Lost demographics

Demographers and research junkies are constantly urging advertisers to pay more attention to certain consumer groups. They complain, for instance, that advertisers don’t devote enough dollars to the empty nesters (adults 50+), not to mention wealthy baby boomers (roughly 40- to 60-year-olds). Or they wax on how Generation Y (Canadians born after 1979) is creating […]

Demographers and research junkies are constantly urging advertisers to pay more attention to certain consumer groups. They complain, for instance, that advertisers don’t devote enough dollars to the empty nesters (adults 50+), not to mention wealthy baby boomers (roughly 40- to 60-year-olds). Or they wax on how Generation Y (Canadians born after 1979) is creating a paradigm shift in marcom, given young people’s tech-influenced lives. And if it isn’t generational segments, it’s some other emerging groups. First the buzz was around the purchasing power of gays, and now it’s all about multicultural consumers.

But with survey after survey disclosing the characteristics of the next hot demo, is it possible a key consumer segment has been overlooked? In other words, amid so many marketing-created labels is there a “Lost Demographic?”

The answer is an unequivocal yes, according to both Michael Adams, president of Environics Group of Companies, and David Foot, author of Boom, Bust & Echo and a University of Toronto economics professor. Both say the single biggest forgotten demographic is lower-income, working-class Canadians, and both believe this group is overlooked largely because they simply aren’t “sexy” to talk about. “Individually they are not big spenders, but collectively they represent a bigger slice of the economy than many people realize,” says Adams. He says lower-income Canadians shouldn’t be dismissed by advertisers because even though their household incomes are modest, they spend what they earn. “They are modern materialists, focusing on accumulating (and paying for) possessions. In fact, their savings are quite low, meaning virtually all of their earnings enter the consumer realm. And they are loyal to the big iconic brands like McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Nike, and can be reached through mainstream media.”

Within this group, Foot says advertisers in particular seem to be leaving behind working-class Canadians who aren’t connected to the Internet. According to Ipsos Reid, Canadians without Internet access, either at home or at work, account for 18% of the population, and they typically reside in rural areas and come from lower-income households. Foot says in embracing the Internet, companies need to understand that a significant portion of the population is not riding the web wave.

Foot also believes adults in their 30s have been forgotten because they are a small group. According to Statistics Canada, in 1966 each woman gave birth to roughly 2.5 children. By 1976 that number had fallen to a lowly 1.75 births per woman. Susan Crompton, editor-in-chief of Canadian Social Trends at Statistics Canada in Ottawa, says while advertisers report pursuing a target market of 18- to 34-year-olds, she suspects marketers don’t truly understand Canadians in their early- to mid-30s, and simply lump them in with their younger cohorts.

“They are not really Generation X or Generation Y,” says Crompton, but are stuck in the black hole that is the middle. “From a sociological point of view, we don’t know what is happening with this group of people. They have completed university and left home, and haven’t quite started raising families, but we don’t really know much else. We suspect this group is far less homogenous than what perhaps a lot of advertisers might first think.”

That’s why StatsCan plans to study this demographic and the subgroups that Crompton thinks exist among thirtysomethings. “We don’t even know what to call this group,” she says. Just file it under “Lost Demographic.”

CHRIS DANIELS is a freelance writer in Toronto.

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