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Youth powers TV, but is that smart business?

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Mr. Nelson, for one, is not optimistic that much will change anytime soon. "It's a perverse element of human behavior that, the more we move into unpredictable territory, the more we cling to that which we know and we resist that which we don't. That applies to an ... executive allocating his precious media dollars," he says. "We have more data than we've ever had before; we don't have a lot more wisdom. They call it 'analysis paralysis.' "

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The US obsession with youth, too, plays into advertisers' desire to associate their products with all things young. "The public in general and advertising people in particular are programmed to think that aging is a bad thing; that once you're past 40, you're over the hill and out of the game," says Robert Snyder, senior partner at advertising firm J. Walter Thompson Worldwide.

Some network executives are beginning to realize they can reach out to a broader demographic without damaging their reputation or their bottom line.

Take CBS, which has struggled in recent years to shed the label of "your grandma's network." Executives there found a better solution than simply dumping their faithful fold in favor of young Turks.

"CBS got smart," says Marc Berman, senior writer at Mediaweek.com of the Eye network. "A few years ago they tried to change their image, and it didn't work. Now they have mixed it up a little with [reality shows] 'Big Brother' and 'Survivor,' but they have not abandoned '48 Hours,' '60 Minutes,' 'Touched by an Angel,' or 'The District.' " All are shows with an older audience. Advertisers buy ad time based on specific strategies, explains Nelson.

"But the way those strategies play out can lead to misperceptions" about who people really are and how they act, he says. He and others agree that viewers over 50 – who make up 27 percent of the population – should be more valuable to marketers.

"Someone turns 55 every 7.5 seconds, and they are not bringing brand loyalty with them," Nelson says. "What they are bringing is the greatest purchasing power in the history of mankind."

Razors and aftershave are his main loyalties

When Andy Sisinger turned 18 last year, he got a Mach3 replaceable razor in the mail.

"That was a cool thing for them to do," he says. The young guitar player says he's been using it ever since. But not because he's particularly loyal to Gillette.

"I'm not a brand person." The truth is more mundane, he says, "I'm just lazy. If somebody gave me another razor and it worked just as well, I'd use that one."

He watches about an hour of TV a day, mostly local news, but some network, he says, adding that there is no satellite or cable in his apartment.

Mr. Sisinger rarely buys products on the basis of what he sees, in either the shows or the ads. He shops mostly to buy stuff that he needs, he says.

When Friday rolls around, and he gets his paycheck, he'll shop by category, not by brand. "I just identify the stuff I need in my head by the type of thing it is, and I look for the best price."

He's a pretty simple guy, he says, which is just as well. Living in the small town of Chillicothe in southern Ohio, pretty much limits his choices. There are not many malls to choose from, he says.

Sisinger works as an audio engineer while he attends a trade school in the same profession. He used to play lead guitar in a band with three other buddies, but he's currently working on establishing his studio engineering skills.

The Ohio native says there are only a few items that he buys by name. His girlfriend once gave him Hugo Boss aftershave, so he buys that when he shops for cologne. And his mom brought home Right Guard Xtreme Sport deodorant for him, so he always goes for that brand when he shops.

Otherwise, he says, he's easily influenced by his friends. "If there's a vibe out there about something being trendy or fun, I'll probably give it a try," he says. He started drinking Sobe brand drinks because he likes the lizard on the bottle, but also because his roommate, Nate, recommended it.

Sisinger says he also saw the ad campaign and liked it. "The presentation was kind of witty and cool, so I thought I'd give it a try." When it comes to the larger purchases in life, such as a car, Sisinger says he'd be more likely to buy by brand. But even then, not because of an ad campaign as much as a personal connection. "I'll probably just end up getting a car like the one my parents drive because I like it," he says.

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