Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 30

I've been experimenting with Susan. Nothing mucky or Frankenstein like, I've simply been trying to get her to adopt 'The Program', you know, the column-inch-fest book about how to find a husband when you're over 30.

To be honest, things have not gone well. Susan is just not taking it all that seriously and, really, I can not imagine why.

The book by Rachel Greenwald has been a smash in the US and is ready to storm the stores in the UK. Although, as I wrote a while back, the title has been changed in the UK from 'Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School' to 'The Program: How to Find a Husband After 30'. Apparently, the Americans are not so obsessed by age as us Brits. They're really missing out.

It's absolutely corking stuff. I'm just not sure a lot of the women I know, Susan included, have the commitment that the book's author Rachel Greenwald demands, because the number one thing that her book has to say is you have to make finding a husband your number one priority. There are no halfway houses.

Susan has been single for 18 months. I can't even remember the last time she went on a date. So I tell her all of this as reasons why she must adopt the "program". I try really hard to give her the impression that I'm being very serious. Sadly, Susan sees straight through me.

"I can see straight through you. You think this is another chance to, in some way, get your own back on me by subjecting me to public humiliation."

She does, of course, have me bang to rights. I feel bad about it, but this is a big part of our relationship. Besides, subjecting people to public humiliation is not all bad, right?

"OK, I admit I was thinking it would be fun. I'm sorry."

"That's OK, Gord. I forgive you and I'm going to follow your advice and do the 'program'."

I'm completely shocked. I think Susan must have lost something, you know, like her mind.

Have you seen the list? It has gems in it like "hunt for a man in as many places as possible" and "ask anyone if they know of a possible date".

"Are you sure?"

"Definitely, and I'm going to follow the part about marketing support and 'seek the help of a best friend' -- that's you, Gord. I've decided that I'm going to take you down with me."

"Is that strictly necessary?"

"Oh, absolutely, we'll have fun and, besides, you can try out the male version 'How to Find a Wife After 30'."

"Lucky there isn't one and, besides, I don't want one. Being a commitment phobic in search of the unattainable has always been my thing."

"About that, it's time to get a new thing."

You know when you have one of those moments when you hear something and you're just trying to work out how bad the reality is going to be? It was exactly like that. And, in case you are wondering, the reality was really bad.

Susan tells me she has a plan, part of which involves using up as many of those free invites that hacks get sent as is possible. Susan, being all glossy-magazine girl, gets millions of these, but never goes to any.

First up, we went to the opening of the Sigmar Polke exhibition at the Tate Modern and disaster struck within minutes of arriving. We'd hardly had a chance to pick up our first glass of wine and munch our way through some unpleasant canapes, when Susan spotted her ex-boyfriend.

"OMG, it's Mike!"

Susan almost shrieked this and if it hadn't been for the din of the massive echoey interior of the Tate, I'm sure he would have heard us.

"What should I do? Should I speak to him?"

"Are you mad? He was an idiot and he is still an idiot. Look at him!"

Mike was wearing an orange baseball cap, camouflage trousers and a vintage cowboy shirt. He looked like a redneck.

"Oh I quite like that look. It's very now. I think I might talk to him."

And before I could remonstrate with her and tell her how bad a plan this was -- that it wasn't part of the "program" -- she was off across the room.

Somehow, I don't think Susan had seen what I have seen, ie that Mike was standing next to this willowy, tall blonde, who was about 24 and drop-dead gorgeous to boot.

I thought of shouting out: "Susan, you fool, come back", but even though public self-flagellation is my forte, I am not sure Susan would forgive me, so I fell in line and followed her over as she unwittingly got ready to go head-to-head against the younger, faster upgrade.

I physically cringed when I heard Susan almost coo Mike's name.

"Mikey," she went as she kissed him on both checks, totally missing the withering, icy stare that the blonde was blowing her way.

Mike just grinned before turning to me, "Gordo mate, still hanging around?"

Twat. I, of course, didn't say this. "Mike dude, good to see you. Love the redneck look."

Mike just laughed at this and introduced us to the blonde, who is a Caitlin, and works (would you believe it) in fashion. I knew there was a reason she was so skinny.

After that, it was just road-kill as Susan made like a motor and descended into an orgy of Q&A with Mike, congratulating him on his ("wonderful") new job and ("fantastic") new house.

I think in the "program" we were at point 11 -- "Mass marketing: think of everywhere you might meet men and try them all each week" -- but I'm pretty sure Ms Greenwald didn't mean your ex-boyfriends when their DDG girlfriends are on hand.

This whole thing lasts for almost half an hour. It's endless, I swear. The whole time I am rooted, shouting at the top of my voice "stop, for the love of God", but, of course, I'm not. I have resigned myself (pretty easily, it must be said) to just endlessly knocking back the free Chablis, taking refills from the hovering waiting staff, who make me feel like I'm part of an encircled wagon train ("what do you mean no cavalry?").

All the time, Mike ("oh Mikey, that's such good news") was grinning like the cat who got the cream -- and I mean all of it -- while his DDG girlfriend shivered the thinnest of smiles and hardly uttered a word.

Eventually, Mike and Caitlin put us out of our misery and headed off to see the exhibition upstairs, leaving Susan and I standing there with full glasses of wine.

"Susan, what on earth were you thinking?"

Susan shook her head. "I have no idea. It was like having an out-of-body experience. I just couldn't help myself. It was like my mouth had been disconnected from my brain. How bad was it?"

"How bad? Suze, you are the walking dead, you totally died out there," and I slapped my hand against my forehead.

"Break it to me gently."

I smile. "Oh I did. You were in full blown praise the ex-boyfriend mode."

An hour or so later, Susan and I still had not made it up to the exhibition ("Sigmar who?"), but had instead dug in. This was, I can tell you in retrospect, a mistake. Did someone say "free bar"?

The more trashed we became the more Susan became obsessed with Mike's DDG girlfriend. She promised she wouldn't mention her, but Caitlin became our sole topic of conversation.

"On a scale of one to 10, how good looking would you say she was?"

"No."

"Oh come on, Gord."

"Why?"

"I need to know."

"What does it matter?"

"It doesn't. I'm just interested in a male perspective. It'll make me feel better."

"No it won't."

"Gord!" and Susan almost shrieked and people turned, so I gave in.

"OK, nine."

"Nine? You've got to be kidding. Nine!"

"Look, she's 24 and fashion industry identikit skinny, but she never said a word. It's like she majored in icy smiles and mime."

"Is that meant to be a consolation?"

"Suze, that is a major consolation."

"No, that's just plain depressing."

"You asked."

"I can't believe you told me."

"You practically begged me."

"Yeah, but I didn't want the truth."

"You wanted me to lie?"

"No, of course not. I just didn't want the truth truth."

"Hang on a second, you didn't want the truth truth?"

"No, I just wanted the truth, you know just not all of it."

Me? Oh I was confused.

"I'm confused," I told her.

"That figures, look I've had enough of this. I'm going home."

"But you can't, it's early and we have to continue with the 'program'."

"Oh, but we are. I've just skipped ahead to point 13. 'Product life cycle: if it's not working, take a break to recharge your batteries'."

Sunday, October 03, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 29

Phew, I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief again. I've been feeling for a while that I've been swimming against the tide, but apparently not at all. My behaviour is completely normal, according to new research. Welcome to Super Youth.

Apparently, we are going to be the first generation or consumer group never to become old fashioned, as marketers wake up to the fact that the rules of youth marketing can apply beyond the traditional limits and that there is now a generation, in their words, that is not ready to be "grey listed". Most of us, of course, knew this but the validation is just an added bonus. I know I should see someone about this.

I can't have been the only one out there slightly worried that by continuing to have an interest in many things that form part of youth culture I was somehow failing, you know, to get to grips with the more grown-up elements of life. Although I wish to quickly add this is in no way true. I know this because Susan told me in her usual forthright manner.

"OMG I can't believe it you're getting to grip with serious, grown-up elements of life. It's…oh I don't know what's the word?"

"Encouraging?" I say beaming.

"No, that's not it, more disconcerting and worrying, to be honest."

"Oh. I thought I was making progress."

"Well, I suppose it is progress of a sort, but I think you're confused."

"Hey, I'm not confused. You're talking about the Liberal Democrats -- 'prepare to go back to your constituencies and mumble'."

"That's unfair, the Lib Dems are nice. Well, orange at least and isn't that the same thing? Anyway, what I meant was you're confused because somehow you have equated the idea of owning property with being grown up."

Susan can be so harsh sometimes. I think I should explain. I am trying to buy a house. I can't tell you exactly why (er, because I'm not at all sure), but I just know that I have to have one. You know, in the same way you have to have an iPod, a really big or small car, a tiny little laptop and a multiregion DVD player.

"I'm 35 and, somehow, I feel that I am still living like a student. Too much stuff and not enough space. I need more space. A house is definitely the answer."

"I think you're in for a shock. It's not your flat, it's you. My flat is perfect."

Did I mention Susan suffers from false modesty? Sadly, it's true. Susan's flat is perfect. It looks like John and Yoko live there. It's all streamlined, and black and white, like it came out of the video from 'Imagine'.

"I know your flat is perfect, but I decided I need a really big kitchen."

"But Gord, you don't cook, I mean ever. When you invite people around you give them pasta and rocket with lots of expensive wine in the hope that they don't notice you can't cook."

"I know, weird huh? I can't explain it. I need a really big kitchen."

"What, so you can just sit in it?"

"Yeah, I think so."

I digress, new research from Emap has done what all good research does and come up with a new demographic. There you are, sailing out of one demographic (the key 18- to 34-year-old one) when researchers come up with a brand new one, "Super Youth", which is being applied to those between 25 and 39 years old. OK, so it's a bit of a stretch and frankly some of the findings lead one to ask the question: do I really want to be a member of this club?

Like all these things, there is good and bad news, and it gets a lot right identifying a group of people who probably took part in some way in all the big youth movements of the 80s and 90s, like rave and Brit Pop. Now those modern youth culture experiences have stayed with us and continue to shape and influence our behaviour as a grown-up or an almost grown-up.

Apparently, despite all the growing responsibilities of work and parenthood, Super Youth individuals have hung on to their cherished "me time" and continue to indulge their passion for style, music and fashion.

The subcategories are hilarious. For instance, are you a "Home Town Hero" (lots of social life, a house and 4X4, but rather standout than stand apart), who are our married men; or a "Black Collar Worker" (more independent and style conscious); or there are the "Fun Lovin' Mums" and "Cool Career Girls".

I ask Susan which one she might be.

"Do you think you are a Cool Career Girl?"

"Well, I'm pretty sure I'm not a Fun Lovin' Mum, what planet are they from?"

"Not, sure, but Suze, glamorous female celebrities often provide these women with aspirational role models."

"So that makes Victoria Beckham the pin-up girl for the Fun Lovin' Mums. I'd say that was depressing."

"When you put it like that..."

"So what are you? Don't tell me, a Sergio Leone-like Black Collar Worker?"

You know, I looked at the categories and while I am a fan of the word "black", like so many things it doesn't quite describe me, nor thankfully does Home Town Hero (lord of my local manor, focused on attaining unambiguous signs of personal success? I don't think so).

"I think I might be a Black Collar Hero."

"You wish."

Most of the research seems to make sense, though there is a feeling that it is skewered to the older end of what is a rather large group of people. This becomes more evident when you look at how the group has changed between now and eight years ago when Emap first did its research.

The changes seem to reflect the zeitgeist of a generational seriousness, which was less evident almost 10 years ago. For instance, while in 1995 89% said the most important thing is to have fun, this has fallen to 60%. So there are new priorities, but not just there. Previously, 40% said they aimed to go out to get drunk (many more obviously lied) and now this is down to just 13%. While the number thinking smoking is stupid has jumped from 32% to 45% (but hey, we all still miss it).

Marriage has fallen back as well, dropping from 45% to 34% -- make of that one what you will.

Possibly of more concern are some of what Emap calls the top Super Youth stats. There are some we can agree on. Super Youths, for instance, hate Gareth Gates, the Spice Girls, Will Young and Westlife -- all true. Also true that we like Puma, VW and Saab, although personally I wouldn't put Land Rover on my hate list, but maybe that's because I have a desire to own a large, robust vehicle.

No, the biggest problem is the music we are supposed to like. Get this -- the top five bands of Super Youths are as follows: Travis, Dido, Oasis, Jamiroquai and Blur.

Where did they find these people? "Heat seeking funky adults"? No one I know is willing to own up to liking any of these bands (okay so I love first Oasis album and like the second, but the last two?). Something is deeply wrong, but 54% said they liked Dido and 56% Travis. What gives?

I ask a few people if they are Dido fans, and everyone is deeply offended by this suggestion. Susan is deeply insulted.

"What do you take me for?"

"A Dido fan?"

"I AM NOT A DIDO FAN."

She definitely said that in capital letters.

"You're sure?"

"Positive."

"But you fit the demographic, I mean, perfectly."

"Well, what does that tell you?"

You know, what it tells me is that there appear to be no Dido fans. I mean, like, none. So much for Super Youth. Although that does not in any way explain the millions of album sales. Some people out there (54%) are definitely fibbing.