Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
If Charles Mackay, the canny Scottish author of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), were alive today he’d probably jump on group-think or herd mentality – maybe even mob rule – to gin up his SEO results.
But, tell you what, madness of crowds is right on the money when it comes to how Madison Avenue approaches generational marketing.
The popular delusion du jour is that the 111 million Americans over fifty – owners of 80% of US household assets, purchasers of over half the nation’s goods and services and the world’s 3rd largest economy – are not worth specific targeting by mainstream brands. So only 10% of ad dollars are directed at them.
Madness on steroids.
Think Y2K, Pet Rocks, Beanie Babies … successful delusions need a backstory.
Myth #1 – Blind brand loyalty; they’re really hard to switch
Myth #2 – Easy to reach and engage via conventional media
Myth #3 – Scary to Millennials and detrimental to brand image
Since over 90% of ad agency staffers fall into the cliched and coveted 18-49 demographic, aka Millennials and younger Gen Xers, it’s easy to see the inside-the-box appeal of these comforting old fables.
But let’s check the facts. In 2017, Boomer / neXt surveyed 510 U.S. Boomers and older Gen Xers aged 50-71 and found the vast majority (86%) enjoy learning about and trying new brands and over two-thirds (70%) are always on the lookout for new brands to try.
Not that we expect a lifetime of comforting delusions to fade overnight, but if you’re disruptive enough to see more results – sure you are – visit us.
The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate is moving on in adland Gen Xers. Fast!
Speaking of delusions … typical 1960s stereotypes feature streets clogged with rebellious Boomers – flowers in their hair – protesting The Man and shuttling in hippie vans from the Summer of Love to Yasgur’s Farm in Woodstock.
So, when Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (NBC, 1968-1973), was the #1 series of the ’68/’69 TV season, it was not the kind of show most parents allowed little kids to watch – risqué skits and bikini-clad go-go dancers were not on the approved list. Okay, okay, hold the sarcasm about Game Of Thrones Thanksgiving Orgy Special edging out The Muppets as required life-prep for today’s pre-schoolers.
A regular Laugh-In feature, The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate award, celebrated gotcha moments in the lives of the pompous and powerful. The snicker-provoking fickle finger catchphrase enjoyed its time in seventies sun and then faded. Temporarily it seems.
When Gen Xers started to turn fifty in 2015, and with the average creative person aged 28, many mid-life ad agency managers found themselves on the Fickle Finger’s receiving end.
Nothing focuses the mind as clearly as the prospect of a hanging, a fickle finger or realizing your own ads no longer target you.
So 40-somethings are scrambling, hoping the AARP invitation goes to the home address and not the office. Skinny jeans, a laser-lift, a color rinse, Oakley shades and faux Millennial-hip talk help for a while, but that fickle finger still writes and, having writ, moves on.
In the end it comes down to “dude, look at yourself, listen to yourself.” Move on.
Popular delusions are crumbling – they all do in the end
A few savvy decision-makers are moving on.
Judging by a scattering of articles cropping up in marketing media, some are gazing out from their corner offices at the real world beyond. They are alarmed at what they see. Those popular 18-49 delusions are driving away customers.
Madison Avenue’s branding delusions are further eroded by the realization that Gen Xers are taking over C-Suites all across the country. Good luck telling the new bosses they’re too old to change with the times or re-imagine the future.
Don’t just take our word for it. The Washington Post, just down the road a piece from the creative
heart Achilles Heel of adland, has already re-written the narrative: We thought Gen X was a bunch of slackers. Now they’re the suits (March 1, 2017).
Welcome, Gen X to ever-evolving Boomer / neXt World™
Exile from Madison Avenue’s cool demo is not the first time Gen Xers have been dissed.
For decades, marketers couldn’t agree on their generational name, much less on birth years. It was 2015 before the Census Bureau provided a range of 1965-1981 – but even that was by default … the Bureau’s aim was to define the start of the Millennials (1982).
But being officially labeled Generation X was an upgrade over previous attempts: MTV, Middle Child, Grunge, Latchkey Kids, Forgotten and Slacker (ouch!). Better late than never, the “X” moniker caught on.
A 2015 Pew survey found 58% of 35-50 year-olds identified as Gen X – a less powerful connection than Boomers’ identification with their label (79%), but pretty good given the alternatives.
Ironically, just as they were finally officialized, millions of older Gen X consumers were shoved out of the advertisers’ spotlight and forced to find a new home. It turned out to be a familiar one: Boomer world … the place where they grew up.
Naturally, as Xers moved through their own lives they experienced socio-cultural imprinting – music, media, mores and seminal events – in their own way. But this occurred in the larger context of the Boomers’ own journey – rapid, non-stop and amazing change that also molded the Gen X transition from childhood to adulthood.
This shaping continued through the seventies, eighties and nineties as the Boomers rose to dominance and setting the agenda in technology, business, academia, entertainment and government. For better or worse – who knows? But it’s a done deal.
But socio-cultural transfer is a two-way street, Boomers also learned from Gen X. In the process a new, blended and extended generation was created – the brave new world of Boomer / neXt.
The population here is more vibrant, more valuable than ever, constantly being, blending and becoming. It’s where smart brands come to re-imagine and re-generate. Join us.