Commentary

Beyond The Demo

Since joining Frank N. Magid Associates in November last year, I’ve discovered a few things I was unaware of before coming on board. One of which is that the firm has a Generational Strategies unit that has been researching and consulting in the generational space for more than 10 years. The result is a regular sandbox of generational data and insights relating to all generational cohorts over the last decade. It is a lens through which to understand media use today.
 
As it turns out, 2014 is a pretty significant year in the world of generational studies.  It also has implications for the media world. This is the year that each of the generational cohorts completely ages out of one demo and into another.
 
By the end of the year, all millennials with be squarely in the 18-34 demo, GenX will be 35-49 and all baby boomers will be 50 or older.
 
Generational cohorts are, of course, not based on demographics, but on the consequences of societal and environmental factors, such as economic boom and bust cycles, wars, significant changes in the availability of technology or contraception and changes to laws relating to employment, education and more. All these things impact our attitudes and behaviors, our sense of self and how we interact with others, parenting styles, underlying self-confidence etc.
 
Of course not all boomers or millennials are created alike – but then, nor are all 18-49 year-olds — and yet demography has dominated our approach to media buying for decades. Generational cohorts do, however, provide a contextually derived means of understanding the underlying drivers of behavior that are likely to be shared by a group influenced by surrounding societal and environmental factors.
 
Inevitably, demographics fall out of generational delineation, but they are not themselves a defining characteristic.  This is something that can be a point of confusion when discussing generations. It’s easy to get an image of millennials in one’s head of the high school and college age kids they once were. But generations are comprised of people, and people have a curious habit of aging. 

Fully half of the millennial generation is now in the work force, have kids and own property. This impacts attitudes and behaviors. They spend more time at home, use their money for different things and have different concerns about the future. In short, they are the same people with the same underlying attitudes, but have evolved into very different consumers of both products and media.
 
The same is true of boomers For each minute you spend reading this article, nine Boomers will have aged out of the 18-49 demo. Over the course of a nine-hour working day (relatively civilized for those in media), 4,860 Boomers will have drifted off into the media doldrums of the 50+ demo.
 
This is significant because boomers carry the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that helped define them during their “18-49” years” into a demo that has previously been poorly or little valued. It seems ironic that a generation that the media industry (and particularly TV) largely built itself upon — and bought and sold at a premium — should now be consigned to the status of the throwaway demo. That's accepted as part of the natural accumulated wastage that is built into so many media buys.
 
While the demographic predecessors of the boomers may have justified this approach as a result of their ingrained brand loyalties and spending habits etc., as boomers — and especially late boomers — move into the demo, they take with them the level of brand promiscuity, digital media savvy and ingrained consumerism that made them so attractive in their passage from 18 to 49.
 
So as the boomers have come to dominate the 50+ demo, they have come to hold more intrinsic potential value to many brand categories. While it is entirely understandable (and fiscally responsible) for advertisers to continue to reach the demo on a financially advantageous basis, for media owners this represents a considerable amount of unrealized value.
 
In the current climate, there are many challenges for the sales department within major media owners. Achieving true market value for boomer viewers, now defined as a less valuable demo, is one of them. But it also represents a major opportunity. If the case can now be made for the demo to achieve a better CPM, that can only improve a media owners' bottom line.
 
But until we are able to look beyond the demo itself and understand that people it comprises have evolved generationally, there remains a serious roadblock to overcome.

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