I speak as a baby boomer, a brand that is meaningless and not at all helpful to marketers. I'm convinced that the twin Bs are in dire need of a makeover. After all, pinning the boomer badge on a generation based on a spike in births (1946-1964) many years before its members' lives played out is like labeling a child exceptional before being tested. Where's the market research? It's time to pop the statistical bubble and replace it with a name worthy of the historical turning point in which this generation finds itself. That, of course, is the digital revolution.
What makes my generation unique from my computer-ignorant parents ("the greatest generation") and net-agile progeny ("Wi-Fries" as in the small fry keen on Wi-Fi) is that we were born into an analog world and will die in a digital one. My generation will have been the only one to have fully lived through the grand transition. For us and the marketing teams trying to reach us, I submit the brand "anadiggy," meaning someone who came into consciousness in the antediluvian analog age sporting a Mickey Mouse clock face, has made the shift to digital readouts and will exit awash in more passwords than anybody should rightly have to remember. Anadiggies understand what has been lost even as they appreciate society's accelerated progress resulting from digital compression, server farms, data mining, ubiquitous computing and other gobbledygook we bandy about trying to appear edgy.
To reach anadiggies like me, marketers, particularly technology marketers, must be fine-tuned to our fragile comfort levels. You don't want to overwhelm us with science, but by the same token you don't want to make us think we're stupid. Appealing to our sense of nostalgia is a smooth entry point. How else do you explain The New York Times' penchant for adding Flintstone/Jetson references wherever it can in stories about technology? An item in the Circuits section (Aug. 30), "More Brains, Brawn and Charm for Robotic Broom," concludes: "It also detects when it is whisking up rug tassels ... so you won't be tempted to shout, "Jane! Stop this crazy thing!"
I hear a collective sigh from anadiggies reading the paper; a more muted sigh from those online.
A feature in the Home section 10 years ago about residential buildings being wired with T1 lines (the term "broadband" wasn't yet part of the nomenclature) states: "Even in these buildings, T1 lines are optional, and many neighbors of the Early Adopters are saying a resounding 'Who cares?' If cyberbuildings become common, New Yorkers might be divided into Jetsons and Flintstones."
For anadiggies, you can never sprinkle in too many Hanna-Barbera references.
Playing the nostalgia card is the most effective tool a marketer has in a period of rapid change when attempting to reach anadiggies. A marketer dealing the card is as straightforward as Mickey's little and big hands pointed at the 12.
As Matthew Weiner, creator of "Mad Men," recently explained on NPR's "Weekend Edition," "People's wishes and desires is what makes people buy things." That's pretty insightful for someone born in 1965, just outside the bubble.
So, here are sensory images that work in getting the attention of anadiggies:
- The stylized tones of a shrieking modem trying to handshake with its counterpart on the other end of a dial-up phone line. Anadiggies find the sound comforting not because connecting at 300 or 1200 baud was efficient but because the sound connotes their first e-mails, their first time getting online, the astonishment of putting a single query up on a bulletin board and finding 50 responses 48 hours later. Wow!
- The feel of perforated paper, the kind that could be separated from a continuous role, and used as the raw material for a "modern" tickertape parade or as party confetti.
- The quaint idea of a trip to the library, searching through wooden drawers of index cards, getting a sore arm cranking reels of microfilm. I'm so teary-eyed already, thinking about the person at the back of the elevator at the Donnell who told me I'd go places someday because I'd just leaped through the closing doors determined to reach the reference room. I'm ripe to be sold anything at this point.
And here are a few images that to an anadiggy have all the appeal of a cold front in February:
- Anything having to do with ringtones (except the one that sounds like an old-fashioned phone ringing on the iPhone setup menu). Don't like them. Can't see why anybody would pay for them. Also, anyone talking on a cellphone in a movie theater should be subject to immediate expulsion.
- Watching young people instant messaging from a hand-held device by flicking their thumbs faster than a hummingbird's wings. Were we ever so ambidextrous? What's so important, anyway?
- Acronyms like LOL, LOI, LOTI and other internet slang. Also, emoticons. What are these people talking about?
A sense of portability is another differentiator. In my parents' coming of age, mobile music players didn't exist, unless you count car radios. Anadiggies relate to the transistor radio, Walkman, CD player and iPod.
Spurred on by miniaturization, faster processing and connected computing, we're living in a period of change culminating most recently with the iPhone. My Wi-Fry niece picks up high-tech gadgets and just starts using them. Her generation takes for granted the ability to pause live TV.
Targeting the anadiggy as you create commercials isn't confined to the marketing of technology. Hey, we buy soap and soup, too, and the nostalgia card needn't be as overt as "Mmm ... good," even for brands with a history. Witness the current Charmin campaign featuring a pair of flabby cartoon bears, one red and the other blue, running on a beach ostensibly for exercise. They're actually making a beeline to a pair of color-coded outhouses.
The images are extremely relaxing, suggesting cuddly animals and old-fashioned cabanas. I learned that a brand I remembered, Charmin, now comes packed two ways: red for those who want a little more strength and blue for those who want a little more softness. Charmin had found my soft spot, no lurking Mr. Whipple necessary.
So, how do you appeal to anadigious Americans, measured by some accounts at 82,826,479 strong? You make them feel comfortable about change. You play the nostalgia card. You look to the future not as an Orwellian matrix of impossible-to-decipher machines but as easily conquerable appliances designed to entertain, relax and ultimately make people feel good about themselves. It's not 1960 or even 1970 anymore, but in a lot of ways imagining being back in one of those pre-digital decades makes living in the digital age seem a whole lot friendlier.
Michael Antonoff is product specialist, Entertainment and Portable Entertainment, B&H Photo-Video. Previously he was a technology journalist at Sound & Vision, Popular Science, PC/Computing and Personal Computing.