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Adam Nisenson Spotlighted in a Recent Issue of HOW Magazine

Generationally Speaking
September 5, 2007


*The following is an excerpt from the August 2007 issue of HOW Magazine


Ever-Changing Demo


Adam Nisenson, principal and creative director of the youth-oriented sports marketing firm Active Imagination in Houston, gained firsthand experience with young people’s skepticism when his firm developed the brand strategy for the inaugural 2005 Dew Action Sports Tour, an extreme sports event for the Gen Y segment. His team began by immersing itself in the skate and BMX sports cultures. Some kind of immersion process is a requisite for getting to know any consumer group, but it’s particularly important in terms of the youth market, whose preferences are in a perpetual flux. “This is an ever-changing demo,” Nisenson says. “Generation Y is always looking for the next thing, so their ideas about what’s cool are constantly changing.”


And Nisenson didn’t stop there. With logo concepts mounted on boards, he headed to local skate parks, where he intended to record young people’s reactions to his ideas on video. But kids gave Nisenson a clear signal—namely, by walking away—that they weren’t up for a sales pitch. “At one of the skate parks, I couldn’t get any of the kids to stop and talk to me, “ he says. “It was like I was talking and walking behind them.”


The good news is that once young people know a brand values their opinion, they tend to share their insights readily. Lauer says Gen Now could be called “The Do-It-With-Me Generation”—an appellation that underscores their receptivity to being included in brands’ creation of both products and messaging.


While Nike iD arms consumers with the tools to design their own shoes, Lauer expects young people’s demand for co-creation opportunities to explode in the near future.


And in fact, once Nisenson convinced the reluctant youth that he wasn’t trying to sell them anything, attitudes changed. “Suddenly, I had crowds gathered around me,” he says. Nisenson maintains that this direct contact with kids, for all its kinks, was a critical component to his firm’s capacity to create a resonant, authentic brand identity for his client. “A lot of decisions made for the Generation Y are made in a boardroom,” he says. “Well, a boardroom demographic isn’t the one you’re targeting.”


The American “teenager” was invented—or at least established as a cultural concept—in the 1950s, thanks to the star power of James Dean and other more wholesome heartthrobs. That’s around the same time Americans began to worship a culture of youth at the expense of almost any other. So, too, did marketers. For the next handful of decades, most companies, with notable exceptions, operated on the assumption that people dropped out of the consumer scene at around age 50, when their brand loyalties were thought to have calcified anyway.


But times, as that anthem of boomer culture has it, are changing. Robin Raff, president of marketing consultancy Boomer Business & Beyond in Walnut Creek, CA, says that as of 2006—the year the oldest Boomers, including Cher and Bill Clinton, turned 60—she’s seen a surge in marketing activity around Boomers.


Far from dropping out of the marketplace, Boomers are driving it. According to marketing consultancy, The Boomer Project, Boomers control 70% of the nation’s wealth and spend more than $2 trillion annually on goods and services. By 2010, adults over 45 will out-spend young people by $1 trillion. And projections from MetLife’s Mature Market Institute indicate that by 2030, Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 will control 40% of the nation’s disposable income and 77% of private investments.

For Raff, the single most important marketing-to-Boomers insight is that, while this generation follows a set of general principles, it isn’t a homogeneous group. “There’s this feeling in a lot of marketing that, ‘We recognize you came out of the ‘60s so we’re going to play a ‘60s ad and call it a Boomer ad.’ What that tells me is a brand doesn’t know anything about me other than that I listened to Led Zeppelin at one time.”


Any generation is more than the sum of its college record collection, but Boomers in particular are in the midst of intense transitions that marketers would do well to address. Some are planning for an empty nest, others for retirement. That underscores the wisdom of building communications around Boomers’ lifestyle preferences and life stages, says Raff, who emphasizes another critical Boomer issue: In large numbers, these Americans are taking on the role of caregiver for aging parents—even as they raise their own children. A National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP survey estimates that 44.4 million people currently provide unpaid care to another adult. Of these, 59% either work or have worked while providing care.


As family members of different ages continue to share their lives together, Raff advises marketers and designers to reflect that reality by leveraging intergenerational imagery. She also predicts a sizeable uptick in the demand for support materials—like a document she developed for Longevity Alliance, which helps Boomers broach the uncomfortable subject of their parents’ plans for aging—in the near future.