For many sociologists, the defining characteristic of Generation Y, those in their late teens to early twenties, is its buying power. These sons and daughters of the Baby Boomer Generation have become the main target of advertisers because, as a recent marketing study found, they spend an average of $172 billion per year.
Another characteristic of Generation Y, according to Jim DeRogatis of Salon.com, is its cheerfully compliant consumerism and gleeful malleability at the hands of advertisers.
“For Generation Y, nothing much has ever been at stake,” wrote DeRogatis in “What’s Up with Generation Y” on Salon.com, “even the ‘edgiest’ of its music … has just been another piece of empty but well-hyped product meant to be purchased on credit, displayed along with one’s $150 sneakers as irrefutable evidence of hepness, and then consumed and sh** out (just like the news), to be replaced the minute a new and improved model is sent hurtling down the corporate pipeline.”
“Advertisers love Generation Y,” Naomi Rockler-Gladen, an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Colorado State University, wrote in an online guide for college students, “because they are such a large demographic group, and because young people are easier to market to than older ones.”
Well, not too easy. According to Bruce Horovitz of USA Today, “This is the first generation of Americans that resists reading and increasingly keeps the TV off.” So what is a marketer to do? Many advertising marketers are trying to reach the younger generation of consumers online, through computer games, videos and special events.
Advertisers also rely on celebrities and sports stars to push products and services on this new generation of consumers. The idea is “use this product and be like me.” For example, TV star Kirsty Alley has used her quick weight loss to endorse Jenny Craig. Also, WWE superstar Triple H has been featured in two of the latest Miller Lite commercials.
Marketers know how to use a consumer’s curiosity, emotions and reactions to sell a product. Young Americans seem always to fall victim to the sexy blonde on the Mustang, the sexual experience promised by a shampoo or Paris Hilton seductively washing a car to sell a burger. It is no secret that sex sells. Sex is by far one of the most common, and most powerful, strategies used by advertisers. Herbal Essences, Carl’s Jr. and even “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” uses sex as the main basis for their ad campaigns. We see it on billboards, in magazines and TV commercials.
Even rebellion itself can be bought and sold. Advertisers have begun “turning rebellion into money,” as the Clash once sang. Rock music, which used to be about rebellion, has now become just another commodity brought to you by Sony or some other media conglomerate.
One trait common to both Generation Y and their parent consumers before them is that they all buy on impulse. Since 73 percent of purchasing decisions are made in the store, catching the shopper’s eye and effectively conveying information are critical to successful sales. A product has one-twentieth of a second to get the customer’s attention on a shelf or display.
Marketers know this and play on a buyer’s attention for color. Heinz ketchup increased sales by $23 million just by making a color change from red to green. Macintosh computers had suffered a $1.8 billion loss until they came out with the colorful Imac computers. When ipods first hit the market, they were white with a grayscale screen. Now the exact same product is available in different colors and sizes. The ipod nano has exactly the same features as the ipod mini, but sells a lot faster because of the smaller, slimmer size and colored screen.
Another sales trick is body temperature. There is a reason the temperature of a store is always cooler than it is outside. When your body temperature drops, your subconscious feels a sense of need. This causes us to try to fulfill that need. This means you are more likely to buy more products while in the store.
Since Generation Y is such a target for advertisers, young consumers should be more aware of the tactics used in marketing. If they pay attention to these strategies, they will be less likely to fall victim to the tricks played by advertisers.