Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Has Branding Peaked In Mass Marketing? What's Next?

Is Generation X the Last Mass Brand-Loyal Group?

Crest, Cheerios, Atari, Cherokee, TAB – All big brands from the 1980’s able to successfully mass market their wares to brand loyal consumers. Although the American consumer had thousands of brand choices then, just as they do today, it did seem a simpler time for brands able to build brand loyalty.

In the latest Crowd Science JustAsk! study on the topic of Brand Loyalty, one of the most interesting findings was gap in brand loyalty between Gen-X and Gen-Y. The percentage of those that agreed with the statement “Once I find a brand I like, I tend stick with it” was far higher for Gen-X than other age groups at 42%. Compare that to 33% of those under age 30 agreed with the same statement. Additionally, those under 30% far outweighed other age groups when asked if they “Like to try different brands”.

What a Difference a Decade Makes

Those who graduated high school in and around the 1980’s were brought up in the last great age of mass media. With television as the primary digital option for kids in the late 1970’s and early 1980s, children were an easy and willing audience to market sugary cereals and sodas, toothpaste to clean those sugary teeth, and the latest Mattel toy, or Garanimals outfit to.

Gen X was also the first consumer technology demographic, ushering in products like Atari and the Apple Macintosh, providing the first glimpse of our multi-media futures. Regardless of popularity of other entertainment vehicles of that time, like movie theatres, arcades and radio, most of the kid-population was focused squarely on their televisions for Saturday morning cartoons featuring v.1 versions He-Man, Smurfs and Transformers.

Followers of advertising history must be amazed at the plethora of mediums and channels today’s kids have been born into. Recent studies have found that kids spend more time consuming media than ever. In late 2010, The Kaiser Family Foundation released a study that found kids aged 8-18 years old spend more than 7 and half hours a day engaged in digital media entertainment. Even more fascinating was the finding that most of these kids are multitasking across mediums. When you add up the time spent on each device, the number of hours that today’s kids spend consuming media rises to nearly 11 hours a day!!

Brand loyalty for the masses was arguably perfected during the post-war boom of the 1940’s and 1950’s when TV became mainstream. At that time, content was wholly created by big brands whose product placement was an integral part of the Howdy Doody program kids were tuning into. There weren’t as many choices, and lots of Ovaltine was sold, proving that creating a loyal audience was as straightforward as producing a once weekly 30-minute program for children.

Accelerate past color television and the multi-television household to the late 1970s and 1980s where more content and brand advertising choices began to flourish. Brands were still able to provide influence via mass media, with kids buying everything they could find with HR Pufnstuf or the New Zoo Review printed on it!

These days, big brands are still….BIG, and they are still able to successfully reach their targets. But few of them can rely on TV and billboards to grab the same level of brand affinity they once were.

Gen-Y continues consuming mind-boggling amounts of TV content, too. But at the same, time they are texting, listening to music and updating their Facebook status on their smartphones, while flipping through US Weekly, and watching a Netflix on their laptops!
New York Times blog writer Matt Ritchtel talks about today’s kids being “Wired for Distraction”. For brands – both big and small—this means they will have to get more creative and more personalized to breakthrough that kind of noise just to get their brand noticed – let create a brand affinity.

And ironically, the youngest kids today are more brand-aware of, and attracted to, more grown-up brands like Starbucks and Burberry than they are to Coco-Puffs or GoGurt.
On the upside, brands can feel comforted in the nostalgia of their loyal Gen-X customers. They are introducing the toys, movies and foods that they loved themselves as kids to an entirely new generation (Gen-Z?) of future brand loyalists!

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