Tech

Marketers Wanted a New Generation to Target, Hence Alphas

By September 17, 2019 No Comments
Marketers Wanted a New Generation to Target, Hence Alphas

Emma Grey Ellis

Ryan ToysReview, a YouTube channel helmed by a spritely 7-year-old, does product placement better than Michael Bay. Every moment of every video is a candy-colored consumerist confection, a parade of products for your preschooler to crave: board games, Nerf guns, dunk tanks, plushies of Ryan himself. It’s what made Ryan and his family $22 million last year. It’s also what got them slapped with an FTC complaint last week.

Watchdog Truth in Advertising is accusing the toy review channel of failing to disclose brand deals to its very young viewers, fooling them into watching advertisements under the guise of entertainment. (The FTC confirmed the complaint, but the regulator declined to comment on whether it has opened an investigation.) Ryan’s father, Shion Kaji, takes the allegations seriously, but feels the family has done nothing wrong. “We strictly follow all platforms’ terms of service and all existing laws and regulations,” he told WIRED in a statement, “including advertising disclosure requirements.”

Kaji is almost assuredly right. Platforms’ service terms as well as existing laws and regulations do allow semi-disguised constant advertising, in part because they can’t (or won’t) keep up with the innovations of social media. Failing to explicitly disclose brand deals is almost an industry norm. “Advertisers and influencers are very hesitant to include advertising disclosures because they think it will negatively affect them,” says Steffi De Jans, who researches children’s advertising literacy at Ghent University in Belgium. That’s misleading and frustrating for adults, but it’s downright deceptive for the people many brands are hoping to appeal to through influencers like Ryan ToysReview—the very youngest of consumers, the age group seemingly named for the purpose of marketing to them, Generation Alpha.

Generation Alpha represents the children of millennials, tykes born between 2011 and 2025. The phrase was coined by social researcher Mark McCrindle, founder of marketing and trend forecasting firm, McCrindle. Some people, like researchers Ádám Nagy and Attila Kölcsey, balk at McCrindle’s generation-naming efforts. Nagy, who studies youth and society at Pallasz Athéné University in Hungary, and Kölcsey, a researcher at Excenter Research Center in Hungary, made a sociological investigation of Generation Alpha, and came out unimpressed.

“Generation Alpha is only a fiction. By definition, an age group will become a generation if they have common experiences, concepts, and language or vocabulary that differs from the previous generations,” Nagy says. “We still have no representative data on the characteristics of ‘Alphas,’ only speculations about what their common, cohesive force might be.” As far as Nagy and Kölcsey are concerned, naming Generation Alpha was merely marketing, or, as Kölcsey says, “something akin to an astronomer naming a star after themselves, before even finding said star.”

Alphas are the surest path to their millennial parents’ wallets.

Now, of course, McCrindle has demographers who disagree with Nagy and Kölcsey’s findings. (In fact, Mark McCrindle is one, but was unavailable for comment). Even Nagy and Kölcsey admit that Generation Alpha may well become scientifically “real” in the future. Regardless of McCrindle’s motivations, though, it’s hard to miss the dollar signs in people’s eyes as they talk and write about Generation Alpha. According to Forbes’ “complete guide” to the generation, every tech company wants a piece, but Google put it most bluntly: “If Generation Alpha possesses similar behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs to that of their parents, then to win with a certain segment of millennial consumers (millennial parents), we must target Generation Alpha.”

In other words, Alphas are the surest path to their millennial parents’ wallets. Most coverage of the generation strikes that same tone—marketing recommendations, tales of brand’s social media advertising successes, “lessons from the Generation Alpha consumer.” It’s like Generation Alpha was born to be sold to. “Children are more susceptible to advertising than adults,” De Jans says. “This may translate to children having more positive attitudes toward brands and products, and even nagging their parents to buy specific products, which is called ‘pester power.’”

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