Demographic changes often if not always result in shifts in marketing practices. The size and composition of a particular social segment will impact product placement, pricing, and production decisions. Population increases or decreases within certain age groups also have a strong impact in marketing strategies. Especially since the Baby Boom, marketers have understood how to capitalize on population explosions and shifts in demographic markets. The Baby Boom also taught marketing researchers to examine the potential value of the youth market. A booming childbirth rate in the post-war years had many marketers salivating. However, Brailsford notes that marketers were well aware of the potential in youth markets before the baby boom generation: as early as the 1920s, companies were already starting to promote products for youth. What the baby boom generation changed was the relative size of the youth market and its impact on future consumption patterns larger youth market also necessitated the fragmentation of the demographic. No longer could youth be conceived of as a nebulous whole. Toddlers, 2- to 4-year-olds, up till preteens and teenagers each occupied their own demographic niche. This offered manufacturers new means to envision product development, as they could focus on the needs of each sub-demographic.
Advertisers have increased their focus on younger age brackets over the past century for the following reasons. First, the youth population grew, especially during the first half of the 20th century and in the years immediately after the end of World War Two. Second, youth incomes have also grown enormously, making young people a more viable and attractive demographic. Third, youths started to have more influence on their parents’ purchasing habits. Fourth, young people would become more politically empowered and socially viable, making them a trendsetting demographic. Finally, marketers valued the youth market not only as an immediate consumer bracket but also as a long-term demographic. In other words, young people developing spending habits, brand loyalties, and consumption patterns that last a lifetime. Youth became increasingly viewed as socially powerful trendsetters who could theoretically influence the spending patterns of the entire nation.
Although families were having fewer children in the 20th century, a baby boom that occurred after the end of the Second World War gave rise to a new and newly empowered segment of the population. The baby boom generation was appealing to advertisers because they represented new opportunities to sell child-related products and products related to home and family. A burgeoning middle class and suburban demographic also meant that children and their parents could spend more on luxury items for youth including cosmetics, toys, clothes, and technologies. The baby boom generation would also grow up into a large adult demographic. Advertisers saw the potential to snag the baby boomers in their youths, indoctrinating them into consumer spending habits, accustoming them to purchasing certain brands, and helping them create global consumer trends.
Targeting the youth market was therefore both a short-term and a long-term endeavor with immediate and long-range benefits for business. The post war baby boom offered a large youth consumer segment who could afford to purchase luxury items the previous generation of youth could not afford. Products could be marketed both to parents and directly to children and young adults, many of whom had paying jobs that afforded them disposable income. Baby boomers later grew up to become wealthier and more suburban than their parents, and therefore more prone to a consumer lifestyle rather than the rural one that characterized the pre-industrial United States.
American social habits and norms also changed during the 20th century, impacting marketing trends. For example, American culture promoted unbridled consumption as an ideal during the 1950s and 1960s, at the same time that American business trends shifted from a production model to a consumption one (Brailsford). Thus, advertising to youth would stimulate spending on immediate needs but it also stimulated spending trends across the consumer’s lifetime. Stimulating the youth market early in the 20th century helped create the consumer culture that persists today.
Another reason to market more aggressively to the youth market was to capitalize on changing social values. Youth became a more distinct and more politically empowered social group during the 20th century. The word “teenager” had only been coined in the 1940s, underscoring the fact that youth culture was a 20th century phenomenon. Their input in family affairs grew more pronounced, especially as women had fewer and fewer children as “fewer children increases the influence of each child,” (“Targeting the Youth Market”).
More empowered youth would later lead marketers to capitalize on the “nag factor.” Children exposed to media advertisements start to nag their parents, which vastly increases sales (New American Dream). The nag factor reflects the overall success of the consumer mentality that first sprouted with the baby boomers generation. Throughout the 20th century, increasing numbers of children were shopping on their own, too, making their own spending decisions. They had become like a dream demographic: young people had money to spend; power to influence their parents’ and their peers’ spending; and would continue to spend for the rest of their lives. Captivating the youth market became one of the most important features of successful marketing campaigns.
Advertisers started to speak directly to young people, in their vernacular and on their level in order to capture this valuable demographic. Knowing that young people set trends, advertisers also started to generate feedback loops by watching how trends emerged in youth culture, mimicing those trends in product design, and later developing global consumer trends around specific products or brands. The advent of online shopping and shopping via cellular phone has increased the trend in youth purchases too. Technology has recently become a youth-oriented segment, and some technology like cellular phones are especially targeted to young people.
Marketers sought to “influence household purchases and develop their awareness of goods and services with the expectation of commercial rewards at a later date,” (Brailsford). One of the reasons advertisers increase their focus on the youth demographic is that young people influence what their parents purchase. Beyond the nag factor, teens, tweens, young kids and toddlers can make overt suggestions to their parents based on what advertisements they saw on television. Young people can influence their parents’ tastes, telling mom or dad what happens to be trendy or not. When advertisers reach young people, they indirectly reach their parents too.
Finally, Americans are obsessed with youth. Young people are a powerful consumer demographic because During the last 100 years, advertisers have increased their focus on younger age brackets, viewing youth as a dream demographic. Young people set consumer trends, influencing definitions of “cool” and making meaningful suggestions to their parents and peers. The consumer trends they develop early in life may also become lifetime spending habits, either as brand loyalty or as more global consumption values. Young people, in the marketer’s eye, symbolize a lifetime of consumer spending and consumer spending habits.
Brailsford, Ian. “History Repeating Itself: Were Post-War American Youngsters Ripe for Harvest?” Retrieved April 3, 2007 at http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:hnYEbFPpPEsJ:www.kingston.ac.uk/cusp/Lectures/Brailsfordpaper.doc+history+repeating+itself+brailsford&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=ca&client=firefox-a
New American Dream. “Thanks to Ads, Kids Won’t Take No, No, No, No, No for an Answer.” Retrieved April 3, 2007 at http://www.newdream.org/kids/poll.php
Targeting the Youth Market.” Retrieved April 3, 2007 at http://www.sba.gov/gopher/Business-Development/Success-Series/Vol7/youth.txt
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