Tuesday, 11 January 2011
Marketing to Generation Head in the Sand
Today, I am going to put my marketing guru hat on and talk about demographics. With the republicans in the House of Representatives taking their new seats recently, climate change deniers and fraudulent financial system backers all, it is clear that the election of duly elected representatives to the legislative branch of the U.S. government is indicative of a broader societal trend. Specifically, the awakening of a sleeping giant: a game-changing generation that is about to profoundly redefine the world we live in.
I don't like to generalize about generations, talk about how "my" generation is like this and "this" generation is like that. But to hell with nuances today! This isn't the regular me, this is Lacking Credentials 2.0, marketing edition. So for the rest of this column, I am going to be writing in short, barking sentences, "brainstorming" in "high-level" bullet points about how we are going to "brand" and "sell" to this "huge potential untapped market." The cynical madison avenuers who figured out how to turn the hippies' idealism on its head to sell products, the grunge era's angst on its head to sell products, and the environmental movement's conscience on its head to sell products, are about to have their marketing genius asses taken to school, to be marketed to by me.
To start our attempt at understanding a generation, we must first understand how generations can sometimes be over simplified or romanticized by pop culture. When you watch a documentary or history channel fare about the summer of love or woodstock or the hippie movement, or even a VH1 Behind the Music episode about, say, Guns N Roses or the Sex Pistols or Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, you are almost inevitably treated to a series of very serious interviews with middle-aged irrelevant has-beens talking about how the world changed so dramatically when they were in their primes and how their experiences/accomplishments were at the forefront of that change. This perspective is always out of step with reality, because it assumes the entire world revolved around what was taking place with this particular group of people at that time, something we know now to be logically impossible. Worse, this tendency always seems to lead to insinuations that “our generation had this historic oppurtunity to flip the bird to whatever establishment (squares/conformity/glam/makeup metal/male dominated rock scene) was there that sucked at the time, and we were so special we acheived this goal with panache and gusto.” As if being members of the generation somehow confirmed its prominent members as some kind of enlightened royalty who was now entitled to give sermons for the rest of their lives how about they were smart enough to seize the moment in their time, which we younguns never could re-create today because everything has changed, and things are just so much more complicated and regimented now, and we aren't fearless like they were. My interpretation of these “retrospective” exercises aside, they generally have one thing in common that I think most who have seen them could agree on; the idea that “this generation” “changed the world” “made it better” and “broke down walls/barriers” or “trailblazed”. And they also, in mythologizing themselves in the minds of a considerable percentage of people/consumers within their age cohort, created potentially lucrative marketing oppurtunities for sellers and advertisers.
The interesting thing is that despite my cynicism, I believe much of this language applies to a certain generation, if you want to call it that today, in 2011. I would rather not, because it is just an age group we are talking about here, and obviously we can't paint them all with the same brush. But for convenience sake, we will go with that term. This generation is driving their causes with such force and pushing their beliefs with such certainty that I can't helped but feel overwhelmed by their dominance. Most would agree that we really are living in historically significant times. Everything really is “different” and “unprecedented”. And there is a generation that is seizing the oppurtunity, not to “redefine” everything like the narrative goes, but to “re-postpone” everything. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you: Generation Head In The Sand
What we have witnessed is, possibly for the “first time in history” is an “offensive” and “belligerent” “disrespectful” group of “punks”. What is different and unprecedented is that the new “dominant” generation is not young but middle aged, not modest but priveleged, and are not acting that way necessarily towards others as much as they are to the world, evolving and bringing it not forward but backward to the defunct and bankrupt status quo they are clinging so dearly and pathetically to. To give some recent background historical context, the prise de conscience or widespread awareness of the unsustainability of the current heavily resource-dependent, emission-producing, wealth-consolidating for few rotten-assed system that evolved over time happened, I would say, around 2006 or 2007. The economic collapse of the mountain of debt and fraud that the U.S. Economy was (is still) based on between Jan-October 2008 created a flurry of concern among certain governments. Fearful of letting the consequences of a free-market failure ultimately be felt, they proceeded to bail out the people who caused the mess in the first place rather than letting them hang out to dry to expose them for the fraudsters and manipulators they were and are. This alone was too bogus, so sensing the unease and awareness of the population they also promised decisive action. Hence there was a lot of talk in late 2008 and through 2009 of “cap and trade”, “carbon tax”, “green collar jobs”, “reducing emissions”, “targets”, all innovative ideas that accompanied a lot of idealistic language about how it was critical now more than ever to act, to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and the cherry on the ultra-cheesy cheesecake, to preserve and steward the earth for future generations.
The problem with all of this, in hindsight, was that it did not explain the scope of the problem nor did it provide any irreversible concrete steps/measures that all members of the population would be required to take to alleviate a problem. Since the problem is one which affects all residents of Earth, any solution would ostensibly have to apply to everybody. The truth was, measures were poorly explained, scantly applied, and the generation, the old generation, head in the sand, was much bigger and much more dominant than the younger one who seem to understand the problem better, and waited in the wings to strike back with fury. The “muddy middle” of middle incomes, mild conservative media massaged-politics, and a full range of the comfy accoutrements of civilization in their possession, have now been presented with political vehicles that tell them what any spoiled children (what the game-changing generations of the past tended to be dismissed as, ironically enough) would want to hear. That they won't ever need to make any sacrifices, suffer the smallest setback, or part with any of their disposable income ever again. The environmental movement is a big bad hypocritical monster and if their sustainability grades are atrocious, its the stupid teacher's fault, not theirs There was, after all, a challenge being made to this generations hegemony, and to its credit it fought back with the best organized, best funded counter-assault on its lifestyle and comforts that it had never gone without. 2010 was the year this happened in North America. The electorates of America, Vaughan, and Toronto have spoken, and the message has been clear. We are in denial, we refuse to do anything other than expand our harmful activities, and in spite of overwhelming evidence, we know that we still command the greatest amount of people because we have no shame in telling them that they can just keep doing what they're doing, that they can have their cake and eat it too.
So it is thus we now find ourselves in 2011, squarely under the thumbs of people who think burning more gasoline, producing more lithium batteries, and manufacturing more plastic bags are the key to humanity's success, precisely 5 years after such people were being put on the defensive for the first time ever. How did this happen? While, to change their minds we will need to market to them. There is an enormous oppurtunity being provided by the earth, which continues to get sicker and show more and more visible signs that it is burning and dying. We can guarantee that will continue, by giving this generation exactly what it wants. In fact, we don't need to give it anything. It is going to vote for who it wants (those who tell it what it wants to hear), which it already has, but it is not going to get what it wants. The only way we are going to make it learn is how we make a kid learn, the hard way, from its own mistakes.
If we can say the Beatles and the Summer of Love paved the way for eventual widespread acceptance of common law partnerships, homosexuality, and transformed recreational drug use from a subservice counterculture act to an almost obligatory bourgeois rite of passage, then I guess that was the accomplishment of the “sixties”. If nihilism in the form of pink hair and studded leather taught us to not be afraid to go further and say fuck everything 10 years later, then I'm grateful to John Lydon. If it took five heroin junkies with loud guitars, smokes, and whisky to remind everyone else how ridiculous they looked trying to out-make up and out-hairspray and out-synthesizer-wank each other, then I concede Guns N' Roses had an important generational role to play.
Which brings us to our current generation, who are taking actions where it matters to challenge the unique problems of today: At the mall and at the ballot box. The conservatives will win a majority in Canada this year, and then will have carte blanche to subsidize the Mackenzie pipeline and the oil sands, bleeding what's left of the country's treasury that hasn't already been blown on prisons, jets, and corporate tax cuts dry. Tim the tool man Hudak might even get in here in Ontario, which means a much needed highway from Hamilton to Niagara and open season on the undeveloped North's mines, gas, water, wood, or whatever the hell else they can find to give away to multinationals. Rob Ford will pitch in by turning Toronto into LA: Snow Edition as fast he can. Now that entirely car dependent city is a town that's going places!
Meanwhile, Mama Grizzly Sarah and her fascist friends at Fox will continue to put our Southern neighbour's fascist revolution on the fast track to the dream America. An America that is already importing 60% of its 30 million barrels of crude a day with 100% borrowed money today. No worries, Sarah and friends will “slash taxes and get the economy going” and start wars with Iran, Russia, North Korea, and Venezuela. You don't mess with a pitbull or barracuda or tarantula or whatever the f**** she calls herself these days.
In the wake of this weeks events in Arizona and the increasingly insane American far right, you might smugly write off my putting Jack Mintz and the Ontario opposition leader in the same boat. But read their statements. Listen to their logic. Oil goes into cars which drives economy. Simple. Business as usual. The same suicidal logic the Tea Party are clinging to, except they are less shy about liking God and guns. And I could care less about those issues. Frankly, it comes down to the most important issue of all at the end of the day: Earth
My patience must be showing in my language to be wearing exceptionally thin. And how could it not be% It is not so much at these individuals themselves, who lord knows are about as cryptic beings as ever existed, getting shuffled around in black SUV convoys and refusing to answer any questions or make any comments in settings they don't control or under conditions they don't dictate. It is at the media who fawns over them and depicts them as mystic all-powerful sages, simply because they know they hold keys to significant portions of the electorate.
So if this generation wants it, they will get it. Better that they end up with egg on their face than the wishy washy folks we've still got hanging by their fingernails in a few places. To hell with it. Let all levels of government in all of North America go extreme right. Either way, I have to watch smart ass generation Head in The Sand, double my age, learn the hard way. They are literally begging with their choices for
-Much higher unemployment
-Higher taxes and/or national bankruptcy
-Much higher gas, coal, and uranium prices
-Poisoned environments from toxic chemicals
-Resource shortages and resource wars
-Even worse gridlock
-Decreased public safety and increased crime
-The elites/super-rich/public service cartels to jealously monopolize what little wealth will be left to be had.
-And of course, more heat and natural disaster
Margaret Wente made a smarmy observation in June or around Copenhagen, I can't remember, that if you constantly invoke the spectre of doom and collapse people will fatigue and stop taking you seriously and get on with their lives. If only the Earth took her childish logic as seriously as her readers and generation head in the sand do.
***Busy News Week in the First part of 2011. Let's hope Southern Sudan gains independence and tells its Arab slave owners in the North and their war-criminal president, Omar El-Bashir, to f**** off!
***Much has been made of the terrible shooting in Arizona and its relation to the state of affairs in the U.S. Of A.
I hope congresswoman Giffords recovers and I suggest you read John Doyle or Kunstler's postings (on my roll) today if you need help making it sense of it. I know they helped me.