GENERATION X GETS COMFORTABLE WITH FURNISHINGS, HOUSEWARES

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There's more to a Generation Xer's furnish ings than plastic milk crates and a hand- me-down couch.

Those in Generation X, or today's 18- to-29 year-olds, are more interested in home furnishings and housewares than skeptics might think. Although marketers of these goods aren't creating separate programs to reach young adults, they say messages that emphasize design and value strike a chord with them.

"We're an alternative that didn't exist 15 years ago-the concept of providing high style at an extremely reasonable cost," says Bill Agee, advertising director of Ikea U.S., a retail furniture chain whose contemporary-design products have become favorites of Generation Xers.

Although Generation Xers are stereotyped as nihilistic young adults, there are several observations about this group that are important to furnishings and housewares marketers.

For starters, the 46 million Generation Xers spend an estimated $125 billion annually. Also, they're getting married. The median age at first marriage in the U.S. is 26.3 for males and 24.1 for females, according to Bureau of the Census. With marriage, of course, comes the need to furnish a new household.

In addition, although 18-to-29 year-olds are less likely than older adults to own their homes, they're more likely to buy furniture. A recent young adult study from consumer researcher Roper Starch Worldwide found 20% of those ages 18 to 29 plan to buy furni ture in the next year, compared to 17% of 30-to-44 year-olds and 16% of all adults.

"Many [between 18 and 29] have jobs that aren't careers, because of the difficulty of finding a first job," says Stuart Himmelfarb, VP at Roper Starch Worldwide. "So for them, their leisure time is a lot more an expression of their selves than work is, and they want their homes to be as nice as possible."

Style is a crucial selling point. In fact, Roper's young adult study found style was the most important of 11 factors in a furniture-buying decision. That's an observation Ikea knows well. "We've done advertising that appeals to this group, but it was our product line" that attracted Generation Xers, Mr. Agee says.

Although Ikea TV commercials are designed to address all furniture shoppers, one recent spot from Deutsch/Dworin, New York, seems to connect with Generation Xers. In it, a young engaged couple goes to an Ikea store looking for a bed. The future bride says, "Ikea's cool because they have tons of styles to choose from."

In 1992, Ikea placed $8.3 million of its $18 million total ad expenditure on spot TV, according to Competitive Media Reporting. A coming broad-targeted TV campaign, breaking in February, will feature two spots geared to Generation Xers, says Marketing Director Peter Connolly.

Ethan Allen is also relying on style to drive appeal among young adults. To shake its older-skewing image, it added several contemporary furniture lines that now account for 25% of sales, says Lenora Kirkley, VP-advertising.

The marketer will tout this new image in a network and spot TV campaign that breaks today. The $15 million-plus campaign, from Grey Advertising, New York, is themed "Everyone is at home with Ethan Allen."

The three spots show people at different life stages or with different tastes finding what they (Continued on Page S-6)

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Gen X

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want at Ethan Allen. One spot of interest to Generation Xers features two diverse sisters finding pieces that suit their tastes at the retailer.

"We've changed a great deal, so we have to [communicate] to a younger generation that we have the style and price points for them," Ms. Kirkley says.

Appliance companies also have realized how style sells to young adults.

The four lines of large appliances marketed by Whirlpool Corp. are segmented by their features and pricing, says Carolyn Verweyst, manager-marketing communications. Value shoppers, including young adults, are the target for Whirlpool's lowest-priced products, which contain basic features. Recent models have been more stylish.

Generation Xers also appreciate affordibility. Jennifer Convertibles, a sofa bed retail chain, makes this point in some of its transit ads, created in-house. The ads tell consumers that if they can afford daily amenities like bottled water or a fast-food meal, they can afford a sofa bed through the marketer's finance program.

Although style and price are the key selling points to young adults, Mr. Himmelfarb says marketers must also show how their products fit into their lives.

"During the '80s, the consumer was supposed to aspire to the product," he says. "In the '90s, the opposite is true: the product should aspire to the consumer."M

Deutsch/Dworin places an engaged couple in an Ikea store with the future bride noting, "Ikea's cool."

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