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Demographics and Media

Back to Ontario Media Literacy Main Page
Go to Wiindmill Press Publishing House (Canadian publisher of media literacy resources)

"Demographics explain two-thirds of everything." So say David Foot and Daniel Stoffman, authors of Boom, Bust and Echo Ever wonder why certain media trends occur? Why, for example, the majority of films these days seems so juvenile or why so much of the music is by one-hit wonders? The answer is demographics. Understanding demographics is a big part of understanding media, especially advertising.

The following exerpt is from Foot and Stoffman's book:

Movie attendance in Canada is up by 20 million tickets per year since the start of the 1990s. In the Toronto area, the number of screens showing movies is projected to double over the next three years. Does this make any sense in a world where movies face stronger competition for the entertainment dollar than ever before?

The answer is demographics. The Echo generation, the boomers' kids born between 1980 and 1995, have entered their prime movie-going years. Teenagers and young adults love going out to the movies, which is why most movies are produced with them in mind. In fact, teen culture in general, not just movies, is currently in boom mode because North America has more teenagers than at any time since the boomers themselves were young. Some 6.5 million Canadian Echo kids and 76 million American echo kids either already are, or over the next few years will become teenagers.

The demographic shift means boom times for many products that, until recently, were slumping. The apparel, beer, and marijuana industries are just a few that will boom thanks to the echo. College and university enrollments will climb, as will demand for rental apartments. Good news for retailers is that these echo teens are richer than their boomer parents were at the same age. In the 1950s, three or four kids had to compete for whatever spending money one working parent chose to distribute. In the 1990s, one or two kids have their cash needs supplied from two working parents. Because of growing life expectancy, some Echo kids are blessed with four grandparents. That demographic situation has given rise to the phenomenom some marketers call the "six pocket kid." It is the reason why Nike running shows are $200 and a Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt is $50.

The echo is big but not as big as the almost 10 million strong boom. Just as movie theatres for kids are mushrooming, so casinos and golf courses are popping up everywhere to accomodate aging boomers who are entering their prime gambling and golfing years. Life has become more complex for retailers and providers of recreational, educational and other services. They must be able to satisfy the different needs of two growth markets--one composed of people in their teens and 20s and another of people in their 50s.

Children, Teens and Corporate America

In a 1999 article of the Toronto Globe and Mail, Philip Jackson took an even closer look at these Echo kids, by narrowing the present group to children aged 9-14:

With 59% of Canada's Tween-agers having a bank account and 17 percent possessing cards for automated banking machines, children aged 9 to 14 are a significant emerging market.

According to a national survey conducted for YTV cable channel by Creative Research International, kids in this age group are savvy consumers who exert a growing influence on their families' spending habits. They control an increasingly large pool of discretionary income--$1.5 billion in 1998--even though the Tweens who have part-time jobs are working fewer hours (5.4 a week in 1998, compared to 7.3 in 1995)and are also earning less on average ($4.60 an hour in 1998 versus $5 in 1995).

The top items Tweens spend their money on are food, entertainment and clothing. But they're saving, too. Electronics (20%) and sports equipment (17%) head the list of items these children are saving for, but a farsighted 8% are putting money aside for college or university.

Today's young adolescents represent a multi-billion dollar market--the emerging adolescent is an emerging consumer. Consumer research estimates that children between the age of two and twelve influenced $82.4 million in food and beverage purchases in 1994. To ignore media's influence on teens is to shrug off any responsibility to our culture. We exist in the wired, networked, window-to-the-world, global village, 90s culture that is so all around us. To believe we can ignore it all and not be affected is simple ignorance. More importantly, teachers and parents need to accept and understand that McDonalds, Coke, Nike, Shopping Malls, the 5000 channel universe and computers are not going to go away. We need to learn strategies to understand and interpret them. If that doesn't get you going, considering some of the following statistics, taken from 1996 consumer research:

--by age 18, an average teen will have seen 350,000 commercials with 1/3 of them advertising beer

--50% of 7th to 12th graders have a television in their room; 18% have a TV & VCR in their room

--adolescents between 9 and 13 watch more TV than any other segment of the population except the elderly

--7th graders listen to about 2 1/2 hours of music per day; 9th graders about 3 1/2 hours

--25% of all prime-time and weekend daytime commercials advertise food, 50% of which is "junk" food

--22% of four grade girls have said they have dieted or are dieting

--35% of all wine coolers in the U.S. are consumed by junior and senior high school students

--since the introduction of the 'Ol Joe' (cartoon camel)advertising campaign for Camel cigarettes in 1988, sales of Camel cigarettes to those under 18 are estimated to have increased from $6 million to $476 million annually

--78% of teen girls are dissatisfied with their bodies

--83% of teen girls have dieted or are dieting

--the diet industry is $33 billion (world-wide)

--the cosmetics industry is $20 billion(world-wide)

--the cosmetic surgery industry is $300 million


While you know your class or children better than anyone and will tailor activities based on some of the above information, here are some suggestions to get you going on demographics.

Define demographics and ask students why population trends would be valuable to know if you were an advertiser, movie-maker, TV producer, toy-maker, etc.

Show the graph of population trends from Boom, Bust and Echo or visit Statistics Canada web-page and target the "bulging" areas of the population. Prepare questions for the students to gather information on population trends. Cater the questions to your own needs (ie concentrating on the Baby Boomers or the Baby Boom Echo Kids or even the Baby Busters)

Much attention is given to the large population "cohorts" like the Echo Kids. Speculate with your class about the small demographic "cohorts" like the Baby Busters born in the late 60s and early 70s. What does being born in a small demographic group mean when it comes to media. In all likelihood, these kids probably had to watch everything that was aimed at the kids older than they. You can speculate on some social issues here.

Predicting is one of the most interesting activities to do when studying demographics. Project 10 years and have students make a list of 10 products that would probably sell very well based on demographics.

Choose 3 of the products and brainstorm possible commercials, print ads and billboards for this product. Tailor this assignment to your own needs. Prepare a handout in which you give headings of details you wish students to include in their thinking.

As the teacher in your own particular part of the country, prepare a list of "areas" you could present to your students in which they must choose the type of products that might be popular 10 years from now based on demographics. For example, ask them, what will be popular in sports equipment in 10 years since a large segment of our population will be over 50 years of age? Or what kind of music and therefore radio stations will be popular when the Echo Kids hit their early and mid-twenties?

For younger grades, you may want to emphasize the importance of demographics through an illustration in which you divide the class into distinct groups of varying sizes (be sure one group is large and one is small). Ask a group of students to brainstorm several products that would fit these different groups. Then ask which group they would aim for and why. They will answer, the one with the most people. Illustrate the point that most companies pay attention to large groups of people. If only 10% of a large group buys your product you will be better off than 50% of a small group buying your product.