Strategy Interview: Christopher Copp

Christopher Copp recently joined Weaver Tanner & Miller as account director. Before that, Copp was at Fallon McElligott in Minneapolis supervising accounts such as Coca-Cola, Stroh Brewery, Ralston Purina, Jim Beam and the National Coalition for Cancer Research. A native Canadian,...

Christopher Copp recently joined Weaver Tanner & Miller as account director. Before that, Copp was at Fallon McElligott in Minneapolis supervising accounts such as Coca-Cola, Stroh Brewery, Ralston Purina, Jim Beam and the National Coalition for Cancer Research. A native Canadian, Copp spent 14 years in Minnesota. He earned his MBA at the University of Minnesota, where he wrote three papers on consumer behavior. At Fallon McElligott, he researched Generation X, preparing proprietary studies for Coca-Cola and Stroh.

Q. How do you describe Generation X?

A. Generation X is variously described, depending on what your motivation is.

There are a lot of people out there who would like to promote themselves as the medium for Generation X as mtv might, or the product of a new generation as Pepsi might.

For the younger generation, you might be talking about a group of people who are as old as 34, or 30, depending on where you take your cutoff point.

Typically, you’re talking about a group of people born between 1960 and 1980, roughly.

The problem is that you can’t look at someone who is 14 years old and talk to them the same way you talk to someone 28 or 30.

I think that’s one of the dangers you run up against talking about Generation X.

There are characteristics that hold true across the board.

For some Coke new product work, we’d done about 130 focus groups in three countries, talking to a group of people 16 to 24 years of age.

We broke them into a number of groups, but, roughly, 16 to 18, another group 20 to 22.

A lot of similarities between the two groups, but, one of the things you find, and this is backed up by American demographic information, is that they’re not that different from 16- to 18-year-olds 20 years ago, but they have a deeper cynicism, perhaps, and a deeper sense that they have to trust themselves to get ahead.

They’re living with fewer resources. They have, in fact, real incomes that are 25% to 28% lower than 20 years ago.

They may not know the statistics, but, certainly, understand that they are a generation who are faced with shortages that the baby boom generation didn’t face, and there’s a kind of a resentment that they have to deal with that.

Q. If there’s not one approach for the so-called Generation X, how do marketers reach the group?

A. I think there are certain things you would have to watch out for.

For example, talking to a younger group of householders about early retirement, your financial dreams will be rewarded with such-and-such a plan, as some companies in the financial services industry might do is wrong because this is a group of people who understand that they will have to work until they’re 65.

It’s not part of their game plan. It’s something that would have worked 15 years ago, but won’t work today.

For the younger people in the group, fast-cutting, in-your-face images that everyone seems to believe is part of what this generation likes is not necessarily true, either.

They’re still entertained by stories. They still like to have advertising that’s entertaining.

If it looks like it’s just young kids who are shot together in fast cuts, they turn off on that stuff very quickly.

They figure you haven’t worked hard enough to figure out what they’re all about. You’ve watched mtv for a week and know what these kids like to watch. And that’s not true.

If you look at the viewing habits of most young kids, they watch mtv, but they also watch just average primetime shows as well, and that’s, in fact, what they watch more of.

They’ll tune in and out of mtv to find out what’s hip and stuff, but very few have a constant diet of it.

Q. What are the challenges for those marketing to Generation X?

A. To make sure they are being clever enough, first of all, in what they’re communicating.

I think that Sega does a pretty good job with the really young group by not beating them over the head with their message, but just giving them a really good series of interesting images, and leaving them with an impression.

Marketers must understand the level of distrust and cynicism that’s out there, and to try to break through that without trying to be cynical themselves.

Because that’s a turn-off to these kids, as well. It’s something you have to understand, but have to play with it as well to get their attention.

At Fallon McElligott, we played a lot with various series of executions, and different kinds of ways of communicating.

Our theory going in is if we had very oblique communication, open-ended, and left it as a kind of mystery, the kids would eat it up. They actually didn’t, much to our dismay. They found it too hard.

If you’re going to advertise, you’re still expected to advertise. You’re still expected to leave them with something. Don’t just leave them with a mystery. That just seems to upset them.

You can give them too much credit for video literacy, and this wanting things to be fired at them, and leave them with a sense of `Wow, that was cool.’

That’s not true. You really have to close the loop somewhat. By the same token, if you hit them over the head with it, they don’t like that, either. It’s somewhere in the middle ground. I wish I had the answer.

Q. How do they differ as consumers?

A. Baby boomers will respond better to advertising that seems to have a bigger message, such as the cozy appeal to the family and future security.

Anything that seems to hint, and you have to be careful of this a little bit because it’s gone out of fashion, but a sense of a badge, or sense of status, still has some kind of an appeal for boomers.

If you’re marketing a car, and would like to appeal to boomers and the younger generation, you have to be careful how the car is presented.

If it’s presented as status badge of some kind, it won’t bother the boomers too much, but it may very well bother the younger generation because they’d be more interested in value.

Value is very much how they look at products. There’s no bs. Again, this has to do with their video literacy. Don’t try to mystify me here. What are you talking about?

But, they’re not necessarily coupon-clippers, either. They’re very savvy shoppers. One of the things they do know about is products. They will shop around. They do have a sense of what things cost, and a sense of brands, but they don’t have the disposable income to pay huge amounts of money for those things.

They’re also sometimes interested in the second-tier brands. They see those as good value. Lee jeans isn’t doing badly right now. Levi’s is still doing great, but Lee is an excellent value, and it’s still a branded product.

Q. What do you predict for the future of marketing to this generation?

A. Values shift as you get older, but the bet is that they won’t be wooed. This will somehow be the fix-up generation. They will make sacrifices so their kids will have the kind of life they didn’t have.

There is every indication they’ll continue to save their pennies, believe in saving not spending, and be a little cautious with their money.

That trend will continue in the future, and parallels with the gi generation are certainly there. It’s a more conservative generation, more concerned with community and family, and those will be the centre of their lives.

The information highway is a good way of reaching Generation X. There is a huge potential with online services and cd-rom.

This generation grew up with computers, and is not afraid of technology.