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The obsession to reach younger people at the expense of all others is killing network TV and it's killing advertising.

It's a vicious spiral that is out of control: Marketers, convinced brand habits are set in stone once consumers near 35, demand TV shows that attract young, impressionable audiences; the networks churn out programs featuring young people that drive away older viewers; the adpeople produce commercials aimed at the younger audiences and unfathomable to everyone else; ad agencies, as if to confirm the wisdom of buying shows for a limited audience and crafting ads that nobody gets, pay more and more for less and less; CEOs, repelled by excessive ad costs and TV spots they don't understand, step up their devaluation of advertising in their marketing efforts; and, finally, great old brands hit the skids, based at least partly on all of the above.

The joke is this entire scenario is probably based on a phony premise-that it's too difficult to influence older people's buying preferences. So advertisers don't even try. They're willing to bet the ranch on an unproven theory. It's not exactly 21st century thinking.

In introducing a provocative section, "21 ideas for the 21st century," Business Week contends "smart managers acknowledge their own myopia. They pursue several paths at once, knowing that some won't pay off. They fund research projects aimed at exploiting exclusive visions of the future. They're willing to be wrong frequently, and quit when they're behind."

Some advertisers have that last part right only they don't have the wisdom to quit when they're behind. Why else would so many seem to have lost their way?

As Bob Garfield put it, fear is in the air. He was talking about Levi's most recent and pathetic attempt to be cool-"In Levi's advertising, you can smell the fear. You can feel the uncertainty. You can taste the desperation." But he could have been referring to a broad spectrum of today's advertising.

Fear is rampant because teen-agers and other young people are abandoning network TV at an alarming rate for the Internet and other new media, and advertisers haven't figured out how to build their brands on the Net.

An American Advertising Federation survey of top executives turned up the disturbing news that management doesn't believe advertising is keeping up with the rapid changes in their businesses. In ranking departments for meeting sales and marketing goals, advertising came in second to last place-behind such factors as product development and public relations but ahead of (oh, the shame!) legal counsel.

The AAF's solution to this dismal showing is to launch a pro-advertising ad campaign with the tagline: "Advertising: A new brand of business."

General Motors' ad guru Phil Guarascio said in these pages the ad industry needs "to drive home the point that advertising is the only discipline with the intimate understanding of how people live, work, play and buy." But top executives are seeing for themselves, every night on TV, that too many ads seem to have a distorted notion of how people live, work and play, not to mention buy. There is a growing disconnect here and an ad campaign for advertising will only emphasize the chasm.

The ad business has never been much good at fostering diversity-in any form. But that's essential to build enduring and growing brands. In a new book, "Creating Brand Loyalty," authors Richard Czerniawski and Michael Maloney define the target customer as "the most likely prospects who have a similar set of needs and concerns that our product or service can satisfy. In this way, we focus against all potential users of the product in a manner that will be relevant to them. We urge clients to go beyond defining the target by demographics, past practices or the way competition is doing it."

That would be a step in the right direction, but what's really important is to acknowledge that much of today's advertising ignores basic, fundamental

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