03.11.08 Please, don’t pander
Why do marketers have such a hard time understanding rejuveniles?
Long before social critics began fretting over “the death of the grown up,” marketers were tracking focus group findings on the quickly shifting values, affinities and loyalties of adult consumers (remember the “retro brand” craze of 2001, which relaunched everything from Converse to Radio Flyer?).
Given this early jump and expertise, you’d expect campaigns aimed at rejuveniles to be knowing, or at least reasonably on-target. But the sad fact is that, with few exceptions, ads aimed at rejuveniles evoke cringes, eye rolls and heavy sighs in the very people they’re designed to reach. A few manage to find a way to cleverly capture their fears and aspirations. But the vast majority fall horribly flat, either by regurgitating tired old clichés about childish adults or mistaking garden-variety nostalgia or rebellion for rejuvenile’s complicated but ultimately hopeful natures.
Take the current ad for Oreos Candy Bites, which features a power-suited professional looking out the window of a cab at women blowing bubbles, jumping rope and playing hopscotch. Clearly responding to research showing more adults than ever gravitating toward a brand that has always been associated with kids, Oreo can think of nothing more to say than how wacky and unusual it is. Thus we get women playing hopscotch in heels in the Oreo ad, or worse, businessmen pogo-sticking and hula-hooping in Nestle Crunch’s egregious “For the Kid in You” campaign, which reduced the entire rejuvenile phenomenon down to bubbles and hopscotch.
This is just the sort of cluelessness that causes conniptions in rejuveniles. They may appear silly, but make no mistake: rejuveniles can’t stand being pandered to. They hate seeing themselves represented as starry-eyed goofballs. Never mind that many of them are – in focus groups, many will admit that they felt goofy and starry-eyed the first time they wore a Cocoa Puffs cuckoo bird T-shirt or took a spin on their kid’s tricycle. But the novelty has long since worn off. They’re now either doing those things entirely unselfconsciously, in which case these ads seem hopelessly unhip, or they’ve moved on to another kid centric activity (like assembling Lego spacecraft, or collecting American Girl dolls).
The point is simple: aim at the starting point of a moving target and you’ll miss every time. To keep pace with rejuveniles, you’re better off ignoring surfaces and creating associations with shared values, like their need to stay playful in the face of adult responsibilities, or their impulse to buck the forces of conformity and routine, or their belief that adults are inventing a more flexible, open-ended version of maturity.