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Generational Marketing With Promotional Products Part 2: Life After The Big Boom

By Karen Akers

According to the latest U.S. Census, there were about 139 million Americans under age 35 in 2000 – that's almost half the population. And they're already taking over the workplace, the marketplace and American culture in general. To help you tap into this up-and-coming demographic, we've devoted part two of our series on age-related marketing to Generations X and Y. Here's a look at where they've been, where they're going and what you can do to try to reach them.

In the last issue of Imprint we explored ways to tap into the senior market. Now we travel to the other end of the spectrum to examine how you and your counselor can create promotions that speak to Generations X and Y. We'll look at some of the experiences that have shaped their lives, what makes them tick and ways you can harness this information to strengthen your own promotional efforts.

Ready Or Not …
The Baby Boomers might not like it, but new generations are getting ready to take over the demographic reins. Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1976) already have a firm footing in the workplace, and Generation Y (born 1977 to 1994) are following close behind.

As with any other age group, the first step to understanding Generations X and Y is to take a look at the events that have shaped their lives so far:
  • Former Beatle John Lennon is murdered just as he's starting a musical comeback (1980)
  • Iran frees 52 American hostages; President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II are wounded in separate assassination attempts (1981)
  • HIV is identified as the virus that causes AIDS (1983)
  • The space shuttle Challenger explodes while millions of Americans watch on TV (1986)
  • The Exxon Valdez spills 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska's Prince William Sound; thousands are killed in China's Tiananmen Square massacre; the Berlin Wall is demolished (1989)
  • South Africa outlaws Apartheid; the Soviet Union is dissolved (1991)
  • Race riots erupt in Los Angeles when four police officers charged with beating Rodney King are acquitted (1992)
  • A bomb destroys most of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people (1995)
  • Unemployment drops to 4.8%, its lowest rate since 1973 (1997)
  • More than 100 million people log on to the Internet (1998)
  • Two students kill 13 people and themselves at Colorado's Columbine High School; the Dow Jones Industrial Average closes above 11,000 for the first time (1999)
  • People around the world breathe a collective sigh of relief when the dreaded Y2K bug causes no major problems; after five weeks of recounts and controversy, George W. Bush is named the winner of the 2000 presidential election, becoming the 43rd president of the U.S. (2000).
Get To Know Gen X
It's easy to overlook Generation X-ers. Their numbers are relatively small compared to the generations that precede and follow them – about 44.9 million compared with 77.4 million Baby Boomers and 70.7 million Gen Ys (so far). However, some experts group late Boomers and early Gen Ys into Gen X, since they seem to have similar attitudes. So if you include those born between 1960 and 1980, Gen X's numbers climb to about 78 million. Other characteristics:
  • 45% have a college degree or some college experience; they're the first generation where at least 50% have high school diplomas.
  • 40% have grown up in single-parent families.
  • Many of them were latchkey kids – 12% of elementary students and 30% of middle school students.
  • Financially, they don't expect to do as well as their parents.
  • They don't trust the government and don't expect Social Security to be available when they reach retirement age.
Still, Gen X-ers aren't all about doom and gloom; they're also known as a pragmatic, resilient generation. Qualities they value include:
  • Vibrancy. Like many Boomers, X-ers have grown up in front of the TV. Everything from Sesame Street to MTV has kept them entertained. They respond to quick-paced ads with lively graphics and music. Fun, bright products tend to grab their attention. Also, whether in print, online or imprinted, a message with a little humor, sarcasm or irreverence makes an impression.
  • Honesty. That cynical stereotype had to come from somewhere; many X-ers look at things critically, trying to spot a lie. Be sure you deliver what you promise.
  • Home/family. Perhaps it's because of their shaky beginnings, but many Gen X-ers have put off major life steps such as getting married and starting families. Whatever the reason, they seem to be coming to terms with it and are getting on with their lives. In 2000, 54% were married; by 2010, 85% will have been married at least once. Filling their homes and apartments with new "necessities," such as answering machines, TVs, sound systems and computers, is high on X-ers' lists. Also, as many are now starting families, they'll be looking for children's products and stylish wearables.
  • Environmentally friendly. X-ers are quick to do their part to help the environment by buying recycled products. They also like products that haven't been animal-tested. Products made from recycled tires, plastic bottles, circuit boards or even license plates might appeal to them, and there's plenty to choose from in the promotional products arena.
Gen Y Rising
While you're reading this, reality's sinking in for the latest group of college grads. Summer's over, and if they haven't done so already, these ex-students are realizing it's time to get serious and get "real" jobs. If you're thinking, "So what? That happens every fall," then you don't know this group very well. They're part of the leading edge of Generation Y (or "Echo Boomers") – the largest generation this country has seen yet – who collectively might make or break your business's future.

If you have any doubt about the financial clout Gen Y carries, consider these statistics:
  • Their oldest members are just entering the workforce, and with 2001's starting salaries averaging around $36,000, they'll have plenty of money to spend.
  • By 2015, they'll outnumber the Baby Boom generation.
  • They spent $168 billion in 1999.
Members of Generation Y are the most tech- and media-savvy group yet. They've been exposed to faxes, computers, cell phones, ATM machines and CDs since birth. Some have seen as many as 20,000 TV commercials every year since they were born. Consequently, they're more immune to traditional ad messages than any other generation before them. Some businesses may find this disheartening, but not those who know how to use promotional products effectively. Unique logoed products could be the best way to grab their attention amid all the electronic clutter.

More Gen Y facts:
  • They're connected. Today's teens are the ultimate multitaskers. They'll be sending instant messages over the Internet to one friend, talking to another on the phone, flipping through a magazine and playing the radio – all while researching homework (or the latest boy band) online. They get information from all over the place, so be sure to use a multimedia approach when targeting them.
  • They can't wait to grow up. Some things never change; teens still hate to be treated like kids. They want all the products adults have – cell phones and pagers are new "necessities" – but with teen style. Follow retail's lead with PDA or cell-phone cases with cool, colorful teen-themed graphics.
  • They're marketing-savvy. Teens don't want to be told by advertisers that something's cool; they'd rather find it on their own. Word-of-mouth and viral marketing are the best ways to reach Gen Y. Try enlisting other teens to distribute free samples.
Case In Point: Multi-Level Marketing
Stickers, magnets, T-shirts – things that can be given out affordably, quickly and easily – go over well with younger recipients. Counselor Sarah Goldman says she's used socks, scratch-and-sniff stickers, CD cases, mousepads with soundchips, biker wallets and "whoopee" cushions to grab the attention of this audience.

Among the many promotions Goldman has done for record labels was one for Shaquille O'Neal's fifth album, Respect, on TWisM, a division of A&M Records. In addition to conveying the idea of respect, A&M wanted to back up its radio, TV and newspaper ads with something concrete that would appeal to its urban market.

While many record labels use large stickers to promote a new album, Goldman and A&M decided to go with 7-inch, round magnets instead. A total of 75,000 Respect magnets were made, some featuring Shaq's photo, name, album title and TWisM and A&M logos, while others also had a line from one of the album's songs. The magnets were sent to music-promotion agencies for distribution, to be handed out in urban areas near schools, playgrounds, movie theatres, etc.; given to local radio stations; or placed in visible areas such as newspaper boxes, poles, mailboxes, etc.

The promotion worked on several levels. Not only did it reach its intended audience and help boost sales, but it also successfully backed up the idea of "respect" that A&M wanted to convey. "The problem with stickers is that they're difficult to remove, and they'd generated numerous complaints from many people in the neighborhoods," says Goldman. "The idea of removable magnets was also a visual form of respect for public and private property."

The Future Is Now
As the younger generations find their place in society as consumers, employees and parents, it becomes more and more important for businesses to acknowledge this soon-to-be-powerful demographic. Build brand loyalty with them now, and you may reap the results for the rest of their lives.

Still, no one said it's going to be easy. First, stop and think if your products or services could appeal to Gen X or Y. If not right now, how about in the future? Your counselor can help you tap into the latest trends and find the right message and product mix to attract younger consumers.

Another point to keep in mind: Just because Generations X and Y are here to stay doesn't mean you can write off their Baby Boomer parents. They've been steering American culture for decades and aren't likely to give up control anytime soon. Next issue, we'll take an in-depth look at Baby Boomers, examining how you can appeal to their marketing sensibilities as they move into the next phase of their lives.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Karen Akers is associate editor of Imprint.

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