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May 31, 2006

Generational vs. Life-Cycle Effects

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards:

This is a never-ending topic among marketing researchers, product planners and others trying to align company wares with those demographics moving through time at their stately pace.

And it might well be a subject we'll revisit here at 2Blowhards because, Lord knows, what follows comes up far short of being definitive, though it might be fun.

Once upon a time (the early 70s), a computer programmer who worked with me mentioned that if she knew someone's age, she could make a pretty good guess as to his taste in furniture. Her theory was that people's furniture tastes are formed around age 20 and her example was her early-40s boyfriend who went for Danish Modern.

I mulled this over, deciding that it was a cute idea. But I was 32 and I too liked Danish Modern. If I were less lazy I'd undertake a research project on Danish Modern sales data relative to other styles to see if a decade age-gap between me and her boyfriend still fell within the apogee of Danish Modern's popularity trajectory. My guess is that it did.

Matter of fact, I still like clean-lined, fairly simple furniture -- but with a smidgen of decoration such as one finds in the Arts & Crafts style. My wife, on the other hand, likes that curved, heavily-carved baroque stuff. And she's only four weeks younger than I am. Pretty small generation gap, that.

This is not to say that my tastes are sunk in concrete. I'm not sure that I'd buy a Danish Modern piece in preference to another style were I furniture shopping today. But I would lean towards furniture with a clean, rather than fussy look.

Okay, score one for Generation when it comes to me and furniture.

Let's move to another product category. How about car types?

At age 20 (well, make that ages 15-35) my desired car type was the sports car. I only was able to buy one (a Porsche 914), but I at least tried to buy sporty cars when a sports car wasn't in the fiscal cards (examples include a VW Karmann-Ghia coupe and a yellow VW Dasher with a splashy decal on each side).

Moreover, the thought of willingly buying a large, American four-door sedan never entered my head when I was in my sports car phase. The large, four-door American sedan was exactly what was to be avoided at all costs.

That being then and this being now, I was pleased indeed to buy a large American sedan (Chrysler 300) last year, as reported here.

I'm not sure that I'd buy a sports car now even if I had the money to do so.

Well, that would be true if I could only own one car. Many of today's sedans offer a driving experience not far removed from that of sports cars, whereas in 1953 there was a world of difference between an MG TD and a Buick. So I don't lose much by not having a sports car while gaining other features that I now find desirable, including safety and carrying capacity.

Score one for Life Cycle.

Umm. Better qualify that. If I could afford to buy two cars, the first would be something on the order of the Chrysler 300 and the other might well be an Audi TT or a Porsche Boxter.

One of these days I'll grow up. Promise.



posted by Donald at May 31, 2006


"...One of these days I'll grow up. Promise..."

Oh, goodness, anyone could do that. Where's the challenge? Pass...

Posted by: Don McArthur on May 31, 2006 6:48 PM

I've always enjoyed finding out what marketers and advertisers know about our preferences and buying habits. People's tastes change over time ... They're dramatically different in different countries ... Gals vs. guys ... etc etc. It always seemed to me like marketing people were a lot more realistic and down to earth than academic economists were.

That said, I've always been a standard-sedan kind of guy. Tauruses were my faves. Of course, I've been a NYC dweller for decades, and haven't owned a car since I was 21. If I had the money and space, I'd probably have a standard sedan and a classic sports car of some sort (Jaguar XKE's were the sexiest car ever built, IMHO), or maybe even a classic hot rod. But for day to day driving I'm happy in a Taurus ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 1, 2006 10:55 AM

To quote Keats: A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

If you've ever had the privilege of living with a really fine piece of furniture, of any style or era, you come to love it for precisely that reason: it is a joy forever.

I grew up in a household that had several such pieces. But I remember especially a round Empire Style livingroom table in glowing reddish-golden wood (I think cherry, not sure) and two attendant Empire Style chairs outlined in the same wood, and upholstered in a deep pea-soup green plush (velvet?) material. In the same room was a three piece black lacquered cabinet in an Oriental Style, that held a stereo system and two speakers. And do you know? the two styles did not clash but went beautifully together because they were each of such high quality.

It's not the style but the quality that counts.

Posted by: ricpic on June 1, 2006 11:58 AM

" people were a lot more realistic and down to earth than academic economists were..."

They are also willing to talk about things that are correlated with consumer behavior, like race, religion and similar controversial characteristics. You cannot be PC and make a living doing consumer research.

Posted by: Lexington Green on June 1, 2006 12:04 PM

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