail. According to USA Today, “Some of the best-selling items this fall at novelty retailers, including Spencer Gifts nationwide, are based on the purple dinosaur of millennials’ youth: T-shirts, caps, socks and blankets, as well as an adult-sized Halloween costume.” Well, he is a happy distraction from mounting student loans and poor job prospects. This stereotypically optimistic generation has reason to worry: The USA Today article says 5.9 million young adults (ages 25 to 34) lived at home with mom and dad this past spring, compared with 4.7 million before the recession. Pew Research is cited with its research that about one in eight older millennials (22 and up) say they’ve “boomeranged” and moved back home because of the economy. Will this first generation of digital natives make it through? Last year we spotted the mycasting trend, in which people curate interactive content, expressing their worldview in images, shared links, tweets and more. Marketers will be trying to determine how millennials, who live their lives online, curate and digitally edit their own blurred lives. But what about Generation X, the original MTV generation, which grew up with Rubik’s cubes and the King of Pop and a whole lot of apathy and angst to sort through? According to researchers, they’ve surprised everyone with their resilience in this economy, plus their relative career and family successes. (If you saw the movie Slackers way back when, you would never have seen that coming.) We’d venture to say that Gen Xers are downright well adjusted. According to a study of about 4,000 Xers released in October by the University of Michigan, 70 percent spend 40 or more hours a week working and commuting. Two-thirds are married, and 71 percent have minor children at home. Ninety percent participate in at least one outdoor activity a month. Thirty-three percent are active members of a church or religious organization, and on an average scale of happiness with 10 being very happy, they’re trending at 7.5. But all is not well for Xers, especially in Canada, where Paul Kershaw, a family policy expert from the University of British Columbia, refers to this heavily-marketed-to generation as Generation Squeeze. “The generation raising young kids today is squeezed for time at home, squeezed for income because of the high cost of housing and squeezed for services like child care that would help them balance earning a living with raising a family,” he explains. And whom will Gen X most likely resent in the future? Those boomers who have more wealth and ability to retire than their younger cohorts. Think boomer backlash from anyone under 40 and a portion of the Occupy generation, which is working harder than ever and struggling more and more. Turning now to our youngest generation, look for marketing to children to take center stage in the years to come. There has been plenty of chatter about childhood obesity of late; the French recently banned ketchup from school lunches due to its high sugar content, and the Obama administration proposed to the food industry that it improve the nutritional value of food marketed to children, limiting sodium, added sugars and other nutrients “that do not provide a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet,” in the words of the American Medical Association. They’ve also asked that a certain number of fruits, vegetables, lean meat and low-fat milk products be offered, and they called on the food industry to adopt the standards by 2016. And regulators in April proposed that food makers and restaurants voluntarily stop advertising junk food to kids. Does that mean it’s curtains for SpongeBob and Ronald McDonald? With GMO fears and a focus on organic, 2012-13 might indeed see the death of cartoon characters and maybe even chicken tenders. (Ketchup, though? That seems unfair.) Regardless of age, one trend has surfaced from all this segmented marketing: harnessing the power of the brand-me-down (items that transcend marketing to age groups and are to be passed down from mother to daughter or father to son). Think of things such as pearls from Tiffany or a Brooks Brothers suit that a father buys for his son for his first job interview, just like the one he wore. And Coach just reintroduced its Classics line: five iconic bags that were carried by our mothers and grandmothers and are now being snapped up by Gwyneth Paltrow, Whitney Port and Christina Hendricks. Kraft Mac & Cheese, too, is tearing at our heartstrings (and tummies) with commercials featuring Gen X parents loving the orange, cheesy goodness of their youth just as much as their kids do. And Kenwood is using its stand mixer, that icon of yesteryear, as a poster item for the brand and a reminder of our heritage of baking with mom or grandma. There are also generation-neutral brands; take Apple, whose stores worldwide are filled with toddlers and seniors, or mega–search engine Google, used all day, every day, by young and old alike. When it comes to some brands, sometimes age ain’t nothin’ but a number.