Is it a case of ‘beam me out Scotty’ with the older generation and new technology?

In the early series of Star Trek there was always that moment when Captain Kirk said “Beam me up Scotty” via his hand-held device. I wonder if the props man on the set thought to develop his bit of science fiction in to a working model? I bet he is kicking himself now. Walking around today most of us have our hand-held devices, who would have thought it when watching Star Trek at the time?

We can do most of the magic stuff Captain Kirk had on his device – talk, look at movies, view maps, get a pinpoint accurate geographical position, work out the square root of 736 (27.129), plus many more – except the ‘beam me up’ function but I’m guessing that won’t take too long. Perfect for escaping that over-served bigot who keeps saying ‘and another thing’ whilst sticking his/her finger in one’s chest at a drinks party.

It got me thinking about the fragmentation of this modern communication tool in terms of early and late adopters. Also do the interest and appeal of the various functions decline with age? I’ve met a lot of people who work in the IT/mobile/games worlds and they all have one obvious commonality – they are all younger, say 30 or lower. Do they have marketing teams focused on different age groups? Or don’t they bother worrying about the over 40s?

One possible answer is global reach and the scale of market opportunity. The world population is about seven billion so if five per cent bought a new handset, e.g. Apple’s latest iPhone in the first year of launch, then that’s 350 million sales. With those numbers why worry about the late adopters? A limited visits to Apple stores in New York and London reveals that the stores are rammed with customers aged around 25. So perhaps pays to focus on early adopters. It’s no wonder Apple has a cash mountain of $100bn that it’s thinking of ways to disperse..

Also Facebook has 850 million users so this site reaches around 12 per cent of the world’s population, or put another way, one in eight people. I’m guessing but it is probably more like one in two people aged between 12 and 30. Staggering.

So maybe the deal is: focus on younger early adopters. In marketing speak going from zero to ten per cent penetration of an expectant, enthusiastic market is relatively easy and very profitable. It’s far tougher trying to squeeze out a tiny increase in brand share in saturated markets. To keep this momentum among early adopters needs a steady stream of new products to market, coinciding with current products beginning to slow down in sales terms.

So I get the scale point but I don’t get some of the products of this revolution. Twitter is my favourite one to ask people about because I’m left stony cold, it leaves me gagging for anything that is remotely smart. Do we have global thought leaders tweeting their thoughts all the time? All I get is drivel and more drivel. Why in a million years would someone believe I could be interested in knowing which airport/hotel/office/bar they are in at that moment. I just don’t get it on any level.

I don’t think the clever crew of the Starship Enterprise would have been too impressed if Captain Kirk sent them a message saying “I’m just having a pooh at the moment here on Planet Zog, Scotty can beam me up in five minutes’. Too much detail, the second part of the sentence would suffice.

The technology advances and the ability to go global are truly amazing and have changed the world in many ways. It feels, however, there is a growing age divide because the modern megabrands are clearly focused on a younger customer group and, quite honestly, why not? They are early adopters who embrace new ideas plus they are the future.

Although we are living longer and the silver surfer is a reality, I would guess the decline in interest in all things new and shiny does gather speed as time ticks by.
It is all about personal bandwidth. A younger person has more available memory whereas someone older has used it up. There’s less available space for more information. Maybe that’s why when people get really old they start going backwards in recall, the memory cells start deleting stuff. Young people have fresh wiring whereas older people have analogue wiring.

I would quite like one of those machines they had on the Starship Enterprise which you could plug in and get a download of data, it would save me those sinking feelings I get when I open the instruction manual of my latest technology purchase. I rarely get past the ‘fast set-up’ section.

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.