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Marketers can’t find ‘average American’

Kai Ryssdal Oct 12, 2009

Marketers can’t find ‘average American’

Kai Ryssdal Oct 12, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: The 2010 census will officially record that more than 300 million people live in this country. It’s a diverse group, as we’ve known for a while now. But a study commissioned by the trade magazine Advertising Age will pose some problems for marketers in the second decade of the century. We’ve now become so diverse that there’s no such thing as an average American anymore. Peter Francese is a demographer at the ad agency Ogilivy & Mather. He helped write the report that’s out today. Mr. Francese, how are you?

PETER FRANCESE: I’m fine, thanks.

Ryssdal: Tell me what you have found as we start thinking about the 2010 census.

FRANCESE: Well, the 2010 census is going to show that we are truly multicultural and very complex society. Our two largest states — California and Texas — no single ethnic or racial group is a majority. The second thing we can talk about is the fact that we’re a much more multigenerational household. So when it comes to major purchases, like automobiles or homes or tuition to college, the decision is often made by two generations of people. It’s the parents and the grandparents. There will be in 2010 a record 70 million grandparents in America. And those grandparents are deeply involved with their grandchildren and financially involved.

Ryssdal: The way I read your white paper, your analysis of this, there is no such thing as the average American consumer anymore.

FRANCESE: Absolutely not.

Ryssdal: So what the heck happened to them?

FRANCESE: What happened to them is they fractionated, they fragmented into these small groups, and they became quite isolated. The Internet has enabled people with very specific interests whether it be in hummel figures, or whether it be NPR enthusiasts, there is a Web site that will reenforce those interests. And so the American public long ago exited any concept of a mass market. And it is now a collection of very small markets. Most times they want to see images that are directed right at them, and they want products crafted for them.

Ryssdal: How might this reflect itself in what consumers see out there in terms of the way companies are trying to get us to spend our money.

FRANCESE: You’re going to see more advertising that reflects first of all the multicultural nature of the nation. You’re going to see more advertising targeted to specific market segments. And you’re going to see a lot more advertising that involves parents, grandparents, and children together.

Ryssdal: That’s just what I need, right? Now my kids are pressuring me, and you’re telling me my parents are getting on me to buy stuff?

FRANCESE: Your parents are going to say, Kai, you don’t really make enough money. And you know, our grandchildren, their clothers are so shabby, Kai. Let us take them out and buy them some clothes, right?

Ryssdal: Have you been talking to my mother?

FRANCESE: Exactly. You see. There are 70 million of your mothers out there, and they are all looking at their grandchilren and saying the same things. Their parents don’t make enough money to buy the clothes that those kids deserve, they’re not going to schools that are good enough for them, and they’re going to foot the bill.

Ryssdal: Peter Francese, he’s the chief demographic analyst at the advertising firm Ogilivy & Mather. Mr. Francese, thanks so much for your time.

FRANCESE: Thank you.

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