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Generation C: A new demographic label for marketers

Nielsen has coined the latest term to describe folks who are between 18 and 35 years old -- Generation C; C as in connected.

Kai Ryssdal: And the word of the day this Friday is Generation C. C as in Connected. The folks at Nielsen came up with it to describe 18- to 34-year-olds -- those that are, Nielsen says, truly connected in the digital sense.

We went to the campus of George Washington University today in our nation's capital to see what some of the newly-minted Gen C-ers think about how they're being labeled.

The C could stand for Generation of Consumers. You know, that's the first thing that comes to my mind.

I don't know that I think that Generation C is a good way to categorize us. I mean, everyone is more connected now. My grandparents on Facebook, so...

We as a generation are clearly not labeling ourselves as anything.

Narrowing it down to Generation C and calling us all this one thing is about as thin as the connections that we have on things like Facebook and Twitter.

So deep thoughts from a college campus. Nielsen is in the business of measuring things. Trying to quantify our lives, whether it's what we're watching on television or how connected we are, so it kind of makes sense for them to come up with a term like Gen C. But what use is it really?

For that we've called Ian Schafer, he's the CEO of Deep Focus; that's a digital marketing firm. Ian, good to have you with us.

Ian Shafer: It's a pleasure.

Ryssdal: So I have to tell you: My first instinct is torn -- I can't decide whether I want your professional opinion on Gen C, or whether I should just say, 'Come on! Really? Gen C?'

Shafer: We, as a species, we love to label things. Sometimes we get more egregious than others, and in this case, that which we don't have a name for, we try to find a name for it. And you know, labeling a demographic -- a certain generation -- based upon their behaviors seems like a natural thing to do because it's what we've done in the past. I think this time is different, though.

Ryssdal: How so?

Shafer: I think this whole notion of connectedness is more a state of human evolution than rather a generational thing.

Ryssdal: As opposed to Baby Boom, born between 1945 and 1963, and Gen X and all that stuff?

Shafer: Yeah. I think we've gradually moved from baby boomers -- which are really a demographic, right? -- to a progressively more psycho-graphical terms. I think this is arguably just as much techno-graphic as it is psycho-graphic.

Ryssdal: Yeah.

Shafer: We're rapidly merging with technology.

Ryssdal: What does it do for you, this division, this labeling? What does it do for you as a marketing guy? Is it helpful for you to be able to go after these people?

Shafer: It will helping PowerPoint presentations a world over. It will be great search engine optimization. But I think it simplifies the notion that consumer behavior is changing, but I do think it's a little restrictive in the sense that if we think about it as a youth thing, or a generational thing, we're doing a disservice to all of humanity. We're benefitting from the fact that, you know, everything is connected.

Ryssdal: You know, it seems to me there's a little bit of fallacy in the general premise, right? Because Nielsen, if I remember, broke it down 18 to 34, right, is the Gen C block?

Shafer: Right, right. Which is also what a lot of folks consider Millennials, or youth marketers.

Ryssdal: But here's the thing, right? If you're 34, 35, 36 years old, you're twice as old as somebody's who's 18. And when I was 18, somebody who was 35 might as well have been dead.

Shafer: Yeah. I mean, there are lots of -- I think in order to make it accurate, the designation of Generation C, you have to cover several or actually at least maybe two generations. I mean, a 34-year-old can have an 18-year-old child. So that's an issue at stake here with lumping them all into one category rather than, again, speaking about connectedness as a state of evolution.

Ryssdal: How old are you?

Shafer: I am 36.

Ryssdal: Oh, so you didn't make the cut.

Shafer: I didn't make the cut, but I grew up learning how to code, so I feel like I'm an honorary member.

Ryssdal: All right, that's right. Ian Shafer, he's the CEO and founder of Deep Focus; it's a digital marketing agency. Ian, thanks a lot.

Shafer: A pleasure. Thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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