Consumer superpower lives marketer’s dream

They grew up aspiring to own cool brands, and now the latest generation of tech-savvy 30-somethings is having fun flexing its financial muscle.

Consumers in their 30s have never had it so good. They can afford the cool stuff they wanted as teenagers and are happy about the responsibilities that age can bring, such as owning a house or having children. And this sector of society is still young at heart, looking for fun experiences and guidance in what brands to buy.

This demographic has been identified as the “new adult” by The Sound Research. Andy Davidson, the agency’s Europe managing director, says these consumers are like a grown-up version of Generation X – people who spent their teenage years and 20s aspiring to own fashionable brands but now have the benefit of earning enough money to obtain them.

MTV says this group has surged in popularity with advertisers and it has worked on a study to segment the market (see box, below).

Brands across numerous sectors are targeting this new adult. Barclays is attempting to set the right tone in its advertising to appeal to 30-somethings, while Universal Music also thinks it is worth talking to this age group because they are more likely to pay for music downloads than teenagers (see Viewpoint, below).

Davidson says brands have started to notice a set of adults with a different outlook to previous generations. “They are essentially adults who are balancing the desire to stay young with the desire to be more mature and creating an entirely new life stage with a unique set of values.” He adds: “It is one of the most innovative, socially-minded and articulate age groups.”

Barclays’ use of comedy actor and writer Stephen Merchant in adverts about its retail financial products demonstrates how the bank has identified the personality of this new adult, argues Davidson. “The bank still wants the message of the advert to be serious, but it’s delivered in a light-hearted manner. It’s almost like student humour meets financial institutions,” he says.

Davidson points out that while teenagers are often thought to be trendsetters, older age groups are embracing social media and using their group clout to, for example, petition to save radio station BBC 6 Music via Facebook. “So much of culture and trends is coming from technology such as iPads or the BlackBerry. Young people can’t always afford to participate in this space, but the 30-something group has access to this technology and that is a really significant shift,” he says.

Cognacbrand Courvoisier has also made the new adult its new target audience. It wants to distinguish itself from its US “bling” incantation, where rappers show off about drinking the XO offering, which costs about £100 a bottle.

To a certain generation the brand is synonymous with the Busta Rhymes track Pass the Courvoisier. In contrast, its image in the UK has historically been more of a pipe and slippers brand; considered as an older person’s tipple.

Courvoisier has discovered a “third stage” of youth through a global study to identify where its new target audience might lie, says Janice McIntosh, marketing manager at Maxxium, the brand’s UK distributor.

“These people are still wanting to keep hold of the sense of themselves, their freedom and fun. Yet they are also considering settling down. Many elements of their lifestyle are grown up, but they still need an identity that is fun and not traditional or boring,” she says.

This group is interested in new experiences and has an inquisitive side, but doesn’t want to just be told about a brand. They also want to be influencers and tell their friends about the brands they have discovered, adds McIntosh.

Courvoisier has just finished running a series of sell-out events that were designed to appeal to this audience. They were partly the brainchild of the members of Future 500, its high-level networking group made up of new adults, and included a collaboration with Punchdrunk, the theatre company that specialises in productions where people choose what they watch and where they go, and a food experience curated by jelly sculptors Bompas and Parr (see picture).

“We worked with our Future 500 members to deliver the experiences that we know our new adult would love to go to,” says McIntosh.

Mike Stevenson, managing director of communications agency Thinktastic, agrees that this age group wants experiences. “People who are income earners will have done things that previous generations were never allowed to do. They are looking for something else, an experience as well as a purchase, and that is a huge opportunity for brands,” he says.

But the new adult grew up searching for what was fashionable, so they now prefer to consult an arbiter of cool to help them decide what they should now be consuming, says Davidson. “The new adult no longer has time to spend poring over style or music magazines,” he says. The Mercury Music Prize winners might help them to decide what music to play at dinner parties, for example.

Brands in the automotive sector have also realised the potential of this group. Alfa Romeo launched its Alfa MiTo model last year to target a younger age group, explains Damien Dally, brand communications manager for the brand.

“In the past, Alfa Romeo has appealed to a younger market, but the brand has never been as attainable in terms of price. Within months of [the MiTo] launch, dealers were seeing a completely different audience than before.”

The new adult “will be a very powerful consumer” believes Thinktastic’s Stevenson.

The new adult may still be young at heart, need guidance and demand great experiences, but for brands, having an audience with cash to flash is something very grown-up indeed.

Viewpoint: How Universal Music is talking to the new adult

Hanna Chalmers, head of research at Universal Music UK (which owns labels such as Island Records, Decca, Motown and Polydor)

New adults are interested in “new” music but have less time to discover it, hence BBC 6 Music’s appeal. It has increased its number of listeners from 695,000 in December 2009 to just over 1 million in March 2010. The reason the BBC decided not to close the station was largely due to the role of vocal, powerful, articulate 30-somethings, who have now hit critical mass. They are core users of iTunes, but there is lots of potential for engaging them further online. They embrace legal downloading and represent about 25% of total online music expenditure.

Mumford
Music lovers: Mumford & Sons are popular with 30-somethings

The 30- to 39-year-old group is becoming more important in terms of album sales – they bought the most music in the UK in 2009.

This group also has loyalty to an artist or a genre over a longer period. We call them the “musical monogamists”. In contrast, a recent top 20 singles chart included tracks by Kelly Rowland featuring David Guetta and Tinie Tempah featuring Labrinth. The kids are cherry-picking tracks and are “musical one-nighters”. The charts are an embodiment of the different modes of behaviour.

Brands you might not think would want to use music in their communications are now thinking about it. A recent John Lewis ad used Fyfe Dangerfield’s cover of Billy Joel’s There’s Always a Woman. That was a lifestyle concept ad and the music was key. John Lewis could have used something very traditional but it used classic new adult music.

How a youth brand is relevant to the new adult

In response to rising levels of advertiser interest, MTV ran a global study looking at youth culture and the attitudes of 25- to 34-year-olds in 2008. 

The study divides the new adult into four areas based on levels of emotional and functional maturity.

Even though there were different segments, the TV channel tried to look at commonality between them all, explains Lisa Cowie, insight manager for MTV’s ad sales arm Viacom Brand Solutions International.

“What each segment had in common was happiness and confidence. For example, new adults were 25% more likely than a teenager to say they love life,” she says.

The four new adult segments have been divided up by MTV as follows:

  • Settled achievers – have an equal balance between functional and emotional maturity, may own their home and be doing well in their careers. But they were no less likely to watch MTV than the other segments, even though they have passed the core viewing group of 15- to 24-year-olds.
  • Ambitious drivers – have high emotional maturity but might lack functional maturity, so may not have children or a mortgage.
  • Nostalgic dreamers – have higher functional maturity and a mortgage but low emotional maturity, and are holding on to their youth.
  • Threenagers – have low functional and emotional maturity, which MTV expected would be the largest group of new adults but they were the segment with the lowest volume. This group is the biggest proportion who are consuming MTV.

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