Demographics and the ‘Grumpy’ American

Demographic and cultural trends create the context or backdrop against which all this marketing and advertising fun is happening. So it’s important to step back every once in awhile and reflect on the larger culture.

In that spirit this cheerful and mildly interesting Forbes piece, “The Average American,” compares families in 1967 and now arguing we’re all really better off than our parents even though people are “grumpy.” Similarly three NY Times pieces (reg req’d) discuss changing behavior patterns and demographics now that there are 300 million Americans, around the issues of marriage and child rearing. Surprisingly parents are spending as much or more time with their kids as the previous generation apparently.

Speaking of which, one of the potential sources of the dissatisfaction referenced by the Forbes article is the time pressure that we’re all under. Everyone I know feels that there is precious little time for leisure and relaxation. Everyone – at least with jobs associated with the Internet – is working like a madman or madwoman. I know I am.

I’m going to overreach a bit here to try and tie this together.

Time pressure favors the Internet vs. traditional media because it’s perceived as more efficient and is perpetually available. (In fact in many ways it’s not an efficient medium – I spent about a hour and a half last night watching The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert clips online. Indeed, the Internet can waste huge amounts of time.)

After canceling our local paper, the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle, because we literally weren’t reading it, I re-subscribed to the NY Times seven days a week. But on most days I wasn’t able to get to it so I reduced it to Sunday only.

Now I’m finding that it’s challenging to sit down on Sunday, as much as I would like to, and read much of the NY Times.

This concept of leisure and “free time” is what’s missing for many people and, in my view, why they’re “grumpy.” All work and no play, and all that.

Why does this matter?

People are less and less tolerant of activities and media that are perceived to be “wasting their time.” Thus TV without TiVo or ads that are perceived as “irrelevant” are time wasters that will have no place in the future media mix. That’s not to say there isn’t a powerful role for traditional media and branding still to be played. In some ways trusted brands are more important than ever.

But with less time, people will gravitate to media and devices that give them a sense of control and efficiency.


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