Generational Niches

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Market researchers just love to highlight the majorities in their research results (you know, “72% of people surveyed do this…”).

Why aren’t they interested in the minority? Wouldn’t it be helpful to know why they don’t like the product? Why they don’t act like everybody else? And to know who these people are, and how they’re different?

These questions struck me while I was reading a Harvard Business Review article about the differences between the generations. The authors do a nice job of characterizing each generation in terms of attitudes and behaviors.

But it occurred to me that there are minority segments of each generation that don’t fit the stereotypical norm. To best understand who these niches are, television provides the best insights.

For the baby boomer generation, Leave It To Beaver from the early 1960s provides the picture of the idea American family of the day. The Cleavers — Ward, June, Wally, and the Beav — were your everyday American family. To understand the niche persona, however, we have to look to Dobie Gillis, and Bob Denver’s beatnik character, Maynard G. Krebs.

krebsbig.gifThe Beatniks were, admittedly, a small minority of the population, back in the late 50s and 60s. And the portrayal of Maynard Krebs on the TV show made him seem like a cartoonish, comical character.

But the Beatniks were the forerunners of the Hippie movement of the late 60s. And although even they were just a minority of the population, it’s their ideals, principles, trends, music, etc. that set the tone of the time. Even today, commercials from firms like Ameriprise recall the music and events of the time.

Later on, in the mid-80s, there was a similar situation. Remember “Saved By The Bell”? The kids on this show were the “cool” teenagers of the time. The niche? Michael J. Fox’s portrayal of Alex P, Keaton on Family Ties. The son of hippies, Alex was the Capitalist kid, consumed by making money.

keaton.jpgAlthough he wasn’t the stereotypical cool kid, the Alex P. Keaton persona does represent a segment of the Gen X generation, who has passed on a concern for managing personal finances and retirement (despite their young age) that is prevalent among today’s Gen Yers.

My point: The minority in our behavioral and attitudinal surveys may hold the more insightful clues for marketers. The majority may simply represent the culmination of influences up to this point in time. For a look at what’s to come we might just need to find today’s generational niches.

So who are the minority generational niches on TV today? I have no idea. I’m too busy watching reruns of Saved By The Bell with my children.

Technorati Tags: Marketing, Leave It To Beaver, Dobie Gillis

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