January 30, 2012
Matthew Segal believes this country has broken a promise to the younger generation, a group experiencing an astounding 14.4 percent unemployment rate for 20 to 24-year-olds. Among that group, an average of $24,000 is owed in student loans. So Segal, age 26, decided to do something about it. After launching Our Time, an advocacy group for young Americans in 2009, this July he started "Buy Young," which encourages consumers to purchase from entrepreneurs ages 30 and younger.
PHOTO GALLERY: 10 Hot Startups From People in Their 20s
The 75 entrepreneurs listed on the "Buy Young" site, where products range from underwear to bicycles, are required to provide discounts of 30 percent to 75 percent to Our Time members. Segal's goal is to increase consumer demand for these products to fuel job creation for young people, something he says politicians have failed to do. "If the American consumer feels a moral drive to help them, their businesses will grow. They can create jobs and give jobs to other young people."
The concept is creating buzz within the marketing community about whether the idea that a consumer would purchase a product to help a struggling demographic can be effective. Segal says that currently most "Buy Young" customers are young, but other age groups have shown interest. "Hundreds of senior citizens have asked how they can support this,” he says. “They're enthralled there is a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators" trying to help solve the country's economic problems.
“Buy Young” is a variation of affinity marketing, the idea that you want to purchase from like-minded individuals, which has been used before, says Peter Francese, a demographic trends analyst for Metlife Mature Market Institute. For example, he says people in the African American community have urged African Americans to shop at stores owned by African Americans, while Hispanics have suggested that you should support your friends in the Hispanic community. Given the economy and the current hardships faced by young adults, he says there's nothing wrong with young people acknowledging they're struggling and asking for help through purchasing dollars. But he says that sympathy might wear thin once the economy starts to turn around.
Age identity "is one area that can be as powerful as social class or cultural affiliation," says Brent Green, president of Brent Green & Associates, which focuses on generational marketing. He says this approach provides a much-needed generational identity and awareness that can serve other social and cultural purposes beyond just branding and marketing. What's appealing about this initiative is that it targets values that will appeal to many age segments, he says. And with the popularity of social networking in this age group, the reach could be huge.
Will Burroughs, a senior brand strategies with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, sees "Buy Young" as an evolution of "buy local," in that it creates the feeling of a shared experience. Community can also be defined by age, he says, and causes are a great marketing tool, citing the 2010 Cause Evolution Study, that indicated 83 percent of Americans want more products, services and retailers they use to support causes.
But others like Lori Bitter, president and CEO of Continuum Crew, an advertising and consulting firm, aren’t sold on the idea. "Encouraging people to support an affinity group is never going to have a major impact because people are generally not that brand loyal," she says. What drives the acceptance of a product is not the age of the entrepreneur but the quality and value of the product, as well as the customer service, says Bitter. Francese at Metlife also argues that "Buy Young" won't likely have the longevity as “buy local,” which he says encompasses so many more positive themes, like food, community and sustainability.
The emergence of "Buy Young" could complicate the purchase decision among those who want to patronize both the young and local, says Arthur Mitchell, who runs "youth truths," at Campbell-Ewald, an advertising and marketing agency which targets millennials. Given the choice, should someone buy a product produced from a person under 30 in another state, or a person over 30 who is local? Adding that layer of "Buy Young" could overwhelm the consumer, he said.
Since the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs is ages 55 and older, Matt Thornhill, founder and president of Boomer Project, could envision a successful "buy boomer" movement as well. While there’s no such effort currently, boomers redefined consumption in the 60's and 70's through music and fashion (remember bell bottom jeans to tie-dyed t-shirts?) Online communities that serve the same age segmentation function are easy targets for marketers.
Eons is an online social network for the 50-and-over set and has over 800,000 registered users. At Vibrant Nation, women in their late forties to late sixties share stories and have access to resources about transitioning to this stage of life. Part of the goal is to get advertisers interested in paying attention to this segment, says Stephen Reily, Vibrant Nation's founder and CEO. He sees a trend toward segmentation of messaging, shifting away from marketing products to all people. "We're seeing marketing catch up with the fragmented nature of the internet."
Mary Furlong, an executive professor of entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University who produces the annual “Boomer Summit,” says that many in her generation sympathize with young people saddled with student loans who cannot find employment and are eager to help them. There's an interest in fostering entrepreneurship at an early age, among someone "bold enough to create a business." Thornhill is bullish on the idea. He likes the message, "support us because we're the future," and thinks it will resonate with people of all ages. "People do buy from companies because it makes them feel good."