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The Intersection

The Strip Sense: Vanishing Point

I turned 35 and graduated from cultural relevance

Steve Friess

Hi, I’m with Baloney and Pastrami Surveys, and we’re doing some market research in your area,” she said too politely for me to hang up. “Is this Mr. Friess?”

“I guess that would be me,” I answered, impressed she pronounced it correctly.

“What kind of research?”

“It’ll only take a few minutes. We’re interested in your use of electronic items, but first I need to get some demographic information from you,” she said. “How old are you?”

“I’ll be 35 in a few weeks,” I told her.

“But you’re still 34, then, right?” she said brightly.

“Yep.”

“Oh, good. Okay ... ”

 The whole thing, true to her vow, took about five minutes. She wanted to know how many TVs and computers we own, whether we have iPhones and TiVos and Xboxes, how much time we spend using all of these things.

“May I ask,” I said as she winded down, “what might’ve happened if I were already 35?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t have been able to use you for this survey,” she replied.

And there, my friends, is everything that’s wrong with America. Okay, not everything. In fact, not much of anything. But something that was significant to a lot of other people with a lot of money happened to me last week when I did, in fact, pass a certain magical demographic threshold. At 35, I vanished.

You hear about it all the time, the vaunted 18-34 demographic. TV shows that pull in large swaths of that age group are, despite smaller overall audiences than other programs, nonetheless deemed successful and remain on the air for years. Whether it’s for clothes or new technology or entertainment or that product known as Las Vegas, last week I was part of a trend-setting set and this week I might as well shrivel up in the corner with a collectors-edition Murder, She Wrote box set and a J.C. Penney store card.

It is true I’m getting on in age. I now bump up the computer type to 14 points so I can see it more comfortably. I’ve adjusted my own acceptable body contours, deciding that some moobs aren’t the end of the world. And my Jew-fro is losing its pigment, although I was pleased last month when I covered a convention of hair-replacement surgeons for USA Today and several of them praised me on “making it this far” with such a healthy head of hair. I think that’s a compliment, although I also wonder if all the gray had them thinking I’m even older than I am.

But other than that, how did it come to be that this is the first stop to cultural irrelevancy?

“I don’t know who decided 34 was different than 35, but there is something that happens around that point in each generation,” explains Rob Dondero, executive vice president of R&R Partners, the Vegas powerhouse ad firm. “There has to be a cut-off somewhere. Let’s be real here. The 18-25 group is actually dramatically different even than 25-34 group, too. And as you migrate to the older end of that spectrum, your habits do change.”

Sad as I was to admit it, he had a point. The nice lady who polled me asked if we had an iPhone and when I told her no, she kind of nagged me about why not. (In fact, I suspect that she was doing her research on Apple’s behalf.) My answers showed my age and experience: I couldn’t justify spending the $600, and I’d learned the hard way that regret over my impatience would set in as soon as the improved and cheaper second or third generations of the gizmo were out.

But a decade ago, I would’ve been in line with the rest of the geeks that first night, if only to impress friends and co-workers. At 35, though, I don’t like my friends thinking I’m an overspending show-off, and my workplace mates are two little dogs whom I can thrill simply by walking into the kitchen.

More importantly to marketers, though, it’s not that the whippersnappers have more money, although they do tend to spend it more recklessly. It’s that they have more time left in their lives.

This explains a lot about the way R&R and the major resort companies market Las Vegas. The average Vegas visitor is in his high 40s or early 50s, depending on whose numbers you like, but our ad campaigns and most of the new high-profile resort offerings—gorgeous nightclubs and fancy lounges primarily— clearly gun for the demo from which I just graduated.

“We’re looking at the lifetime value of a consumer,” Dondero says. “If our brand is communicated to a consumer at a relatively young age, we can hook them early, and as the destination improves itself, there’s always a reason to come.”

I melodramatically bemoaned this turning point on my blog last week and one chucklehead poster tried to make me feel better by writing: “Don’t feel so bad. You’re 35! Now you can be president!”

Hmm. The first gay, Jewish POTUS. I imagine I might draw a sizeable portion of the 18-34 vote with those pedigrees. Too bad they’re too busy text-messaging from In-N-Out to tell their posse they’re en route to LAX to vote, huh?

Meet Steve Friess at 5:30 p.m. on November 8 in the Extended Study Lounge at UNLV’s Lied Library or e-mail him at SteveFriess@aol.com.

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