09.22.2011 1

Generational differences

By Rick Manning and Rebecca DiFede — Toyota Motor Company has a new set of television advertisements for their Venza product that highlight the cultural divide between young adults and their parents.  The brilliant commercials by Saatchi and Saatchi show relatively sentient kids worrying that their parents aren’t social enough, while cutting to their parent’s active lifestyle.  Of course, the parents are driving the Venza.

If the largest automobile manufacturer in the world is spending millions of dollars advertising a brand using the cultural divide between the generations as a touchstone, then it is fair to guess that the divide exists and it has ramifications.

Americans for Limited Government’s Rebecca DiFede will look at if the stereotype in the commercial is true for adults in their 20’s, and Rick Manning will look at it from the perspective of someone who might be a little older.  They will each include a view on how this impacts communications and the political landscape.

Rebecca DiFede:

As I watch the overly-monotone girl in the commercial blather on about how she “read an article…well most of an article online” about how her parents need to get on Facebook and have more friends like she does (“I have 687 friends…this is living”), I can’t help but laugh. Saatchi and Saatchi have clearly zeroed in on the one stereotype that my generation has managed to build for itself: we’re tech junkies.

We cannot go a minute without knowing what every single person we know, kind of know, and sort-of-knew-once is doing, and we’re not shy about it either. My generation can most often be found tethered to one of their many highly technical devices, whether it be a Smartphone, Tablet, Kindle, or laptop.

I myself am never found without my iPhone in my hand, incessantly streaming Facebook, Twitter and tumblr updates straight to my eager fingertips. Every piece of information I need to know is thrown at me via my technological devices, even though almost none of this information is pertinent in any way to my day to day life and yet, I must have it.

By showing this serious addiction through the commercials and contrasting it with the simple, un-plugged hobbies of the parents, such as bike riding and hiking (things obviously only possible when driving a Venza) Toyota insinuates that the reason that adults are off doing these things and not kids is because, quite frankly, it’s really hard to tweet while steering a bicycle.

Although it seems like a comical comparison, it does speak to the fact that, like it or not, my generation receives its information in a vastly different manner than the previous ones. We, for the most part, do not read newspapers or watch mainstream news stations, but rather we watch shows like Jon Stewart on Comedy Central or, simply follow him on Twitter.

We like to get our news quickly and easily, without having to sort through things we don’t care about (like the baby panda story on page 5 or the deconstruction of everyone’s Oscars speeches on page 17) and therefore have forgone the news sources of old and have equipped ourselves with shiny, information boxes that will give us everything anytime anywhere.

140 characters is all it takes to tell us exactly what we need to know, and because Twitter refreshes automatically on most devices, we can know it faster than our parents, earning them the clever nickname the “analog generation.”

What this means is that politicians who want to communicate with my generation need to aggressively use social media in tight sound bites and if they get our attention, we will respond with a quick, pithy tweet.

Richard Manning:

The Toyota ad shows active middle-aged adults horseback riding, biking and running to what appears to be a Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello inspired beach party, all courtesy of their “active” vehicle the Toyota Venza.  Of course, the average person who is in his/her 50’s is not jumping on a horse, because we know that we would be limping around for the next week waiting on our damaged hip joints to recover.

Ads are designed to show us what we’d like to think we would do instead of what we actually do, and the Venza ads succeeds spectacularly.  The most startling thing about the Saatchi and Saatchi presentation is the reaction of younger colleagues to it.  I thought they would be offended because their generation is made to look self-centered and bland.

Instead of being offended, they seemingly embrace the stereotype.

When I was a political science student at the University of Southern California in the late 1970’s, the professor of my Mass Media and Politics class said that effective communications could be summed up in three words:  television, television, television.

I was somewhat disappointed because I was paying $142 a unit for the class, and it was all about three words.  Since the class was three units, that was a hefty $142 a word.

But that professor’s words were pretty close to true as advertisers packaged messages in neat 30 second television and 60 second radio ads complimented by newspaper, direct mail and outdoor advertising.

My generation wrote on paper and then typed it into an IBM Selectric (if we were lucky).  We composed full sentences without using LOL, BTW or BRB acronyms and sent things by mail.  If it was really, really important we would find a place that had a fax machine.  We talked on phones with rotary dials which were attached to the wall, and in the words of an old skit, “we liked it.”

So, what does this have to do with today’s world?

In today’s world, Toyota can spend millions promoting a car to one generation at the expense of another, and it is likely only the target audience will see it.

In today’s world a candidate’s misstep — see Howard Dean’s famous scream — is instantaneously broadcast across the Internet to millions of people.

In today’s world, governments have been overthrown using the power of Facebook and Twitter.

The Obama campaign understood this difference in 2008 as they, along with MoveOn.org, used new media communication tools to mobilize an army for change benefitting from a young looking, smooth talking candidate.

As we look to the 2012 election, expect age-specific communications to predominate and if you make the mistake of crossing the gulf and getting communications intended for a different generational audience don’t expect to get it, as the ad wasn’t intended for you.

In the meantime, perhaps Rebecca can explain to me why someone would buy a pair of shoes that aren’t featured in an ad that ends with nothing more than a swoosh.  I think I’ll go lace up my Keds and take a walk around the neighborhood.

Rick Manning is the Director of Communications for Americans for Limited Government.  Rebecca DiFede is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government.

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