'Advertising Age' survey: Young men are bullish, difficult to locate

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Marketers targeting hot consumer prospects in 2004 need look no further than men, particularly those under age 35-if they can find them.

That elusive demographic is most confident about the economy and the most ready to spend, according to an exclusive survey for Advertising Age conducted by WPP Group's Lightspeed Research. The online survey of 500 consumers, conducted from Dec. 19-22, finds those young men recently missing from the Nielsen TV ratings by far the most bullish about economic turnaround.

A full 30% of male respondents agreed with the statement that economic "prospects look good for the coming year," compared to 16% of women. An even higher percentage, 34%, of respondents of both sexes under age 35 also agreed with the statement. That's in stark contrast to the population at large, with nearly half, 49%, believing "We're not out of the woods yet, but there is reason to be optimistic."

Men were also much more likely to feel good about their jobs and finances. Of men surveyed, 43% said they are secure in their financial situation compared to 28% of women. Nearly one in four, 24%, also felt secure in holding onto their job, while only 17% of women leaned the same way. The most-job-secure are those under age 35 (30%) vs. those age 35-54 (21%) and over 55 (16%).

Young men also planned to spend big during the holidays. Twenty-two percent of males said they would outdo last year's outlay-as compared to 41% of all respondents, who said they would spend less this year than last. Of total women, only 18% said they would outspend last year, with 46% saying they would lay out less.

Younger consumers of both sexes, in fact, planned to be most free with their wallets. Those under 35 were almost twice as nice with paying more for presents, (33%) than those age 35-54 and over 55 (18% and 17%, respectively).

just getting geared up

But those younger consumers are just getting geared up. A full 41% of under-35 respondents said they are likely to buy a big-ticket item and/or car within the next year. Of those in that age group eyeing high-ticket items, the most likely choices are computer/technology products; plasma/flat-screen TVs; major appliances, home theaters and home-remodeling services.

Such findings are good news for Wenner Media's Rolling Stone, whose "sweet spot," according to publisher Rob Gregory, is men 18-34. After "a stunning December," he said he expects a "pretty strong" first quarter as advertisers try to reach young men, which make up 60% of its readers, with pitches for products such as flat-screen TVs, pickups, gaming consoles and satellite radios.

Albie Hecht, president of young-male-targeted Spike TV, said the survey "confirms our entire premise" of reaching what he said is an under-served media market for young men. He said the channel has drawn 13 million viewers age 18-34 since launching five months ago and that advertising "has been great" with prospects for '04 even stronger.

The results also didn't surprise Dennis Publishing, publisher of Maxim, Stuff and Blender, lad books that cater to the young male audience. "We did our own study about a year ago that showed similar results," said Lance Ford, exec VP at Dennis Publishing. "Young men are not scared about the future, they have a great faith in the American economy and earn enough to spend well." But even Mr. Ford wasn't willing to be categorically positive about `04: "We're cautiously optimistic," he said.

pessimistic women

It isn't solely men who are poised to spend on expensive items this year. Across all age groups, one in four said they were likely to buy a TV or big-ticket item in 2004. One in 10 respondents said they would buy a house this year.

Women were the most pessimistic in the survey, with 28% agreeing "We're in for more difficult times before things turn for the better." And overall, consumers are still wary: Only 6% of total respondents agreed with the statement "the worst is over."

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