In the caveman days, advertising must have been simple. If you needed to promote a product, you just went to the cave TV station and aired your message to caves across the country.
That was The Flintstones; this is now. We have labels for specific age groups, like "Mature Generations," because nobody knows what else to call the World War II soldiers and nurses who gave birth to the baby boomers who begat Genera-tion X, who in turn begat Generation Y. As we all know, if we're advertising a brokerage firm, we aren't going to advertise on a Saved By the Bell repeat. But we might on a repeat of The Monkees, a favorite of Generation Jones.
Yes, that's right: Meet Generation Jones. Actually, you already have. Many of you may already be members of the club. You just never knew it, just as Generation Xers had no identity (or is it lack of identity?) until Douglas Coupland wrote a book with a title that gave the younger masses a moniker.
Generation Jones, if one is to accept this premise, represents males and females born between 1954 and 1965, an era that, we all thought, belonged to the last of the baby boomers and the first of the Gen Xers. But historians, demographers, politicians and entrepreneurs may need to start rethinking things.
The Jones concept was created by sociologist Jonathan Pontell, who will be 42 in June and always felt he was only trapped inside a boomer's body. "I can remember first hearing the words 'baby boom generation' as a high school student," muses Pontell, "and the whole class burst out laughing when the teacher told us we were baby boomers. It was so obvious we weren't. That was in the back of my head all those years. I wasn't spending sleepless nights obsessing over the fact that I'd been mislabeled, but in the back of my head, I never identified with the boom."
All those years, instead, Pontell firmed up his education and life experiences. He graduated from Cambridge University, becoming a lawyer who never really practiced law. He traveled, returned to the states and started a successful national distribution business; later, he drifted from country to country, his longest stay in Prague.
Meanwhile, the question of generational identity continued to nag at him. Says Pontell, "In the early '90s, when the whole Generation X-babble-looza kicked in, I realized immediately that I wasn't part of that either."
And then, a few years ago, Pontell was in the middle of a six-month stay in India when his radio played a song that included part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Listening to those words promptly "brought tears to my eyes," says Pontell, who spent much of that night thinking about why he had been so affected. "I realized there was something special about being a child of the '60s--not a 'flower child,' someone well into his teens and 20s and who was changing the world, but a child formed by those changes. That story had never been told."
It will be told this month in a new book by Pontell called, of course, Generation Jones (Vanguard Press), and his ideas can be studied at www.generationjones.com. Pontell spent several years writing the book and researching it, finessing what years his generation encompassed and what it should be called. He did the latter by coming up with 650 names, whittling it down to 20 and asking 800 people to choose from the list. "Generation Jones was overwhelmingly the favorite," he says.
And a favorite of the media's to boot. Newspapers and news cable stations (i.e., Fox, MSNBC) have run stories about the emergence of Generation Jones, and Pontell, a regular publicity machine, has collected the approval and applause of like-aged celebrities around the United States. Drew Carey, Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze have all promoted the idea.
"Jonathan Pontell is right. There's this group of us who grew up on Twister and The Brady Bunch, and the baby boomers were before that," says Rosie O'Donnell in Pontell's press releases, "and I feel totally disconnected from the Gen X crowd."
Speaking of The Brady Bunch, Maureen McCormick gushes in the publicity material, "Marcia Brady finally has a home . . . I know now what I am. I'm a Joneser!"
But do we really need to keep up with the Joneses? Although she believes Joneses are a subset of boomers, Ann A. Fishman, president of Generational Targeted Marketing Corp. in New Orleans, admits that Pontell has done his homework and agrees that entrepreneurs should be refining their messages depending on the age group.
"If you know the characteristics of what history produced in a certain generation, you really are a step ahead of everybody else," says Fishman, whose clients have included such powerhouses as Reader's Digest. "It does make a difference if you grew up during a depression, or a time of influence. It does make a difference if you grew up during war or during peace. It does make a difference if you grew up with stay-at-home mothers or with working mothers. These things really cause differences in how consumers react to a message."
"This generation is at the center of, and is the largest segment of, that marketing mantra, 25 to 54," says Pontell, who now runs The Jones Group, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to correcting the misnaming of a generation. Pontell delivers seminars and workshops on the subject and consults for businesses like Avant-Guide travel books and EducationPlanet.
Com. Even if Pontell is biased toward his own cause, he may be onto something. Fifty-three million Americans fit into the Jones Generation.
"We're really at a place of influence, with a huge
amount of disposable income," says Pontell. "It's an
important group for entrepreneurs to be
So we recommend you take the caveman approach to advertising only if you're including an actual nod of nostalgia for The Flintstones. That was a Generation Jones favorite, too.
Geoff Williams is a frequent contributer to Entrepreneur. He confesses to being a Gen Xer but says,"Hey, some of my best friends are Generations Jonesers."
Generational-Targeted Marketing Corp., (504) 866-7624, firstname.lastname@example.org
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.