“I got my ‘H’ on! Yeah!”
Oh, those Gen Y-ers. There they are, having fun with their ever-present skateboards, baggy pants and Hip Hop slang. They're young, hip, pierced and tattooed, and they're on TV raving about the benefits of … a popular hemorrhoid remedy?
Whoops, it's just another Saturday Night Live parody, a fake commercial lampooning Madison Avenue's pathetic attempts to “connect” with Generation Y, a huge group of 70 million consumers born (depending on who you talk to) anywhere between the late 1970s to 1995.
If you haven't noticed, an awful lot of young consumers think marketing efforts aimed their way miss the mark by a mile, and these clueless attempts have become fodder for a new generation of writers and comedians. I saw one great stand-up routine recently where a comic described a youth-oriented campaign for eggs.
For the past 30 years the tastes of Baby Boomers, who were born from 1946 to 1964 and are 77 million strong just in the U.S., have dominated the marketing of just about everything. Affluent and free-spending, they turnedinto the world's third largest auto maker, and a couple of motorcycle companies — Motor Co. Ltd. and AG — into global automotive giants as well.
At the same time they slowly demolished some venerable old U.S. brands like Plymouth, Mercury and Oldsmobile.
But now, as the leading edge of the baby boom creeps inexorably toward retirement and tighter spending habits, every company with something to sell is starting to focus on younger demographics: Gen X'ers in their mid-20s to mid-30s, and Gen Y, which is now starting to hit car-buying age. Analysts say that five years from now Gen X and Gen Y combined will account for at least 40% of vehicle sales.
Associate editor Katherine Zachary points out in her story on p.28 that Gen Y alone will buy 4 million vehicles annually by 2010. In automotive terms, that's just around the corner, a product cycle or two away.
This explains auto makers' growing global obsession with Gen Y. What I can't figure out is: why aren't Gen Y consumers the best understood demographic ever? What's the mystery? These folks aren't from Pluto. They're the children of most of the industry's top executives, not to mention all the Boomer product planners, marketing executives, engineering chiefs and countless minions slaving in the trenches.
Instead of working late every night studying market research reports and developing new vehicle brands to reach the puzzling and inscrutable Gen Y consumer, everybody should be going home early, hanging out with their kids and talking about cars.
Think of the billions that could be saved! No more bad commercials that insult the intelligence of their target market! No more ugly cars and trucks gathering dust on dealer lots!
Let me go further, and suggest the entire auto industry set aside a Gen Y Appreciation Day. Everybody with Gen Y people in their family will be given the day off to hang out with their kids, and for those that are old enough, watch the PG-13 The Fast and the Furious, followed by a discussion group and expense account pizza.
Despite a lame plot and mediocre acting, this movie has had a profound effect on modern car culture.
Some suggested topics for the discussion group:
In the movie, when they talk aboutand street racers worth $80,000 and $100,000, why were you not gasping in disbelief like me?
Why was there only one cool Detroit-brand car in the entire movie, and why was it a 1969 Dodge Charger?
If you drive a “regular” car, should the wheels and tires cost as much as the car itself, or should they cost more?
Seriously, figuring out what Gen Y wants shouldn't be as daunting as some marketers suggest. Jim Bulin, a consultant who spends a lot of time talking to Gen Y-ers (and has no trouble doing it, even though he's in his 60s) says the folks he talks to don't fit the slacker stereotypes. Instead, many are incredibly practical and frugal; more so than their — gulp — parents.
It used to be called a Generation Gap. That's BS. Talk to your kids, and then give them the cars and trucks they want, dude.
Listen to Drew Winter and other Ward's editors Thursday on WJR 760 AM radio in Detroit.