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Thursday, May 26, 2005 | I worry that a world that still feels familiar to me is being bargained out from beneath my feet.
The bargains are being made between media and advertisers. Advertisers pay the media big money to place ads where they will reach the greatest potential number of desired potential customers.
The word “potential” is used twice because fishing for consumers is just that: The lake may have a million fish in it, but if you catch five with any given effort, it has been a good day.
So the advertisers do all they can to maximize the very small percentages with which they must work. It makes them extremely selective. They covet media that can put them in contact with the lucrative 11-year-old female market. They covet media that can place their products before the eyes of 20-year-old males. They twitch happily at the prospect of “owning” that group of media consumers who are 18 to 49 years of age.
They don’t much care about the 60-plus male market. In fact as a 62-year-old male, I feel more or less ignored by the media and advertising world. I resent that, some. I read a story about Paris Hilton going to buy clothes, and in the shop she saw a pair of shoes. They cost $1,000. She bought other stuff, but she argued to the sales staff that they should give her the shoes. When she wore them, she argued, they would be seen by many people who saw Paris wearing them in the newspaper and on television, and those people, loving Paris as they do, would want the shoes, too.
They gave her the shoes. I resented that, but only for a moment. We all want to be liked, and I enjoyed a tiny fantasy rush, thinking about people wanting to buy shoes because I wore them. But the moment was washed away by a wave of relief that I am not Paris Hilton.
The feeling of being ignored is not a new one. I noticed it first some years ago, with all the fuss over the Baby Boomers, who as a body were viewed as a huge bulge in the belly of the marketing python. The Baby Boomers were those people born from 1946 to 1964. I was born in 1943. Missed the boat by three years. All that desirability, forfeited in a rush to get born.
It didn’t mean anything at the time. Marketing demographics existed in the 1940s and ’50s, but only marginally. In those days there were only three television networks, some AM radio stations, and a slowly growing number of FM stations. There wasn’t much media, and only 24 hours in a day, and advertising was totally mainstream. Kids were kids, and were battered by the usual kid fantasies, but when they watched television, they watched what their parents watched. They saw the same movies as their parents, listened to the same radio stations, shopped at the same stores, wore generic kid stuff, because that’s all there was.
By the ’80s, I was feeling left out and by the ’90s I knew the only advertisers interested in me were those with products I would use to avoid the sorts of personal embarrassments and discomforts that came with a maturing body.
Now, in the 2000s, I am feeling less ignored than totally deserted. Recently CBS announced it was canceling four shows because their appeal was to people in their 50s. The newspaper story about those cancellations used the word “geezer.” It tells us 62-year-olds all we need to know about our market value.
It was nice, feeling wanted, and I will miss it. But not as much as I fear the disappearance of that world I knew. Marketing and media with their power to target the desirable young people not only generally but specifically gives those people terrific power to shape the world in their desirable images. Carrying that cultural force to its extreme, it means that in my lifetime the First Lady of the United States could be Paris Hilton. I shudder to imagine who the president might be.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.