While the turn of the century is still half a decade off, I predict that "millennial fever" will burst forth in 1995 with a fury that will shock even the most seasoned observers of human behavior. Business better be ready, because the fever may trigger a wave of consumption beyond anything predicted by economists.
History tells us that when centuries end, conflicting emotions abound. The ends of the 18th and 19th centuries were punctuated with paradox: mass nostalgia for the perceived certainties of the past mixed with euphoric future-gazing and pessimistic dread of the unknown ahead.
And those were merely centuries. Right now we're dealing with a whole new millennium. Plus, the omnipresence of media and their ability to influence and sustain a climate of opinion is exponentially greater than ever before. 1995 will be a watershed year as media begin to beat the millennium drum. Expect stories on the top 100 inventions, discoveries, songs, scientists, athletes ... the list will be endless.
Few of us will escape the impact. Meanwhile, baby boomers will turn fiftysomething. Intimations of mortality, reinforced by a worldwide preoccupation with the passing of the century, will unleash a rash of buying virtually unpegged to the economy. Look for millennial fever to intensify the pitch among the nation's richest age group. Consumers will be swept up, doubly impelled by the imperative of "so much to buy and so little time."
What does this mean to marketers? Nostalgia is a brand's best friend. As the media deepen our yearning for the good old days, we will draw closer to brands that embody the values of an earlier time. Savvy marketers will resurrect winning campaigns and use them to underpin new millennial advertising. Watch for cars, cigarettes, analgesics, antacids-as well as other categories that scored breakthroughs from the '40s through the '70s-to revive their successes of yesteryear. Watch for a surge in "meta-advertising': old campaigns reconfigured for the postmodern age.
Offer an antidote to the emotional stress of this historic turning point. Increase comfort (leather seats, 100-disk CD player), convenience (ease of purchase, backed by the service of real people), confidence (an iron-clad guarantee I can believe in), communication (ads that speak to me, rather than an awards jury).
Branding will be in. As the age undergoes the equivalent of a global identity crisis, consumers will be drawn more to enduring value than short-term price. Deferring purchases will be out. Promises to buy premium products will be exercised-now. Millennial marketing will evolve into impulse marketing. Except that the impulse being satisfied has nothing to do with instant gratification. It's based on stability, a hunger to overcome the uprootedness of a generation that wants to linger awhile before it goes hurtling into the cybercentury.M
Mr. Rosenfield is chairman of Rosenfield & Associates, a San Diego-based marketing consulting company.