Monday, January 27, 2014

GenXers... An Angry Group Of Breeders

Every morning that I get up, I give a big hug to my dog. 

Miss Georgia is her name and she is the best companion any person could have. When folks ask if I am single, I quickly reply… well, I don’t have a human partner right now, but I do have my dog.

Nearly all of my friends – many without any kids running around in their homes – have either a dog or a cat. 

The Humane Society estimates that 62% of American households own a dog or a cat or both in 2014.

Now, before I go any further in this Blog-louge, I want to make the statement right up front… I do not dislike kids.  In many cases, I actually can relate to kids a bunch better than I can relate to their parents.


The U.S. Census Bureau released its 2014 population stats a few weeks ago.  It estimates that exactly a third… 33% of American households have a kid under the age of 18 living in the house. 

If you got out of the office and walked up to the average Joe on the street and asked them what percentage of American households have a kid under the age of 18 living in the house, the majority share will guesstimate in the 50-70% range.

Sometimes when I hear folks say this, I wonder if this is a by-product of all those Viagra ads.

Quickly, here are a couple more stats just to anchor this blog-lougue. Just shy of two-thirds of all the households in American that have a kid under the age of 18 living in the house, two-thirds are married or coupled. 

The remaining third of the kid-present households are single parents and 75% of those are made up of a single female and at least one kid… the remaining 25% is made up of a single male and at least one kid.

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau estimates that there are 120 million households – not individual people – that make up the U.S.   And of 120 million households, 40 million have kids and 80 million do not.

Not all those 40 million households with kids in them are made up of Generation X parents, but a large share – over 75% are.  By the way, in 2014, Generation X will officially fall in the age 38-49 year old range. 

The rest of the 40 million households with kids are trailing Boomers or that Millennial who elected to have a child in their late-teens and twenty-something years.

I posted a blog back in 2012 about how Millennials were electing to put off having a kid and if they did, they often elected to only have one or maybe two.  This was driven by the cost of raising a kid from age 0 through college graduation. 

That cost back in 2012 was estimated to be about $600,000.  Today, that cost has risen closer to $750,000.

Writing about kids and the 2014 family household today is driven by one very profound factor: Most of the parents wear the label of Generation X.

Generation X is a very odd group of adults… and in many ways, their oddity really is the result of factors beyond their control.

Nearly half of GenXers were raised in households of divorced parents. 

They are the valley of 52 million stuck between 78 million Boomers and 76 million Millennials.

They vowed to remain married and they cocooned as a result. 

They harbor feelings of resentment because they wore second-hand brands passed down by the Boomers and watch as new brands emerge customized for Millennials and old brands are re-engineered around Millennials.

A couple years back, the Associated Press released an article tabout how GenXers feel shortchanged universally across parties – employers, marketers and local community groups.

In the local community where I live, families with kids represent less than 20% of the neighborhood households. 

Yet, the Gen X parents stake their claim.  They bring strollers into coffee houses, put up “slow down” signs on the streets and bring their kids along with them to the wine bars and pubs.

PTAs and PTOs post record high Gen X parent involvement, but decreasing community-wide support.

In survey after survey that I do, I find that Gen X parents perceive the world around them nearly exclusively through their family-anchored lens.

From Wall Street to Main Street, unless the news content has an impact on their child-anchored co-cooning day-to-day life, there is limited storage of the news in their awareness set.

How is this impacting marketing?

Well… right now, a significant portion of many marketing teams is made up of the GenXer mom and dad… especially in conventional industries that have been slow in merging in interactive, mobile and social media. 

These GenXer mom and dads are the same marketers who, with little thought… assume that the product promoted in the setting of mom, dad, two kids, a dog and cat is a marketing standard.

When you ask them why… they very quickly respond…”Well, more than half of our market is made up of families with kids” and “everyone out there can identify with a family of kids.”

And from a media standpoint… Women 25-54 continues to be the coveted audience group of the GenXer marketing teams.  This past week, a national radio talk show literally said… “marketers love the 25-54 age group because its made up with all those families that represent the bedrock of the American marketplace.”

The radio host is in his mid-30s, married with two kids, a dog and a cat.

A grass-roots backlash is emerging.

A pub in a neighborhood here in Buckhead which posts no more than 14% neighborhood residents with kids age 17 or less has a sign on their door that reads: “No Smoking. No Breeders With Kids.”

By the way… the pub is run by a smart business guy… dogs are allowed on the deck out back – something owned by twice as many folks touting a kid!

As the family unit becomes redefined around single parents, extended families and same-sex partners with kids, marketers intentionally reaching out to families will need to chuck their stereotype, "All American Family" portraits.

Some brands do get it and showcase singles, childless couples and empty-nesters as Main Street America.  Other brands embrace the parents sans the kids. And a few brands embrace the mom as a career professional.

The last perspective I leave with readers is that Generation X will continue to be an angry group of folks feeling slighted as they move from having the kids at home to empty-nester-dom in the next five-to-ten years.

The big question remain unanswered in terms of whether they will embrace their independence or give new meaning and value to the baby boomer “helicopter parents.”

Last night, HGTV’s House Hunters Show featured a young couple who just got married and the bride’s parents who were buying a home together that they were going to live in all together. 

I turned the show off.

Then I wondered if what I was watching was not HGTV, but a new show on TLC that might have been the newest in their series of everything from the Utah polygamists to the cougar affairs.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Wendy's... Popeyes... and My 2014 New Year's Resolution

Part of my New Year’s Eve celebration involved stopping off at a new Wendy’s to grab a quick soft drink.

The Wendy’s I went to was enlightening. 

Not sure how many folks out there have been to a Wendy’s recently. 

Back in the late summer of 2013, I actually did a blog about Wendy’s and their new pretzel burger that was a big hit and posted gains for the QSR chain way ahead of their competition.

I noted in that blog that the vast array of Wendy’s facilities are like time machines that jut you back into the mid-80s… maybe into the late-70s.  A look and feel that is in no way, mid-century, “retro-cool.”

Wendy’s is not alone in this dated environment scenario. 

Many of the QSR brands that have historically been scattered across a wide expanse of individual franchisees take you back in time.  Burger King, Hardees, DQs… they are all in need of an appearance on TLC’s “What Not To Wear” show.

The Wendy’s that I visited is apparently, “the new Wendy’s brand design.”  Those are the exact words used by the concierge hostess that greets you at the door and channels you over to the spot to place your order.

I was pleasantly surprised by the style and décor.  It’s somewhat “Dwell Magazine – Urban – Loft – Contemporary.”  Not at all the 1980s Wendy’s footprint.

There was a “sitting area” of four overstuffed chairs in front of a large flat-screen television right where customers walk in the front door.

My gut wasn’t too sure how long that area would last.  I’m not too sure how many people think about going to Wendy’s to relax and “hang” like they do at Starbucks.

When I asked the concierge hostess if this was a prototype, she quickly corrected me and said this is the new Wendy’s. 

I asked her how many area stores were going to be retro-fitted and she replied that as far as she know, none.  Only new stores that being built will look like it.


I asked a couple of the people eating in the Wendy’s what they thought about the design and nearly all of them said the same thing…

“Boy, it will be nice when they convert over all those other Wendy’s and have them looking like this... right now they are very dated.”

While the inconsistent Wendy’s “brand footprint" was problematic, there was something else that was much more disturbing. 

So much so that I immediately concluded I would showcase Wendy's in the next Blog post.

On the wall as you enter, showcased on the large wall by the tables, above the order stations, on the staff shirts and on the cups and food wraps is apparently the new brand line.

“Quality is our recipe.”

Readers… I am not making this up.

Wendy’s is not the only QSR out there that kills their brand.

When Burger King kicked out the King, they anchored their brand around the line, “Exciting things are happening at Burger King.”

Ahhh... I am sure that just rings the bell with those 20-something, single, hourly-paid dudes that represented Burger King's core brand loyalists. 

I hammer away at my clients that many product attributes are core deliverables just to be able to sit at the competitive market table.  

I often use fast food restaurants as an example with attributes like “good food” and “clean restaurants.”

When I see the leadership of large consumer brands doing what Wendy’s is now doing, I quickly come to the conclusion that there is some rather narcissistic leadership out there living in a self-created fantasyland.

The fact that the large vast number of Wendy’s look like the “before” décor on HGTV’s before-and-after “Property Brothers” hit show does not seem to even enter top management’s– and their “kiss the client butt” ad agency’s – headset. 

Is this just the way that companies are now operating and the days of emotional connections with the brand experience are now fading away?


Even in the QSR category, there are a couple of good examples of brands that live in reality and find ways to drive a brand experience that connects on the emotional -- and not the rational -- level.

I am the first to admit that I actually crave Popeyes spicy chicken.

When I travel on the road, I often will go online and scope out just where there might be a Popeyes not too far from the Interstate.

AFC is the corporate firm that owns Popeyes.  They also used to own Church’s Chicken.  

To be honest, when AFC purchased Church’s Chicken, the intent was to convert the brand over to Popeyes.

Unfortunately, there was a majority share of the Church’s restaurants that were located in some very “worn and torn” buildings and neighborhood areas to match.

For a long time, Popeyes conveyed a very mixed up and fragmented brand image. 

The Church’s brand might have even had a more defined brand image than Popeye’s.  

Church’s was the cheap, in-the-hood, good ‘n greasy, lick-those-lips tummy pleaser.  And they even accepted those EBT cards as a method of pay!  

Popeyes BGO (Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious) was simple. 

Popeyes had Cajun roots and tasted like what your mama used to make and reinvented itself based on its long-standing Louisiana-inspired home cooking complete with the Louisiana “Gen X” – but authentically-rooted, helicopter mom.

Brand sales are growing and the restaurant is opening up more restaurants.

Best yet?  The brand strums the chords of the heartstring and the more rooted the décor of the restaurant, the more believable the brand experience... i.e. the buildings don't have to be much revamped.

I don’t know about you, but “quality is our recipe” not only doesn’t make my mouth water, it doesn’t do much to strum my heartstrings either!

My 2014 New Year’s resolution is simple… 

I have lost all interest in bringing in clients that cling to the dysfunctional, rational models of the past and live in an internal corporate la-la-land with no sense that they are in dire need of help.