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Battle of Symbols

Generations & Global Symbols of Alignment

A number of leading researchers suggest generations are key symbols defining markets. In the book Rocking the Ages (HarperBusiness, 1998) Yankelovich Partners executives J. Walker Smith and Ann Clurmans provide a new paradigm of generational marketing suggesting generations center around particular experiences, archetypes and products. They show how key ideas, values and products relate to the three key current generations in America: the matures, baby boomers and the Xers. In effect, their argument can be seen as one suggesting that product symbolism clusters around generations.

More than create a theoretical hypothesis, the authors provide numerous products and values associated with the three leading contemporary generations: the Matures (born between 1925 and 1942), the Boomers (born between 1943 and 1960) and Generation X (born between 1961 and 1981). A brief outline of some of their findings is reproduced below.

Table 1
Products, Media & Values Of Current Generations
(From Rocking the Ages)

Smith and Clurmans argue that generational links bind together widely disparate individuals of varying education, incomes and life stages. These links cut across demographic and psychographic niches and might be a more effective means of segmenting markets than traditional marketing methods.

In The Fourth Turning, Neil Howe and William Strauss place contemporary generational segments in a historical context. They suggest a key feature of American history is the cyclic pattern of generations constantly repeating a four stage sequence. For example, a contemporary generation might possess more of an alignment with a past generation in the same sequential stage than with other contemporary generations.

While the research applies to American generations one cannot help but wonder about the importance and viability of applying American generational research to global generations. Might global generations coalitions forge new inter-cultural alignments? Certainly an interesting (and urgent) contemporary idea. For example, the American Baby Boom generation might find stronger alignments to its global generation than to generations within its own culture. Is this form of “generational patriotism” drawing new invisible nation states?

Global generational alignments are not that new to multi-national corporations and their efforts at global branding.Yet like the client-server, audience-broadcaster, consumer-producer models, these aligned generations have always been viewed as target markets for one-way communication. The real power comes from a type of global peer-to-peer (P2P) communication where global members of aligned generations are given the ability to directly communicate with other global members of their generation.

Linking global generations perhaps through an Internet based P2P system seems like a viable option for lessening the growing dualities between east and west. But one of the problems to its implementation is the same problem that has precluded domestic adoption. American symbol makers see “profit centers” only in one-way communication - broadcaster to audience, server to client, advertiser to consumer - rather than two-way communication between market members.

For example, Napster’s hugely successful peer-to-peer communication and exchange system almost ruined the American music industry. American symbol creators and marketers worry that the same type of thing might happen on a global P2P basis if global generations are given the power to communicate directly between themselves rather than simply receive one-way communiqués from global marketers.

However, despite the lack of business models in global peer-to-peer generational communication, there could be immense social and political paybacks in the international battle of symbols. For instance, one of the leading commonalities in the Muslim world is a preponderance of those under the age of 25 estimated by experts as composing an amazing 75 percent of the population of the Muslim world or over 750 million people. In effect, the contemporary Muslim world comprises a huge Millennial generation (those born after 1982). Might there be alignments between the Muslim Millennial Generation and other millennial generations around the world? The battle of symbols in this respect becomes somewhat of a youth-marketing exercise of the highest order.

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