Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Kick it to me, cry boomers . . .

. . . when “it” is the pleasure of being incessantly marketed to

What is the jarring disconnect in this upbeat Op Ed by Leon Gettler?

It could be (but it isn’t), the weirdness of wanting to be marketed to – when for most everyone else, omnipresent advertising is the bane of their existence. Because poofterdom has actually been-there-done-that (with the “pink dollar” thing of the 90s), I’ll allow the boomers to have with this one. Yes, they are running with a once-fashionable idea – that being rich enough to Be Especially Marketed To – is a thing worth shouting about. For gays, the pink dollar sloganeering of the 90s was presumably an acceptable, if not desirable, proxy for basic civil rights – things which hetero boomers have never once been short of during their lives. But who am I to cavil with boomers copy-catting, a decade too late, that which was a bad idea in the first place, and without a shred of the original’s underlying conviction?

Nor is “it” the last-kid-picked-for the-footy-team sense of self-pity sought to be elicited by stats such as these:

With one study showing that 80 per cent of people in marketing and advertising are younger than 40 and 50 per cent younger than 30 . . . the people selling the products and services ha[ve] trouble understanding older consumers.

So the whole marketing industry is inherently ageist? Bullshit: marketers, like hookers, naturally gravitate to wherever the dollars are. And they ain’t fussy about age when it comes to servicing their clients – marketers, that is (Some hookers, at least, have standards).

Plus the relative youthfulness of the marketing industry hides a truth that most boomers well-understand, but prefer to keep mum about. Like corporate law, IT-project work and media monitoring, the big money in marketing is made by charge-out arbitrage – clients are charged a multiple (usually at least of four times) of what the employee doing the actual work receives. Even once employee on-costs are factored in, the mark-up on this human cattle (sorry, capital) is usually well north of 100%. And remember that this is money for nothing – unless you count lunching with other boomers as “work”. Needless to say, the capitalists in this scenario are almost all boomers (or older) and the serfs GenX.

Well what is “it”, then? It’s quite simple – nothing more, in fact, than the curious inclusion of some stats in Gettler’s article:

Research from the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra showed that by 2003, 40 to 54-year-olds held an estimated 38 per cent of total household wealth, up from 33 per cent in 1986. In contrast, the share of total wealth held by 25 to 39-year-olds declined from 27 to 19 per cent over the same period.

The stats are old news, of course, and at first I was mystified what they were doing in the article anyway. Wouldn’t it have been better for Gettler to state boomer wealth/disposable-income/whatever in “$X billion” terms, rather than to remind GenX that boomers are not, in large part, wealthier because they are older, but they are wealthier because GenX is poorer. (Here, it’s a funny thing* that white-collar charge-out arbitrage was an industry barely known before the mid-80s, when the massive wealth transfer from the – once-upon-a-time, anyway – home-buying and kid-rearing age** to the middle-aged began in earnest.)

Then I realised why Gettler saw fit to be rubbing salt into GenX’s wounds. The boomers’ “We want you to take our 'grey dollar'-stuffed wallets off us, and we want it now!” campaign is, after all, about civil rights. Gettler, who I’m guessing is Jewish, may have unusual prescience in foreseeing a c.2006, 1930s German-style PlasmaScreen-nacht; in which GenX’s anger explodes across the land, from boomer lounge (sorry, media) rooms to boomers’ fusion restaurants.

Not that I would condone such a rampage, of course. I do note, however, the lesson the gay movement learnt from its ill-fated “pink dollar” escapade: once you start shopping for your civil rights, then you truly shop till you drop.

* Ken Parish would call this a mere coincidence, of course.

** See this letter to the ed from Les MacDonald. The telling fact is he has to remind the nation that today’s 25 to 39-year-olds have the same needs as those of that age group in the 1980s.

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