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Youth powers TV, but is that smart business?

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As for the assumption that many advertisers make, that he will start forming brand attachments, especially as he gets into his 40s, Sisinger says he hopes not. "I would like to think that throughout my life, I'd try new things.... I might weed out the bad stuff and stick with the good. I hope I'll go on trying new things just like I do now."

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A Charmin shopper

It's dinner time in Los Angeles. For 59-year-old Laurie Burton, that means a trip to the local gourmet grocery, the nearby Gelson's.

"I shop every day," she says. "We don't like to plan ahead much."

When she does take a wagon down the aisles, there are only two things she buys strictly by label.

"Olive oil and toilet paper," Mrs. Burton says with a laugh. She got hooked on Bertolli's oil in 1965 by her former mother-in-law, who was Italian, and swore by the label that now never leaves Burton's kitchen.

As for Charmin, well, she asks, "how can you think of buying anything else....?" Her voice trails off.

But that's it for brands. The communications consultant says she and her husband have been auditioning a new popcorn in their lives, but are not attached to Healthy Choice, yet.

"We've created this passion for popcorn instead of desserts with lots of sugar," she says of the after-dinner treat she and her husband consume. "But," she adds, "if a new one had no butter on it and it tasted right, I'd try something new. I'm not wedded to this brand."

Laurie watches two to three hours of television a night and plans to try out most of the new shows. Even if something doesn't click the first time, she'll try again. "It took me three times to really get 'West Wing,' " she says of one of her regular programs.

But when the ads come on, she hits the mute button or flips to another station. She says she would never shop on the basis of what she saw on TV. "I'm pretty independent," she says. "I've never been a price shopper, or clipped coupons. I have philosophical concerns like the environment. I might look at something completely different if it answers my concerns."

Money is not one of those concerns. "I'll pay more for things that answer my philosophical concerns or tastes," Burton says.

As for whether she's worth advertisers spending time and money on, Laurie is both feisty and philosophical. "I would say to these guys: I'm alive and kicking. I feel and think like I'm 21. My father, who just turned 94, said to me last week, 'I still feel like I'm in my 20s.' " She says that they are still drawn to products and ideas that appeal to young people, but that "[we're] just filled with more depth and understanding."

Soup or car: for him, value is everything

Thomas Jansen describes himself as a calm person, but he bristles at the notion that he's so set in his ways that he's not worth paying attention to. "I'm still working, I'm still buying things," he says. "I haven't made up my mind about anything at all."

Since they own only one car, on this particular morning his wife dropped him off at his regular job, working as a service technician at the Royal Palm TV and Stereo Shop in Vero Beach, Fla. The 63-year-old says he spent a semester in college, but found that his technical skills were more useful. He fixes people's VCRs and radios during the day, and brings home "around $30,000 a year."

Most evenings, he watches TV for a few hours, mostly local news, but some of the British comedies on cable and PBS specials. Commercials don't bother him enough to change the channel, but he will mute them, particularly the ones he thinks are geared toward the younger crowd.

"Like the new Mitsubishi or GM ads," Mr. Jansen says. "They're so loud, they're really awful."

He never watches any of the "reality shows." Even though he is careful to note brands in each commercial, he says he has never bought anything on the basis of ads, especially not a big ticket item like a car. "I own a Ford now. I used to own a Chrysler, and I'll probably buy a Japanese car, next."

Jansen's wife makes the smaller decisions, such as which groceries to buy, but Thomas heads into the grocery with her and reads the labels as they walk the aisles. His wife usually leaves him behind, because he says he drives her a little batty reading everything. But, he says, his philosophy is the same, whether it's a can of soup or a car. "I go for value, not a name."