I love it when the media take occasional diversionary excursions from their prepackaged pablum and almost start to figure things out, like this CBS News report which questioned the venerable 18-49 marketing demographic.
JFK's FCC director Newton Minow will forever be immortalized for calling television a "vast wasteland"; however, the truth is far more insdious. Television, as well as other forms of mass media, is actually social engineering, and the 18-49 demographic fallacy proves the point conclusively.
I'm not going to bore you all by reprinting the text of the entire report, but some selected quotes are worth examining. First, the myth that 18-49 aged viewers translates into higher ratings is blown completely out of the water, yet for some reason advertisers are still willing to pay top dollar for shows which deliver this demographic despite horrendous Nielsen ratings:
… So, if a broadcast network can prove that they can get somebody in their 20's and 30's, they're going to generate a lot more revenue under the business model of television."
How much more revenue?
Take "The Simpsons," Bowen suggests. The show ranked 68th in total viewers last season, according to Nielsen Media Research. But the median age of a Simpsons viewer is only 29, much younger than most primetime shows. The result: the Fox network can charge more for a 30 second commercial than half of this year's top ten shows get.
And it's not just the big networks.
"A cable network like MTV, which is not necessarily the highest rated cable network, gets a much higher rate for their advertising because their core viewers are teens and young adults," says Adgate.
But wait a minute...do younger viewers really translate into more consumer sales?
But, Bowen points out, there is a growing body of evidence, study upon study, that indicates the business model of television is wrong; that if advertisers really want to reach consumers with the most money to spare and spend, they need to aim older. They need to go after the 77 million-strong baby boomer generation, more than half of whom are in their fifties.
"You know," Adgate comments, "an American turns 50 every 7 seconds. And you know, they do have a lot of money."
"But," says CBS' Kahl, "Madison Avenue hasn't moved along with the baby boomers. They have the most disposable income. They control over a trillion dollars of discretionary income every year. But Madison Avenue has not really moved along with it."
It hasn't gone unnoticed, Bowen notices: The AARP began running magazine ads in an effort to draw attention to what it sees as demographic discrimination.
"These days," the ads say, "doctors don't pronounce you dead, marketers do."
But are marketers killing off a lucrative part of the marketplace prematurely?
He (Thornhill) says the assumption that the over-50 crowd has rigidly-set buying patterns that advertisers can't influence is a myth: "Boomers are, as a group, less brand-loyal than younger consumers. So there's plenty of opportunity for increased sales and increased business by continuing to target this segment. They are a long way from dying."
Still, notes Bowen, the 50-and-older crowd that accounts for fully half of all discretionary spending is the focus of just 10 percent of all advertising. And, if change is coming, it's coming very slowly.
So can we expect this media mania with youthful consumers to be reversed any time soon?
Asked by Bowen if, in this day and age, he would green-light a program like "The Golden Girls," Kahl responded, "If we thought there was a chance we could get some younger viewers as well, we would certainly do it. But in this day and age, it would be tough."
Says Annenberg's Kaplan, "Any programmer at any network who wants to put on a show that doesn't have an obvious appeal to 18-to-49 might as well submit their resignation."
So anyone with a logical, analytical mind is compelled to muse that if sales and profits aren't the real objectives of the entrenched 18-49 demographic, then what is? Why this corporate obsession with younger, less worldly consumers who may have greater materialistic appetites but less actual disposable income to spend than older, seasoned consumers?
I am reminded of the old Jesuit mantra: "Give us the boy and we will give you the man." It is always the younger segments of the populace that are more easily indoctrinated, initiated, manipulated, brainwashed. The media's obsession with youth has nothing to do with profitability; the real bottom line on this project would appear to be the reshaping of cultural values by focusing on the most impressionable and malleable elements of human society. Obviously, if you want to sell the kind of morally bankrupt, intellectually vapid garbage that the media has been foisting onto the public for years, the last group you would want to focus on is that comprised of mature, experienced individuals who have accumulated significant assets through hard work, common sense and genuine personal accomplishments.
So the 18-49 demographic is here to stay, not because it makes more money or even more sense -- just more sheeple converts for that Brave New World just over the horizon.
Is 18-49 Passe' As Top Demographic?