NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Not long ago, I was interviewing a senior marketing executive at a Fortune 500 company when he remarked offhandedly, "Of course, no one has magnetic refrigerators anymore." He was referring to the adoption of high-end stainless steel models, but I couldn't help but picture my magnet-and-school-paper littered icebox at home.
We have reams of research and data telling us exactly what consumers are like, but it's easy to get caught up in myths of popular culture -- the focus-group-of-one trap -- and assume just about everyone owns an iPad, tweets from their phone and times shifts TV.
Because everybody needs a reality check sometimes, we decided to take a decidedly non-scientific look at some Madison Avenue myths.
Everyone has an iPad
If analyst estimates of 8 million to 10 million iPads units shipped by year's end come true, then a little less than 3% of the population will own one. And the buyers so far follow a typical early adopter pattern: more tech savvy, younger and wealthier than the average person. Some 63% of them are younger than 35, and 40% earn more than $100,000 per year, according to Nielsen Co. In July, a Facebook survey by psychographic quiz maker MyType queried 13-to-49-year-olds and found that 54% of them simply aren't interested in an iPad, while 11% went as far to condemn it as a "silly product." Just 3% said they already owned one or planned to buy one soon.
Everyone is on Facebook
Facebook claims there are 500 million active users worldwide, and yes, that's a big number. However, they also reveal that 70% of those users are outside the U.S., cutting the U.S. total to 150 million, with only about half of those logging on in any given day. The just-released movie based on the launch of Facebook, "The Social Network," which is all the rage among the media elite, isn't playing in Peoria, either, according to film-industry blog Deadline.com. It reported the movie, which opened the first weekend of October at No. 1 with a take of $23 million, was mainly an East and West Coast phenomenon, especially in big cities.
Everyone eats organic food
While it is true that organic food is a rapidly growing segment of the food industry, it only represents 3.7% of total food sales, according to the Organic Trade Association's 2010 industry survey. Whole Foods Market's annual survey done by Harris Interactive online did find that three-fourths of Americans bought at least some organic or natural foods during the past year, but only 27% of them said more than one-fourth of the food they bought for the year was organic and/or natural.
Everyone makes six-figure incomes
This is true maybe in New York and on the West Coast, but those dollars don't go far. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest average paychecks in 2009 were handed out in the San Francisco/San Jose (20% above the national average) and the New York/Newark/Bridgeport (14% higher) metropolitan areas. However, New York's cost of living index was No. 1 at 210, more than double the national average, according to the ACCRA Cost of Living Index for the second quarter of 2010. San Francisco was fourth on the list at 162.
New York does have the highest concentration of millionaires at 667,000 in 2009, but that's out of a population of 15.4 million adults, so just 4% of the population, according to Capgemini U.S. Metro Wealth Index. Los Angeles was No. 2 with 236,000 out of 10.2 million (2%). San Francisco ranked fifth with 138,000 millionaires out of a population of 3.5 million (4%).
Green is the new black
While consumers like the idea of being ecologically friendly, the recession has reined in many of the average consumers' green aspirations. Gfk Roper's annual Green Gauge 2010 report found that two out of three Americans think green products are too costly, while one in three don't believe green products work as well as "regular" ones. More than half of Americans (54%) said they would buy more green products if they weren't so expensive, according to a 2009 Mintel study, with about 36% of Americans saying they regularly buy green products, the same percentage as the year before.
No one in Middle America is having sex
One common criticism of Madison Ave. and Hollywood content is that it's too overtly sexual. But maybe that's because they're already getting enough at home? Middle Americans, in fact, are among the most "sex happy" citizens in the country, according to the 2010 annual Men's Health magazine survey. Austin, Texas, ranked first as the most "sex-happy" city, followed by Dallas; Columbus, Ohio; Durham, N.C.; and Denver rounding out the top 5. And while the least-satisfied city was Portland, Maine, other East Coast cities including Buffalo, N.Y.; Hartford, Conn.; Yonkers, N.Y.; and Burlington, Vt., all ranked in the bottom 10 of the Top 100. "Cosmopolitan" cities didn't fare much better: Los Angeles ranked No. 54; New York City ranked No. 73; and San Francisco ranked No. 74.
No one I know would be caught dead at Walmart unless they were pitching the account
A recent study by Ipsos Mendelsohn of affluent Americans found that seven out of 10 Americans who earn more than $100,00 shopped at Walmart in the past year. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that more than 84% of all Americans shopped at a Walmart in 2005, the most recent year it did the poll. Of course, it could be a fly-over state thing. According to BIGresearch, 39% of consumers in the South and 25% in the Midwest shopped at Walmart during the first week of September, while just 15% of those in Northeast and 20% in the West shopped there. Northeast and West consumers were much more likely to shop at Macy's (26.5% and 26.2%, respectively).
Everyone is on Twitter
Yes, there are more than 100 million registered Twitter accounts, but a RJMetrics analysis of Twitter's API at the end of 2009 (when there were 75 million accounts) found that 40% have never sent a single tweet, while an overwhelming 80% of accounts sent fewer than 10 tweets. About one-fourth of the accounts had zero followers; the average Twitter account had 27 followers at the end of 2009.