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Jewish World Review March 6, 2002 / 23 Adar, 5762

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Dumping Ted: Gray Day For the Baby Boomers -- THAT the whole tempest of Ted Koppel vs. David Letterman really boils down to is this: Ted's viewers are older.

So they're not real.

Not real to advertisers, anyway, who should be able to see that on any given night, an extra 50,000 people prefer to watch Ted and whatever it is he's got on his head rather than Dave and whatever it is he's got up his ... well ... whatever it is that makes him so smug and prickly.

Despite this numerical win, "Nightline" brought in $73 million last year while the "Late Show With David Letterman" brought in $175 million - about $100 mil more. Why?

Well, perhaps because it's harder for advertisers to get excited about "Whither NATO?" than "Whither Drew's Breasts?" And certainly Koppel didn't make things any easier for himself with the counterpunch op-ed he published in the New York Times.

Writing, "I have had a glorious run at ABC News" and listing his accomplishments, lifetime achievement-style, is not exactly the kind of humble, "How can I make things better?" approach that most bosses prefer.

Still, the tussle began long before this, and the reason is simply that Dave is attracting the coveted 18-to-49 age bracket while "Nightline" is getting the geezers.

Never mind the fact that those geezers are the richest people on the planet, with twice the spending power of their kids. Hey, Koppel himself is one of them: He makes $8 million a year - and that's without a single stupid pet trick.

And never mind that the geezers 65 and up control 70% of the country's assets (a mere $7 trillion). And never mind that plenty of those geezers aren't geezers at all - they're baby boomers. Flower children! Are these former hippies really slumped in their rockers, destined to buy nothing but Fixodent forevermore?

The answer, according to most advertisers: Well ... they'll probably buy some Geritol, too.

This snarky dismissal comes about for two reasons. The first is simply that the people who make advertising - and decide which shows to air it on - are young. On average, they're 28, according to American Demographics magazine. To them, all "old" people are alike: decrepit.

Moreover, what hip twentysomething wants to put a commercial on a boring show that his parents watch when he can put it on something cool, like Letterman? It might even get him a promotion!

That kind of approval highlights Problem No. 2: The industrywide myth of brand loyalty.

The myth goes like this: Since youthful consumers have their whole lives ahead of them, target them and you've got a loyal customer for the next 50 years. Older folks, however, chose their brands back in Truman's time and nothing's gonna change them now.

Which is why we see so many seniors driving their Studebakers to Woolworth to pick up their Burma Shave, right?

"Brand loyalty is a crock!" cries Jerry Della Femina, chairman of the ad agency that bears his name. "It's a preconception that's been around since [advertising pioneer] J. Walter Thompson said, 'Target people 18 to 45' - because people died after 45."

The idea of life-long brand loyalty "is based on fairly flimsy evidence," agrees Scott Donaton, editor of Advertising Age magazine. "But it's so deeply entrenched I don't think it's going to change anytime soon. Nobody wants to be a risk taker."

That placing an ad on a popular news show could be considered a risk simply because it'll reach people who remember when Mick Jagger was sexy shows that Koppel is truly screwed. He is the victim of overwhelming prejudice against the old. And even the not-so-old.

JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, New York Daily News