Being There

By Jeff Hirsch
President, The Right Brain Studio

It’s one thing to read about and understand trends. It’s another to experience them first hand.

Take for instance, the decline in newspaper readership, which by now is old news. And lately, everyone from columnists like Maureen Dowd to the newspaper reviewers of the latest Russell Crow movie “State of Play” are lamenting about the bygone glory days of newspaper men and women.

A lover of newspapers, I am well aware of what is going on in that business. But I don’t think I really felt the full impact of this trend until I confronted it head on. I have been asking young people about their media habits in every focus group that I’ve conducted in the past few years. Almost without exception, I don’t think a single respondent under the age of 25 has admitted to reading a newspaper – even online.

Their source of news? Sometimes “the Internet,” though they generally fail to mention any specific sites other than Yahoo or Google home pages that list headlines and links. Some younger respondents, in all seriousness, cite “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report.” Most often, they don’t get any news at all.

And these aren’t just slackers and screw ups. Most are really good kids. Some are honors students attending are bound for top universities.

The threat of an uniformed public is scary enough for democracy, and enough has been written on the subject, but I fear to say that it’s probably good news for marketers in many ways. Brands thrive on emotional connection, where the underlying facts often provide support points for positioning and communications, but seldom serve as brand’s reason for being. Being informed is not the same as being cool, and brands are all about cool, no matter what the category or the target.

But that’s not the point. The issue, rather, is that we, of a certain generation, and even those a generation or two behind, may have the wisdom and experience to offer sound marketing advice on big picture brand positioning and strategy issues, but when it comes to execution, creating campaigns and making media decisions, I’m not sure we have a clue. We might be well read and tech savvy. We know the trends, we have Facebook accounts and we can Tweet. But do we really feel our targets’ essence and truly understand their emotion and though processes?

I, for one, do my best to read two newspapers a day, read the New Yorker and other magazines in print on occasion, listen to NPR and watch network television on my television set, not Hulu. Yes, I am on Facebook and work on a Mac, but I am a still a dinosaur. I can lament all I want about how this generation has no grasp of current events, history or culture, but it’s all misguided. Maybe not as a citizen, but certainly as a marketer.

Everything changes, and to best understand and embrace change, whether we like it or not, it has to be felt close up and personal.

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