Marketers who ignore the tech-shy disconnect huge potential for profits

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True or false: Luddites are old and poor.

True. And false. Many consumers who live without cellphones and the Internet fit the stereotypes of low-income, older people with no connection to the digital realm. But there are millions of others who don't fit that description, and marketers who ignore these demographically desirable Luddites are leaving money on the table.

Consider: Nearly half of cellphone-less adults are age 18 to 44, and one-fifth of Net-less adults have household income of at least $50,000, according to NOP World's Roper Reports.

Cellphones, introduced in 1983, and the Internet, where the first Web ad appeared in 1994, in quick time became mainstream technologies. Yet they're far from ubiquitous. America unplugged is a big space, and marketers who look will find appealing prospects.

To be clear, there is truth to the stereotypes that digital Luddites are old and poor-or, more accurately, that they are old and/or poor. Luddite demos tend to skew older, have less income and are less educated. Marketers, of course, can make good money selling to older consumers and to low-income households.

Just as older and poorer people tend to be less digital, younger, more affluent and educated people tend to be more wired. Roper sibling Mediamark Research Inc. says nine of 10 people with household income of $150,000-plus have a cellphone; 96% of college graduates have access to the Internet; and the average cellphone user is 43 years old, 11 years younger than the average cell-less soul. There's nothing new about the idea that younger people with money are going to embrace technology.


Yet there are opportunities beyond the obvious. "For the `non-users,' the easiest throwaway answer is [they are] always older and poorer. But that's not always the case. There are other pockets, either from lifestyle or just fear of technology," said Cary Silvers, VP of NOP World Consumer. "There's an apprehension about technology even among some young people and some higher-educated, upper-income" consumers.

We're talking about the Luddite next door, someone who has all demos of the wired neighbors while choosing to live outside the digital domain.

How to reach them? "The key element is back to traditional media," said Mr. Silvers. He offers one other crucial tool: Word of mouth.

Luddites may not be connected by technology, but Mr. Silvers said that doesn't make them shut-ins or recluses. They consume TV, radio and print, and even if they resist technology, "they are open somewhere else"-to peers, hobby groups, organizations. The key, he said, is for marketers to embrace media and personal networks-say, the PTA-that the Luddites trust. "You've got to dig deep for these pockets out there," Mr. Silvers said.

Digital Luddites, true to form, are skeptical about and sometimes scared of technology (see data, lower right and below). They also score themselves as lower achievers. When Roper asked consumers to rank their level of achievement on "the road to the American dream," those without cellphones and Internet came in below the average American. More cell-less and Net-less consumers didn't even put themselves on the road, saying they had no American dream. Of course, their Luddite state may be coincidental; lack of success probably relates more to their below-average income and education.

Where are the opportunities? It's easier to find pockets among the cell-less than the Net-free. That partly reflects a bigger pool: 28% of American adults-60 million-have no wireless phone, while 21%-45 million people-have no access to the Internet at home or at work, according to MRI.

Pockets become apparent when you look within the uncelled. For example, 14% of cell-less adults have college or post-graduate degrees, according to MRI. That's eight million people. Nearly 7 million adults with household incomes above $75,000 function without wireless. Almost 4 million young adults age 18-24 somehow manage to live without cellphones; 8 million homes with teenage kids have no cell.

To be sure, the majority of Americans now have cellphones, and the opportunities to use wireless for marketing and promotions are wide open. But fixate on that opportunity, and you will miss millions of consumers who may fit your demographic.

Are the wireless-less set old and poor? To a degree. MRI research shows six in 10 adults with household income below $20,000 do without cell service. Fair enough-but two-thirds of the cell-less make more than that. Similarly, Roper found two-thirds of cell-less adults are below age 60. The assumption that the cell-less are poor and/or old-an assumption heard repeatedly during the reporting of this story-only goes so far.

Pockets are harder to find among the Net-less simply because the Internet's reach is so deep across the most sought-after demographics. MRI found four in five American adults have access to the Internet.

That leaves one in five. Poor and old? Poor, yes: Adults with income below $20,000 account for 40% of Net-less adults.

Education, not age

For age, it's not the same old story. Roper shows adults age 60+ account for less than one-third of the Net-less, and the percentage of people in their early 60s with Internet access is about the same as it is for twentysomethings. In the non-Internet population, there are more adults below age 40 than there are age 60 and above.

The digital divide on the Net has more to do with education than age. Fewer than half of adults lacking a high-school diploma have access to the Net, according to MRI; 97% of people with post-graduate degrees have Internet access.

But there are opportunities to reach the one in five American adults with no connection to the Internet. By MRI's count, that group of 45 million includes nearly a half million people in top management, about 1 million newlyweds and nearly 5 million people with household incomes above $60,000. That's a load of Luddites-and a lost opportunity for marketers who assume everyone is on the Net.

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