SBHD: At one time, you were either young, middle-aged, old or dead. Now, the world is full of Generation X and Third Agers, all desperate to be targeted.
The news last week that leading French fragrance houses are investing heavily in the development of perfumes for infants – baby versions of their top-selling adult products – highlights the comical lengths to which marketers will go to squeeze more profit out of existing brand equities.
However, observers of the product development scene believe such innovations are part of a far wider move towards age-related marketing, a trend that is by no means limited to what those with a more limited education than you or I might term the posher purveyors of pong.
From petfood to holidays and from human food to insurance, clever marketers are finding age segmentation can not only open up new markets for existing products but can also breathe new life into static brands.
While the baby market is well-established and, in the case of nappies, highly profitable, the overall decline in birth rates across much of Europe has conspired to limit the number of true innovations for brand-aware infants.
Heinz spring water for babies was, in the view of many, never much more than an attention-grabbing gimmick. But Heinz’s investment last year in the first frozen food range of babyfoods, or the launch by Boots, Milupa and others of the first baby organics, may ultimately prove to be of more substance.
But if the transition from adult staple to nursery product has had limited success, particularly when set against the background of a declining baby population, the success of infant-turned-adult foods has been precisely the opposite.
I don’t know whether it was secret cornflake-eating by real adult consumers that spearheaded the brilliantly-conceived “I’d forgotten how good they tasted” Kellogg’s ad campaign, or whether the ads themselves have actually triggered a fundamental change in adult breakfast-eating habits.
But I have noticed that many upmarket hotels have in recent months reinstated the unassuming cornflake alongside more sophisticated fare such as kedgeree and smoked salmon.
Serious Marmite-eating was of declining importance among Eighties adults – even though they continued to feed it to their offspring – but that too has made a marked comeback on chic Nineties breakfast and tea-tables.
In the case of Marmite though, the renaissance in popularity wasn’t so much because of the ads but despite them. For those of a nervous disposition, the positioning of such a nostalgic nursery food as the first choice for raucous-sounding squaddies was about as appropriate as setting the Wind in the Willows just outside Sellafield.
In a recent presentation on food product developments, Eric Biggs, operations manager of the Mintel-owned IIS new products division, said the business community’s abiding interest in “lifestyle” in the Eighties had given way to a new appreciation of “lifestage”.
He believes an understanding of the key life stages experienced by consumers would have “great mileage” for marketers in the future and would allow further development of products in otherwise slow or static sectors.
From the cradle to the grave, says Biggs, there are seven target groups for marketers to focus on: Babies/Toddlers; Children; Teens/Young adults; Generation X (disaffected youth); Adults; Third Agers (40 to 70); and the Elderly.
The theory is that while traditional lifestyle classifications – including such descriptors as single males, childless couples, or well-off pensioners – go some way to describing how the various consumer groups live and possibly shop, they do not allow a marketer to envisage how a product may appeal across a whole collection of different consumer groups.
Lifestages on the other hand are universal – all of us are in one of the seven groups – and offer a finer market segmentation.
In the children’s market, says IIS, character merchandising is fuelling much of the innovation – Zig and Zag from The Big Breakfast helping to launch a range of soft drinks, or characters from Gladiators plastered over children’s yogurt and fromage frais products.
Danone, meanwhile, is said to be researching an entire range of yogurts and fromage frais that will be aimed at specific age groups – from early childhood through to late middle age.
In Sweden, the big success of recent months has been Findus’ attempts to broaden the appeal of what is essentially a babyfood-in-a-glass-jar product.
By being more adventurous with the recipes – meatballs with pasta teddies, beef stroganoff and ham with rice and banana – and by using heavy TV support, Findus has apparently widened its appeal from babies to strapping great five-year-olds.
Marketers perceive they have a particular problem with Generation X teenagers and young people, but standard issue 12 to 20-year-olds respond well to sports food and drinks.
IIS says that while the NestléMilo brand is positioned here as a bedtime drink for the elderly, in Australia and other youth-focused nations, it is marketed as an energy-filled sports drink.
Biggs argues that the most successful UK launch into this particular lifestage has been Pepsi Max – the first diet cola to make sugar-free acceptable to 19 to 29-year-old males.
Generation X might itself have been a term invented by a disaffected teenager, but it is proving a convenient label to stick on clothes, music and other youth products. Brewers are responding to their demand for an inexpensive, legal high with high-proof beers and ciders.
The adult lifestage, IIS says, is lengthy and complex, but still offers great potential, particularly with neglected groups such as pregnant mothers.
Biggs advocates the development of specialist foods to cater for the sometimes strange fads that overcome pregnant women, but is unimpressed by my suggestion of ready-to-eat coal particles.
For the elderly, the possibilities are endless. Old-timers, now officially of more interest to practically everybody than the yuppies of yesteryear, deserve some new acronyms of their own, Biggs says.
Suppies are senior urban professionals, Opals are older people with active lifestyles and who among us doesn’t long to one day be a Rappie – a retired and affluent professional.
For the more macabre though, hasn’t IIS left out the final and most challenging market of all? Not so much a lifestage, more a terminal marketing opportunity, the eighth stage is, of course, death.