Nielsen Studies 'Multi-Sensory' Differences Between Young and Old

It’s fairly commonplace at media conferences to hear a gray-haired executive extol his/her brand because it really grabs young viewers, and that means it’s perfect for advertisers.  I always wonder why those older executive don't throw in a mitigating word for their tattoo-less demographic. I guess I’m too defensive that way.

Now comes a new Nielsen study that suggests that many of the modern (“multi-sensory”) media contrivances are ones older consumers can’t easily handle, and this of course, has ramifications for online advertisers and programmers.

Reaching younger consumers, it’s kind of easy to leave older consumers behind. But that is ignoring what still is the biggest, richest slice of the demographic pie.     

A new Nielsen study, “The Me Generation Meets Generation Me” trots out some of the same broad marketing facts that you probably know already about relative wealth. Boomers control 70% of the disposable income, but that Millennials are driving the technology, and by extension--my interpretation--all media.

Three out of four Millennials own smartphones, about the same percentage as own lap tops, and 68% own gaming consoles. Nielsen points out in this device-acquisition contest, the Me Generation Boomers are catching up—hey, they have the money—and their adoption of tablets has doubled from 2011 to 2012. (And this year, they’ll learn how to use them by golly!)

But it’s the part of the report that speaks broadly about what young and older people can handle—media-wise—that makes me wonder if Boomers are being left in the wilderness, encouraged to stay current but then faced with media presentation that makes “keeping up” more than  just a matter of determination, but a physiological challenge.       

The Nielsen study says, for example, “Younger brains have high multi-sensory processing capacity—which makes them very amenable to (and almost seek) multi-sensory communications, especially with interaction—such as search tasks, interactive sites.”

And in another section,  “Millennials can equally deal with the bleeding-over communication we see in most dynamic banner ads on Web portals, while older generations need a clear-framed separated communication to be able to engage.”

The reason older consumers don’t get it, is that, well, they’re changing, and the media they’re being asked to ingest doesn’t compute very easily.

“Nielsen NeuroFocus research shows that neurological changes that come with age result in certain types of communication being more effective,” the report says. Body chemistry produces less dopamine and serotonin in older people—starting in the mid-40s—which makes advertisers need to change their pitch. Those changes as also seem to make it more important for older consumers to keep current.

The aging brain, Nielsen points out, gradually “loses the ability to suppress distraction.” In the very next sentence it says, “However, the aging brain has a broader attention span and is open to more information.” 

All of that makes sense but it’s complicated, and nuanced. In two other places, Nielsen makes some interesting observations. The Nielsen report says its research finds that Boomers “prefer clever, light-hearted humor (rather than mean-spirited) and relatable characters,” while “Millennials prefer off-beat, sarcastic and slapstick humor. Like Boomers, they respond to characters that are relatable to them.”

And in terms of color, “Millennials respond better to an intense color palette,” while with Boomers, in what might be unintended irony, “Contrast is the preference vs colors in online ads.” That contrast thing seems to be true.

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