Feel the Bern: Sanders-Clinton isn’t a battle of ideology, it’s just one more round of Boomers vs. Millennials

The Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton contest is usually presented as a battle for the ideological soul of the Democratic party. He’s a socialist, for heaven’s sake – do they really mean to go that far? Can they let the hard left dominate?

But there’s another way to look at Sanders-Clinton: not as a competition between ideologies, but between generations. It’s one more round in the ongoing battle between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Each side fields a distinctive view, not merely of taxes or regulations or other details of public policy, but of life itself, how things should work and do work, and what really matters.

The Millennial attitude comes down to this: how you feel about yourself is more important than what you actually accomplish.

It’s an understandable position. The Millennials have had the misfortune to be born into an incredibly challenging environment in which it’s difficult to accomplish much: crippling student debt, the gig economy, the greedy Boomers refusing to age and get out of the way. Compound this with an education system preaching self-esteem as the highest goal, and offering protection from the real world as long possible.

No wonder  they flock to Bernie Sanders. He offers the delicious double opportunity to not only feel virtuous, but courageous at the same time. He enables you be on the side of Good, and to do so fearlessly, in defiance of polls and focus groups and weasel words and all the grubby verbal and operational compromises of the usual political process. The very fact that he is a such a long-shot, that he won’t dilute his position to make it more broadly appealing, is part of the thrill. His supporters don’t get there through logic, they feel the Bern – not for them the cold-blooded reasoning, the sweaty bobbing and weaving, of the real world. That it’s an uphill battle, maybe even a lost cause, is the whole point.

Baby Boomers bring exactly the opposite philosophy, and Hillary Clinton is its perfect embodiment: nothing matters but results.

In pursuit of results, the Boomer generation has shown a fanatic work ethic and willingness to constantly change priorities and even identities. From hippie to Yuppie, from Woodstock to Wall Street, without batting an eye. You do what works. You do what advances the cause. And if a large part of that cause is…well, yourself? Hey, no problem.

Not surprisingly, this makes Boomers an easy group to dislike. Here’s Paul Begala, political commentator and former aide to Bill Clinton: “The Baby Boomers are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history. I hate the Boomers.”

Many of those adjectives are being applied to Hillary Clinton. She’s seen as untrustworthy and unsympathetic, out only for herself. A nag, a scold, a grim score-keeper. She reminds you of that kid we all had in our high school class – you know the one I mean – who always reminded the teacher, on the last day of school, that she’d forgotten to hand out the summer reading assignments.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders offers an emotional experience that makes you feel like a hero just for supporting him. You don’t have to worry about whether or not he can actually win, let alone accomplish his stated goals. Those are Boomerish topics – outcomes, results. So pedestrian.

And right on cue, the finger-wagging Boomer steps in. Every Hillary Clinton speech is a resume – I did this, I fought for that. Busy, busy, busy. Committees, policy papers, amendments, coalitions.

Even when she grasps at progressivism, she makes sure to pour a little cold water on it. The Boomer reality check. “Progressives,” she sniffs, “make progress.” What are your numbers? What bills did you pass? What programs did you implement? What good is your ideology if it doesn’t actually, um, accomplish anything?
Thus, the pop-up ad on her website: “I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.” The visitor is invited to click on “I Agree” before proceeding to the site itself.

But wait a minute. Surely the Boomers had their own phase of youthful rage against the system? What about the sit-ins, the Vietnam War protests, the Freedom Riders? Surely the Boomers weren’t always such calculating main-chancers?

Right. But even here – in fact, especially here — we see the same clear distinction between the generations. The Boomers, even as rebel hotheads, were all about results. Feel-good sentiments were never enough. The Vietnam War protests took years, as did the civil rights struggle. People went to jail, people died, and still the Boomers persisted. They made alliances, they worked the system, they were patient, and never confused about what success looked like.

Even the far-out radicals of that time, like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), had to put forward detailed, tightly reasoned strategies that emphasized results and not just theatrics. Their Port Huron Statement, written in 1962, runs to more than 30 pages of step-by-step plans and tactics, including a very long-term program to capture and dominate university faculties. (Total success on that one.)

By contrast, look at the Occupy movement of 2011.

Here was a protest, largely driven by Millennials, against the very same inequality that Bernie Sanders condemns so eloquently today. Helped by the Internet, it quickly morphed from Occupy Wall Street to Occupy organizations in many other cities. The Occupy Toronto website proclaimed it intended to “work towards drastic changes to economic systems.” What changes, exactly? “We have not yet put out a unified message but be sure it will come.”

It never did. What came, instead, was winter — and everyone went home.

At that point, Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that was a major influence in the movement, offered this strategic advice for the next step: “We declare ‘victory’ and throw a party…a festival…a potlatch…a jubilee…a grand gesture to celebrate, commemorate, rejoice in how far we’ve come, the comrades we’ve been, the glorious days ahead…We dance like we’ve never danced before and invite the world to join us.”

A grand gesture. Exactly. Can you imagine the Boomers settling for anything so fatuous?

And now the Millennials have another grand gesture on offer. Another opportunity to “dance like we’ve never danced before.” And meanwhile the Boomers chug-chug-chug away in all their “can-do” earnestness, pushing, prodding, parsing, back-filling. Keeping score, like Madame Defarge at the guillotine.

There have been two primaries so far. In Iowa, Clinton barely won, if she won at all (some delegates were chosen by coin toss). And in New Hampshire, she was crushed by the biggest margin in New Hampshire since JFK.

And the actualdelegate count as of today? Clinton: 394. Sanders: 42.
How is this possible?

The Democratc party has a whole other layer of delegates who are not chosen in the primaries. These “super delegates” — party and officials and insiders — exist precisely to inhibit the primary voters’ ability to take the party in a direction the establishment doesn’t want. And the overwhelming majority of them (in New Hampshire, six out of eight) are already in the bag for Hillary.

Oh, and Paul Begala, the Boomer-hater?

He’s a strong advocate for Hillary Clinton. Maybe it’s because he is (gasp) a Boomer, too, though at the youngest end (born in 1961).

Boomers versus Millennials. Outcomes versus dancing.

It’s come to this: USC holds “Consent Carnival” to reach students how to kiss someone without sexually assaulting them

In case you thought the infantilization of Millennials at universities hasn’t yet peaked, check out this story about the Consent Carnival at the University of Southern California.

Apparently the university’s “affirmative consent” standards for sex are sufficiently complex that they require special training. Thus, the Consent Carnival and its kissing booth (I’m not kidding), where students can learn to master the five-point checklist for kissing someone without actually assaulting them.

Whoever thought that universities would become just an extension of Gymboree?

Is college worth it? Goldman Sachs experts say ‘no’

Uh-oh. The number of years it takes until a student breaks even on the cost of his/her college education is increasing. Students entering college in 2030 (without scholarships or grants) may see a return on the investment until they are 37 years old.

Is college worth it? Goldman Sachs experts say ‘no’ | USA TODAY College

Reports like this are important because they may force the higher education world to get serious about value for money. They may also cause more and more Boomers (and soon, Gen X’ers) who are footing the bill for their kids’ tuition, to demand programs that are more plugged in to the real world job market. This is bound to hurt the liberal arts and soft sciences, where reform is badly needed anyway.

Political correctness triumphant on campus? Not so fast. Take a look at this poll.

OK, we’ve had a few laughs at the expense of the more insane extensions of political correctness of campus — for example, the Oberlin crusade against “racist” General Tso’s chicken — but now for some good news. At least one survey shows a majority of students actually rejecting these kinds of extremes.

The poll, conducted last September, showed that a majority of students are more conservative — or at least, more tuned into the real world — than the “social justice warriors” (SJWs) who are getting all the headlines.

This opens up some intriguing possibilities, not just for political/social commentators but for marketers. Here’s an idea to consider:

  • The Millennials get a bad rap because they are so identified with out-to-lunch SJWs. It’s easy to poke fun at Pajama Boy, the Yalies who couldn’t handle Hallowe’en costumes, Oberlin, etc. But in fact, some hard-nosed segmentation may be in order.
  • The Millennial generation is so big, in fact, that it would be remarkable if it were uniform and if it did not contain numerous sub-sets. One conventional demarcation would typically be based on education — university degree vs. no degree. But I believe this group could be further segmented.
  • I think the job market is going to begin (if it isn’t already) weeding out grads based on soft sciences vs. hard sciences, courses dominated by PC and SJW sensibilities vs. courses more plugged into the real world. If you leave the campus immersed in the concepts of microaggression, “safe” spaces, victimhood on all sides, your employability — and your value in the marketplace — will be downgraded. If you come out more demonstrably independent and self-sufficient, it will be the opposite. A new psychographic category, within the larger Millennial population, should be “snowflake” (as opposed to “adult”).

I’m serious. What is the value to a marketer of a 25-year-old who still can’t handle insensitive Hallowe’en costumes?

 

Is “waithood” the new stop between youth and adulthood?

We all know that Millennials are still living with their parents well past the age when Boomers or Gen X’ers had moved out. Turns out it’s a worldwide phenomenon, as  this report from the BBC illustrates.

The main driver is financial —  thanks to sky-high unemployment or underemployment,  the young people can’t afford to live independently. The results are serious, as public policymakers as well as marketers must re-examine a host of assumptions about how society will be structured, where revenues will come from, what public resources will be required. All the age-based models are essentially up for grabs.

The article includes some interesting observations about the “idealized” youth culture, and the new emphasis on flexibility:

“Economics is important, but culture plays a crucial role too,” says Steven Mintz, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin. “In the past, people aspired to be older. The dominant culture was an adult culture, which was associated with sophistication, worldliness and experience. Today, that has been inverted. Youth culture is the ideal – most people aspire to be younger, not older, and it is youth culture that is seen as more thrilling than anything that adulthood has to offer.

“No-one says ‘Life begins at 40’ any more, at least not without irony.”

Mintz points out that it is only in the past 100 years or so that people have considered adolescence a distinct stage in a person’s life. Perhaps we are currently seeing the emergence of a new stage in development in which young people choose to scope out their options on the job market rather than start on a career, save up for travel instead of a house, and take a series of sexual partners instead of settling down.

Instead of figuring out how they fit in, they are working out their own identity – and until that process is complete, the emphasis is on keeping one’s options open.

It could be argued that this is simply making a virtue out of necessity, but that doesn’t matter. Given the size of the Millennial demographic (larger than the Boomers now), the prevalence of these attitudes and behaviors makes nonsense out of traditional strategies, whether in the public or private sectors.

It is time for some drastic re-thinking.

 

Do we need a new marketing model? 1 – Why what we have is nonsense

The “generation gap” and the “reinvention of aging” aren’t news any more. We all understand that the “older” generations aren’t acting the way people of the same age acted in the past, and that the “younger” generations — particularly, the Millennials (in their 20s and young 30s) are experiencing extreme delays in hitting the same demographic and lifestyle benchmarks that previous generations hit at that same age.

This has profound implications for marketing. I’ve written a couple of books on this, with some material dealing with the marketing implications, and it’s the focus of what I write about on this blog. But so far, I haven’t seen anyone in the marketing community take the subject and really run with it. I think it yields an entirely new marketing model.

So far, though, most of the discussion and debate has been about why marketers overspend against the younger segments and underspend against the wealthier older cohorts. There are hundreds of articles complaining that Madison Avenue doesn’t “get it,” that they are still over-reliant on the 18-34, or 24-54, age groups and discount the older Boomers and seniors. There are numerous ad agencies and consultancies whose mission is to the prove that the Millennials are a highly valuable market, and that they (th

e ad agency or consultancy) have unique knowledge about that age group and a unique ability to help marketers reach them.

All well and good.

But I think there’s a lot of room to take the topic much further — and that’s what I propose to do in the next series of posts.

My premise is simple:

Everything is shifting older. Therefore, the classical marketing model is obsolete.

The classical model tied lifestyle to age:

  • Brand influence began in the teens (although the spending power was still with the parents)
  • The young to mid-20’s saw the  formation of new families and the all-important determination of initial brand choices
  • Spending rose steadily through the 30’s and 40’s and maybe early 50’s
  • Retirement followed, meaning that spending dropped and, since brand choices were hardened into place anyway, there was little or no reason to spend marketing dollars against that cohort.

Marketing strategies are still largely based on this model. And there’s no question that life stage component of it is still logical: you  go from a being a child with no purchasing power to a first-time and early-stage shopper in the marketplace, to a full-on consumer, to a cut-back stage and, eventually, the end.

What’s different, of course, is the absolute and total uncoupling of age from life-stage — at least, the ages that were previously assigned to the various stages. This uncoupling is so radical that it makes the entire model nonsense.

  • Family formation has increasingly been shifting into the 30’s, instead of the 20’s
  • First home purchase is increasingly in the 30s
  • Retirement is no longer automatic at 65
  • The fastest-growing age group, in percentage terms, is the centenarian segment

For marketers, the urgent issue ought to be: how do we align our strategies and messaging to these new realities? What do we say to 20-somethings, while waiting for them to have money? What do we say to 60- or even 70-somethings, realizing that they might well be still in the workforce and might have 20 or 30 years of spending power ahead of them? In fact, what does a 30-year spending trajectory look like, for a 60-something, and how do we, as marketers, play into it?

I don’t think marketers are spending nearly enough time figuring this out. To too large an extent, they’re still aligning dollars and age brackets based on the old model that no longer exists. In the next two posts, I’ll suggest some new ways of coming at it.

Stay tuned.

Robert De Niro or Pajama Boy? Why Millennial women want to date older men.

Here’s a shocker: it seems a lot of Millennial women don’t like dating Millennial men.

When I first came across this article, I thought the reason might be tied in, somehow, with the whole “feminization of men” thing. You know what I mean: the triumph of indifference and irony as the dominant style points, the self-mockery, the vague (and sometimes not so vague) air of helplessness. And my own pet peeve: the apparent requirement that male pop artists sing in falsetto, a trend that can’t go away soon enough. How desirable can all this squishiness possibly be?

That’s part of it, as you’ll see. But there’s an area where a lot of Millennial guys are apparently not squishy: making sure, as aggressively as possible, that the women understand there is no future relationship on offer.

From the article:

Men are impolite to the point of viciousness to ensure that the women they just hooked up with understand they don’t want a relationship. Women “self-objectify” in profile pictures to get men interested, renouncing the “wrong idea” that they might want something more than a one-night stand. No matter which way you spin it, landing yourself in a committed relationship seems to be, by millennial standards, “the wrong idea.”

In response, says the author:

I’ve noticed a new strategy among my set of female friends—lovely, intelligent, independent women—to combat the grime of the online dating world: date up.

I don’t mean status, I mean age. More and more women I know are dating men twice, yes twice, their age. In her new film, The Intern, Anne Hathaway stands with Robert DeNiro and a bunch of young male colleagues in a bar and draws a harsh comparison: “How in one generation have men gone from guys like Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to . . .?” She gestures despairingly at the four men in front of her, archetypes of my generation in their hoodies, craft beer in one hand, iPhone in the other, with their untrimmed beards and general lack of ambition. I see what Hathaway means: Why put up with Tinder when there’s a whole generation of men out there who wouldn’t dream of using it?

Not only that, but the older men are actually…um…better dates. And maybe more.

My friend Gabrielle met her boyfriend at a restaurant opening. They are twenty years apart, and they’ve been together for two. He “treats me like I’m a person,” she told me. “I watch so many of my other friends agonize over text messages from guys who . . . just clearly don’t care.” The stereotypes, she says, are true: Older men are attentive, they aren’t threatened by your career success, they didn’t grow up watching porn on their laptops, and they certainly don’t expect sex from you before you’ve even had a chance to meet. It’s not an “old-fashioned” dating scheme, it’s just a more humane one. “I wasn’t trying to go back in time,” Gabrielle added at the end of our conversation. “Nobody wants to go back to the 1950s, we just want to be treated with respect.”

The money quote, I think, is: “How in one generation have men gone from guys like Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to…?”

Exactly.