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While TV advertisers fight over those coveted 18 to 34-year-old millennials with disposable income and a need to look cool, direct response marketers wisely focus on the Boomers and Xers that make up the bulk of the market.
Boomers and Xers have a lot in common, mainly a rebellious nature and seemingly unquenchable thirst for special knowledge, but there are also some crucial differences between the two.
John Carlton is, of course, the Boomer’s boomer, having embraced every moment of the social and political landscape, growing up in the 60’s and staying true to his roots, while remaining sharply in tune with all generations through his market research and the diversity of the friends he keeps.
Kevin Rogers, I’m the Xer who can check off just about every box that defines the term child of divorce, youthful wandering, unhireable in the real world by resume and, of course, we’re also welcoming our special guest, our podcast producer…
Brian McLeod, who just happens to be exactly one day older than Kevin and has a ton of intriguing insight on the subject.
This Podcast episode is a little different… instead of digging into one of John’s previous Psych Insight rants, we decided to record a brand spankin’ new Psych Insight on a live call recording.
A FEW HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SHOW:
John: All of the writers that we know and we communicate with a huge group of the A list writers in the country, it’s beyond fascinating as a subject, it’s startling.
Kevin: Gen Xers are facing their midlife crises and it really raised eyebrows for Brian and I. It set off this great discussion and it’s all going to come back to how you need to think as marketers about attracting these Boomers and Xers and identifying with them and the similar, but sometimes vastly different worldviews they carry with them.
John: This is probably a good time for a warning. Too much reminiscing, too much living in the past as a marketer is going to hurt you, but I am living proof that you can still embrace every part and, of course, the life well lived is the life well examined…
Kevin: The collective conscious (of today’s generation) is in complete disarray and will never really come back together.
John: The collective unconscious of my generation was very focused on a small number of things.
Brian: Our generation grew up with a big advantage, hip parents. Our parents had good record collections.
It’s funny: at couple at the table next to me (in a local coffee shop) is talking about how they “can’t” do what they want for their wedding because it will “offend family”. Gen Xers.
My internal response, “Who cares what the family wants?” Millennial, obviously.
Brian: I can identify with the knee-jerk tendency to keep a close watch on your children. My girls are 4 and 5 and I’ve always been that way with that. This is the first time I’ve heard another parent actually talk about it.
Here’s my story, guys. In June 2012, after 12 years as a full-time professional musician, I was forced to resign from my exclusive gig. I’d been there for 18 months and knew from week 1 that it was an unhealthy work environment, yet I stayed because of a poor self-image and self-victimization.
Losing my entire income was where I bottomed out, and at that point enough was enough. I’d never had a “real” job that I enjoyed and was tired of making peanuts as a freelance musician. And there was no way I was going to go over to the corporate dark side.
I stumbled upon copywriting while searching for resources to help my wife write an ad for her music studio. It ended up producing a significant ROI. That alone was life changing. I wasn’t even aware how much money I could make from copywriting at the time. Persuading someone to spend the money was incredible.
So I took my new knowledge over to the pipe organ building world. Sure enough, I ended up writing a sales page that sold $50k worth of practice organs in a month. The owners of the company were dumbfounded. To them it seemed like, “if you can sell used pipe organs, what the hell CAN’T you sell?”
I was hooked. Definitely a turning point!
Growing up, my parents never knew where we were during the day. It wasn’t exactly “trust”, cuz we were heathens and vandals and they knew it… but they just didn’t know any other way to “parent” kids (not a term back then, btw). Dr Spock was the guiding light — so the spankings ceased, and rational arguments for being better kids ensued. Gave us the social upheaval of the sixties, I’m thinking… but it worked for most of us.
I’m just wondering what upcoming generation will return to letting kids be kids. Maybe never — especially with smaller families. (My mom came from a family of 9, with at least 3 other potential siblings not making it past the first year… standard for immigrant families in Texas and California at the time. Maternal and paternal grandfathers ran away from home, and big families, in their early teens… also standard for the time. Bigger families meant more independence, but also a sense of less importance for each child — the greater health of the family superceded the needs of any one kid.)
I guess we’ll have to see how the crop of kids now coming of age, who survived helicopter parenting (and being on video since birth), turn out. I’m betting they’ll be fine, if not used to criticism or failure in the ‘real’ world. Humans adapt, that’s what we do…
John: That was my childhood experience too (sans vandalism – we tipped cows in the heartland). My parents are boomers. My wife’s parents are older Xers and were definitely helicopter parents.
Regarding kids being kids: we try to balance strict parenting with high exposure to the “real” world. We’re out doing stuff all the time, from off-roading trips to family friendly business events.
My goal is to make the “parenting” box big enough that the larger, concentric “real world” box isn’t overwhelming. We’ll see how that works out…
I agree with you… everything will work out regardless of come what may.
“if you can sell used pipe organs, what the hell CAN’T you sell?”
That’s solid gold, James. It’s no surprise to me anymore how many creative pros find their way into the world of copywriting. It’s still inspiring though. Like a miracle that us ‘unhirables’ (with just a bit of business savvy) get to set ourselves up with high paying in-demand gigs.
Welcome to the club.
Oh yeah, more on this subject would be great.
I like to read things on generational differences and a number of things pointed out here are all new to me.
Very good stuff indeed, thanks!
Life stories? mmmmmmm…OK
I’m the same age as John.
My anti-authority came courtesy of catholic school abuse…with a positive benefit to match.
All the parents had absolute faith in the catholic school system in spite of the fact they were obviously physically (and sexually) abusing the kids who wouldn’t conform 110% or were struggling.
In a “white light” moment of enlightenment in the fourth grade,
I suddenly understood clearly that I was right, they were wrong
and that I was going my own way in spite of them.
The upside was gaining huge confidence in myself at a young
age, developing very good “radar” for socio/psychopaths and learning to always be very alert to your environment and the naked apes around you.
Like the ads say….priceless.
In the early sixties Bob Dylan’s stuff made top ten radio.
That popped the lid off Pandora’s box when I started looking into where that came from.
The rest was a magical mystery tour of sex, drugs and rock and roll until I quit the chemicals in the early 80’s.
That was all a world of fun, but….
When I started into my first business with a burning desire to make it go I just couldn’t/wouldn’t pull off the important decisions while under the influence.
Dazed and confused….
And another life skill learned…knowing when to quit.
I was a car-crazy kid.
I signed on as an apprentice working on foreign/exotic cars in the early 70s. The dream job.
The business was owned by a tough young German who eventually changed me from a teenage waste gate into someone who could actually execute and deliver quality results.
Not to mention working with old European mechanics and their incredible skills and standards.
This was more critical than I ever knew at the time.
My parents, like all the others, were trying to fast track me into the doctor-lawyer-corporate groove.
Between my extreme dislike of a lot of their monied friends, the catholics using me as a punching bag and discovering the good points of the counterculture that just wasn’t going to happen.
Working with true crafstmen cleaned up my act and set the tone for the rest of my life.
One of the things I do these days is work part time for the local school district driving one of the school busses.
It’s a great trade.
I teach kids life and social skills they don’t get otherwise, they keep me current and laughing at myself as I pop out (m-m-m-m-m-my) generation specific catch phrases that they have no clue as to the meaning.
That would be mentioning Paul Harvey and “the rest of the story”…blank stares….crickets…..and then me saying “OK, someone go Google it on their phone.”
Brilliant snapshots, Dave.
I can relate to the circumstantial parenting you encountered with the foreign car mechanics. Mine came as a teenage comedian getting schooled on life and how not to be a hack comic by older guys who’ve been around the block. Still close friends, many of them, 25 years later.
The great lesson for me here is, if you see a kid searching, speak up! The worst he can do is ignore you. And at best you’ll light a fire.
Thanks for jumping in.
I learned things I didn’t know. And, I had moments of being stopped in time with deep truth. Please continue.
All righty, then, we shall continue. We’re having fun with the shows, obviously, and there are oodles of topics to cover. Our main goal, however, is to reach a wider and wider audience, so please share and tell your buds…
Yes, tough to understand to Millenials who are so team oriented, fall in line, vs us boomers who are all about independence. So “straight.”
I often – only half jokingly – tell my daughter “go rob a gas station or a deli, will ya?
It was different when we grew up. At 5 years old, with my brother, 7, we’d walk 2 towns away to Fort Lee, NJ and break into Palisades Amusement Park though a back fence, and rustle through the trailers of the kearny-folk, looking for coins to buy french fries with vinegar and see Cousin Brucie MC. When the cops occassionally picked us up, Cousin Brucie would give us chocolates and crack jokes to make us feel better while we waited for our parents who’d kick our ass.
It is VERY hard to adjust, in terms of marketing to these aliens. I’ll just have to market to boomers and be done with it! lol
But I always loved marketing from 4 or 5 years old. Used to send away to those match book covers ads and Cherios box tops for secret message rings. Once when i was 10, I ordered $32.00 in Stamps “on approval” – whatever that was – and when the collection letters came , i got in trouble for that, too.
So keep the millenial stuff coming, need to figure them out!
Great tales, Larry…
Even as the resident Xer I can relate to wanting my kids to mix it up more. My soon to be 10 son is fascinated with what kind of trouble I got into at his age. He loves the stories about taking a saw to my dads fender (it won’t REALLY cut metal, will it?) and the proverbial neighborhood fire settings (who knew grass burned like that?)… but he’ll likely never get to experience any of that because he’s never unsupervised.
It really was survival of the fittest for folks our age on up… but how these kids will survive the real world, I don’t know. They’re doing it somehow, but shit is very different.
LOL,,, having never believed in my personal “hotness” (never ever being handed a phone number) my first “senior discount” was a stunning blow of reality.
Personal torture, wherever it comes from, once examined is magic. Thank you gentlemen, this was an important episode, one I hope you continue doing in the future.
Cheers from San Diego,
I think Brian hit the nail on the head, naming the source of X-er angst: the “burden of choice” and the quicksand of change underneath our feet. I’m an on-the-cusp X-er (born in ’78) , and I remember how hard it was to choose where to spend my $3 at K-Mart … should I buy Boba-Fet? Luke Skywalker in his all-black Jedi outfit, complete with the green Lightsaber? Or maybe I should switch Toy Universes to GI Joe and get the 3rd generation Cobra Commander … or save up a few more dollars and buy Many Faces from
the world of He-Man.
If I chose one, I couldn’t have the other.
Consequently, I felt buyer’s remorse at the age of 5. One of my first experiences of the burden of choice.
More seriously, the cornucopia of choices plagued me throughout college, when I faced which major to choose (I went with Philosophy … and boy, did the elite corporate recruiters come hunting for me!) and later on what career I should go with (I didn’t choose.) I grew up believing that “You can do anything if you just put your mind to it.” (Doc Brown, Back To The Future) But choosing proved to be the hard part.
It wasn’t until my daughter was born last year that I realized I had to focus and make a choice … inventory my skills, interests and market opportunities and find a good match … and that led me to copywriting. Creativity, independent thinking, business … it combines a bunch of my values. It allows me to both specialize in a skill and keep an eye out on the big picture.
In fact, great sales copy is itself a solution to the problem of choice: it gives the reader relief from the both the scarcity and super-abundance of information. In effect, a great sales letter is telling you that I Have The Answer To Your Problem. No need for you to dig through musty old stacks at the library or endless search results on Google (it amounts to the same burden of time) … and no need to agonize over choosing the best solution. I have perfectly named your problem, and I’m going to show you exactly how you can solve it. And that’s so exciting to read. And inspiring.
KEVIN: “The boomer’s land line is ringing …” this cracked me up. I haven’t had a land line since I lived with my grandparents during college. (Though to be fair, my parents (boomers) don’t have a land line anymore either.) Actually, living with my grandparents for several years during and after college was a great learning experience … they both grew up in Fort Ransom, North Dakota (population ~ 100), and moved to Seattle in their late teens. I heard a lot of stories about farm life, the Great Depression, World War II (my grandpa helped build bombers at Boeing), and absorbed their rhythms of humor, conversation, and a straight-forward, non-ironic attitude towards life. (But they weren’t dour — far from it — my Grandpa had a wicked sense of humor.)
JOHN: That’s a great Twilight zone episode. I first saw it on Netflix a few years back. (“A Nice Place To Visit,” Twilight Zone, Season One, Episode 28, for those who want to find it.)
Services like Netflix make the entertainment of every era available — I wonder how that will affect taste? When I was little, my brother and I hated the “hippie music” records (vinyl) that my parents played: The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Dylan, etc. (Remember those “Freedom Rock” infomercials, with the two aging hippies? Hippie #1: “What’s that sound?” Hippie #2 “It’s Freedom Rock.” Hippie #1 “Well turn it up, man!” God, we hated those commercials.)
But the funny thing is … that became my favorite music, right around the time I hit puberty. The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, the whole singer-songwriter 70s era, — those cats are over-represented in my music libraries.
And when it comes to TV … nobody’s cooler than Jim Rockford.
It’s not that I don’t like new stuff … but man, there’s a lot of great stuff out there from the past … and so much of it is available, thanks to the internet. Many young people are discovering and loving classics from the past. (My wife told me last weekend that old country artists like Hank Williams and George Jones were trending with some hipsters.)
Great insights, Scott.
For the record, my landline is in the office solely for the fax machine. I can’t rely solely on my efax digital one. It also functions as a biz contact number, which my assistant tends to. When your biz model includes a phone number for customers to reach (required by federal agencies, btw, if you want to be law-abiding), you don’t want it to be your cell phone.
I grew up on country, which made that sudden swoon over the Kinks all the more startling. I still love “old” country, and have been in the occasional band playing it, though with a rock flair (ala the Flying Burrito Brothers and Grateful Dead).
For me, great music knows no bounds. My iTunes library is stocked with classical, swing, pop, crooner, jazz, smooth jazz, Butthole Surfers and Merle Haggard. Makes it hard to do a random play set, but that’s what playlists are for, right?
Thanks for the note, man.
Great post, Scott.
A cusper you may be, but you’re definitely GenX alright.
Also, I fully agree with what you said about a great sales letter being a welcome RELIEF to the right prospect. Ideally, you want the prospect to quickly conclude that they’ve landed in exactly the right place… and unconsciously abandon their hunt for more information anywhere else. If they’re going to do more digging, make it your letter they’re poring over for more details or clarification.
As far as singer/songwriters go, I’m with you there, too.
Funny aside, one of our live sound guys back in the rock & roll days was a dude we all called, “Freedom Rock Phil” because he was straight out of that TV spot… LOL
Thanks for the thoughtful and vividly written reply.
Great insights. I had been considering the implications of these social changes for awhile–the fact that you don’t have to watch the same TV shows as everyone else now. There just seem to be a lot more subcultures than there probably used to be. Thanks again, guys.
Thanks for taking the time to listen. These podcasts are not designed for “easy listening” or quick consumption. We like to make people think… something most folks are decidedly loathe to do. So hearing from folks like you, Daniel, keeps us going. Most of the top marketers I’ve known in my career are deep thinkers… but they mostly have to hide that from their larger audience. We’re just going for it…
I can’t remember who brought it up. But there was a point early in the conversation about boomers growing up wanting to break out of the box while younger generations were faced with way too much and looking for a box to put themselves in. Man, that really hit me. Perhaps it’s the reason for the massive popularity with the “Find your true purpose” industry today.
I’m still lost. Who the hell am I and who do I want to be? Way too many choices. And I can see how the number of choices would cripple sales in a market who’ve grown up overwhelmed. “Just gimme the one that does what I want”
Thanks for the comment, Scott.
It’s a funny thing… too many choices.
On the surface it sounds like freedom, but as you’ve discovered (and as we’ve all learned in direct marketing) having limitless options often leads to locking up – pretty much the exact opposite of freedom.
Hey, Scott… as a former “lost” boy myself, I can tell you that it seems desperate and impossible to find your “place” in the world while you’re feeling lost and searching like crazy. The key is to search. Knock, seek, ask — it’s the best advice I’ve ever come across. Your antsy-ness over finding your own personal path is just part of the “birthing” process of self-transformation — it takes time, but when you keep looking, and you look hard using the tools of a good marketer (researching, following up on hints and clues, seeking mentorships, breaking things down and solving the problems holding you up, etc), you WILL arrive at that special place of transformation and contentment.
Humans are hard-wired to NOT seek enlightenment — the fear of change means only those conscious enough to face down their fears and keep moving get anywhere. It has ever been thus. The searchers are often unhappy, because the search seems so hard and impossible… but I assure it’s not. It’s very much like learning to play guitar — you pick it up at first, and you’re miles away from even basic competence. If you do not progress, by practicing, finding teachers, and suffering through the challenges inherent in learning, you will never leave that stage of wondering how others “do” it. However, when you DO progress… and keep after it despite the obstacles, and the time, and the frustration of needing to hone a skill… eventually you will reach the stage of competence you desire. We talk about the “10,000 hour rule”, that it takes that many hours of practice and dedication to become an expert. I think it’s a good benchmark… but you become “competent” much sooner than 10,000 hours. A solid year of practice can take you a long way with anything.
Don’t allow the built-in frustrations of searching stop you. No one finds a shortcut to enlightenment, because it doesn’t exist. However, the path of getting your shit together is well-trod, and anyone can launch a journey.
Stay after it.
I’d love to hear you guys comment on the movie “Into the wild” and how it relates to Gen-Xer’s and Boomers.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve never seen the film.
I’d like to second Kevin’s request… my girlfriend (now wife) commented that after watching me perch on the edge of my seat for the length of the movie…
“We’ve got a flight risk here…”
I’m an X-er and she’s on the cusp…
Haven’t seen it, Kevin. Link?
It’s funny, I grew up traveling back and forth between Costa Rica, where I live, and the US where my mom’s family lived. What made it interesting, was the difference in contexts and perspectives. Between ways of thinking and acting from one country to the other.
Simple things, like waking up to Saturday morning cartoons, the whole war on drugs during the 80’s, don’t talk to strangers and an overwhelming fear of someone kidnapping you at a mall. I remember vividly losing sight of my parents in a mall and my mom’s voice ringing in my head that I was going to be snatched away by the bogeyman.
Now, having my own kid, and speaking with my brother about life I can hear my parent’s fears drumming in his voice. “Well, things are much more dangerous now.” “I wouldn’t let me kids go to the convenience store alone.” “I’m really afraid right now because it’s much more dangerous now.” Really? Sounds like a load of bullshit to me. Everyone of us has to face up to our own monsters. There’s no escaping living life.
And as I sit out in the balcony, reminiscing about my journey, I go back and forth between my parent’s (boomers) perspective and my own (gen x). And then I think about my son’s journey (gen y…this is getting silly) and realize that it’s all about context. Place and time. And I guess that’s where we each carry our own blindness. Because it’s hard for us to see the trees from the forest. And so, we plod along carrying our own prejudices and creating prejudices for a new generation that are not theirs, but ours.
Excellent insight Jean Paul.
I have a friend who is a local news anchor. When he visits schools, one common question kids ask is why there is so much more crime these days.
To show that it’s all relative to story exposure, he asks for a show of hands of anyone who’s ever been kidnapped. None. Anyone who has a relative that’s been kidnapped? None. Anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who’s been kidnapped? None.
Point being, if it was as common as the news and our own paranoia made it feel, wouldn’t we know SOMEONE who’s experienced it?
Yet, I’m as guilty as any modern parent of being in a constant state of half-panic that the creepy van is around every corner waiting to steal the kids away. Maybe it’s partly us projecting our prejudices, and partly severity of situation. I’m willing to let my kid shred his skin in a skate park so he can learn to fall better… but to risk a snatching? There’s not much that seems too extreme to avoid that.
You make excellent points. I wish there was more balance, but there is no going back. Not here in America.
Curious, is the vibe very different in Costa Rica? Do parents freet less while kids explore more? What’s the attitude towards news? Is the population actually too busy living to seek more unlikely shit to worry about?
May have to visit.
What an amazing show. Probably the best thing I’ve listened to in a long time. What you guys talked about connected with me on more than one level.
I got a lot on my mind about the show and the things you said. I’m just going to let the words rip because that’s the best way.
First things first, John, I also grew up in Cucamonga. I had this podcast on while attending to a few things in my apartment and when I heard Cucamonga, my ears perked. I moved to RC in 86 (when I was 5) and lived there until I was 16. You had asked us to share our stories, well.. here is mine.
I was a good kid all through grade school – straight A’s, stayed out of trouble, and all the other good stuff. But in Jr. High that all changed. I started hanging out with people that didn’t care about school, and pretty much anything else. My priorities became fitting in instead of getting ahead.
When I was 14 my parents got divorced, and I continued to be reckless. Surprisingly, I didn’t end up in jail. Or worse. I never was in a gang or anything. I was just a real punk. And no one seemed to care, which still bugs me to this day. I mean… my Dad said I could drop out of school and work construction with him (he’s was/is an alcoholic. His current location: prison). And my Mom was extremely stressed from the divorce. Not a good place to be for anyone.
Around 18-19 I started turning my life around. It’s been gradually getting better since then. I’m 31 now. In the past decade I’ve worked easily over 30 jobs. I’ve been on my own since 19. I started off living in my car, then in hotels, and then in some shady parts of town. If I could summarize all of the experiences in one word it would be this: grounding.
For the past several years I’ve been working as a Longshoreman. Just a part time Longie though. It’s good pay, but work is only 1-2 days a week. That’s cool with me. It gives me plenty of time to work on my copywriting/marketing.
Trying to wrap things up here…
About 1 year ago I didn’t know what copywriting was. And now, it’s part of my day to day. I’m still very much a pup, but I believe I’m on track to do some pretty amazing stuff over the next several years. My experiences have taught me to think long term. I think this (thinking long term) is one of my major strengths.
I’m currently living in Carson in a one bedroom studio apartment. It’s actually really great. Nice and quiet with a high wooden ceiling. You could describe it as rugged. This past weekend I built a standing desk so I can avoid sitting for long periods of time. I told my barber about it this afternoon and he laughed at me. He thought it was a dumb idea. Coming from a guy that’s been standing and cutting hair for 40 years I thought he would get it.
Looking forward to more shows. There’s an EXTREME amount of copywriting information out there. A show like yours is refreshing in more ways than one. The info is good. The conversations are solid. The humor is present. The experience is golden.
I respect every single one of you for what you’re doing and what you’ve done.
Until next time,
Great story, Raymond. Tough job, longshoreman. I did some two-man boat commercial fishing (for salmon) off the coast of Oregon one summer… worst job of my life. Engine kept crashing, and we were in 17 foot seas (with little catch to show for our deep-water trawling)… 15 minutes max before hypothermia if we went down, my cap’n told me…
Taught me to be thankful for my current desk job, tell you what.
Anyway, glad you enjoyed the show. We may do another one — it’s a story worth exploring…