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Dispensing Strategies: Retro Youth

Retro Youth

June 10, 2008
By Michelle Brisebois


I’m describing a friend of mine. My friend enjoys crafts such as
knitting and crocheting. This person might get together with friends
regularly for a spirited game of cards and bypass MP3s in favour of
listening to their music on old fashioned vinyl LPs played on turn

I’m describing a friend of mine. My friend enjoys crafts such as knitting and crocheting. This person might get together with friends regularly for a spirited game of cards and bypass MP3s in favour of listening to their music on old fashioned vinyl LPs played on turn tables.

Now close your eyes and mentally picture my friend. Are you thinking this individual I’m describing might be named Millie and skew to the older side of the birthday cake? Think again. All of these activities are popular pasttimes for today’s youth. What’s old is new again but with a bit of a Rat Pack twist, and the rationale for this trend may be two parts demographics and one part timing.

Those Canadians who are currently in their teens and twenties have the misfortune of being born behind the largest demographic cohort in Canadian history – the Baby Boomers. Boomers, born from 1947-1966, had to compete for seats on the kindergarten school bus and later for jobs as they entered the work force en masse. 
For those kids born in the late sixties, seventies and early eighties, it wasn’t as easy to find jobs straight out of high school because the Baby Boomers had already clogged the labour pool from the CEO’s office to the shipping dock.

Because it was harder to find work, many more of this cohort went on to post-secondary education. Because the cost of post secondary education had increased so much, more of them had to work while attending school – taking longer to complete their degrees. More of this cohort graduated with hefty student loans to pay off. 
Oh yes, don’t forget that Baby Boomers had driven housing prices through the roof, making it virtually impossible for young couples to afford a home. The average age for marriage increased from the early twenties to the late twenties largely due to the fact that young people couldn’t afford to start families and households of their own. The twenties were no longer viewed as the life stage where one entered into adulthood but rather became an extension of one’s childhood.

Twenty-somethings now had the luxury of “hanging out” for a while – most likely living at home while trying on a few different careers and relationships. While critics of this cohort see them as a bunch of “Peter Pans,” some feel that it’s healthy to have time to consider your adult options rather than locking into marriage, home and career in your early twenties.

This extra hang time means that today’s youth are able to spend more time with friends, travel more and develop hobbies. In fact, youth today have quite a retro edge to them. What’s old is new again and if we understand why, it can make our marketing strategies more effective.

One of the most striking statistics comes from reports on television viewing habits. Statistics Canada found that TV viewing among younger Canadians is decreasing. Men between 18 and 24 years of age watch 11.1 hours of TV per week, down sharply from 14.3 hours in 1998. Women in the same age group watched 2 hours less of TV per week over the same time frame. The average age of the audience for most prime time TV programs is pushing 50 years.

It’s believed that kids who grew up in the age of video games expect to interact with their media instead of sitting passively on the couch letting the entertainment wash over them (as the Baby Boomers do). When we combine the demographic shift (extra time in their twenties to explore themselves) with the cultural shift (interactivity), we start to understand the consumer behavior motivating today’s youth segment.
Hot youth trends such as poker, knitting and collecting old LPs all require a higher degree of interactivity than other activities. It makes sense that youth would enjoy interacting with other card players whether face-to-face or online. The process of knitting a garment with needles and yarn requires creative input. Holding and playing a vinyl LP is a much more tangible experience than downloading an invisible MP3.  
Today’s youth have come to expect that they would have input and interaction with their world. We also need to understand that many of these kids haven’t seen a poker game, crochet hook or vinyl LP before – these things were passé and out of site by the time they came of age. To them, this stuff is new.

When targeting the youth segment, make it a conversation, not a one-way monologue. Consider running contests where youth consumers can participate in the product development process. Jones Soda does this very effectively by having people send in their personal photos – some of which are used as labels on new releases of Jones Soda.

Sponsorships and events will probably be more effective in reaching this segment than traditional print, TV or radio advertising. Utilize technology such as websites, weblogs and text messaging. Allow youth consumers to “build” their own product by choosing different combinations of features. Above all, think of things that were popular in the late seventies and early eighties, because they may just have a second life right here, today, with the youth market. Yes, that probably means more shoulder pads and leg warmers. I think I’ll sit this one out.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies. Michelle can be reached at:


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