Eighteen to thirty-four

A former member asks if you can accurately predict the yearly aspirations of marketing’s holy grail; the 18–34 demographic.

Ages 18–34. Online’s sacred turf; the key temporal demo. Their targeted, tailored attention spans have had competing content curators clambering over one another ever upscreen — hoping they’ll build them in decades of future clicks and reflexive, lucrative micro moments. But young eyeballs tend not to skew loyally — as the analytics go — and they’ll move on indifferently to the next platform — the bigger package and the greater freedoms, the next onemonthfreetrial along the line.

How do you get into this curiously specific set; the viral marketer’s holy grail? Wait it out, normally. Wait until the latest seventeens die off and the long game of being a teenager finally pays out. It pays out in access, showering you in accreditation and verification — the adult world is yours and everything that’s in it. Society resignedly feels for the keys to open the liquor cabinet, and wanders off leaving you to it, unexpectedly.

And how do you get out? Not quite like getting in; those long queues forming of rasping seventeen-year olds, anxiously breathing their last at the glass doors. Thirty-five year olds hang around, waiting for the barmen to loiter for empties, reminding them it’s closing. There is no mass exodus — they tend to wander off in pairs, feeling a pinch underarm from their ill-fitting Ramones T-shirts, a reminder that at some point along the way they lost the shorthand of youth. There are always stragglers, but they now line up with the 13–17 year olds —trying to sneak back in past the doormen.

It’s a tribe I’m about to leave. And to where? 35–44? They’re hardly a priority -for digital editors and short form commissioners at least — and certainly are not loyal to each other. They are busy building their own brands — paving a way for their own offspring who will eventually themselves be lost to the priority demographic. They still can gang up with one another — but usually only with those who they knew from their own spent era. So here’s digital marketing’s million dollar question — can you superforecast the 18–34 collective experience? Can marketing insights project their favourite audience’s desires yearonyear?

The current criteria for admission is a birthday after 1985 and that is the policy until next year. An eighteen year-old possibly has the most amount of potential than at any other age. It should be optimistic; you could be successfully convicted for murder at eighteen and still leave prison a young person (that by no means is an endorsement.) It should also be freeing; liberation from involuntary co-existence with a cross section of people you are no more likely to share interests with than any other random selection of fellow Gregorian travellers. You can choose the passengers next to you now, and you will most likely need them.

Nineteen can be a reality check. The sudden haversack of the adult world; full time employment, responsibility — or even conversely a year of unhinged over-indulgence — all will bring crashing in physical stresses that are, deep down, yours alone to deal with. Now would be a great time to develop an anxiety disorder; you are starting to become aware that, even if you have a huge safety net —what is keeping it in place has its own structural fragilities.

Let’s not get too carried away — you are still only, what, 20? And even though you’re now occasionally aware of life’s consequences — your need for excess — excess of pleasure, or excess of achievement, is inexorable. You want to be exceptional but you’ve no idea why yet. This feeling is what’s going to power your trajectory for the next five years at least. You still feel all the gravitational pull of peer pressure — but with few of the downsides of when you were a teenager. At twenty you could be dealt the unluckiest set of cards and still occasionally find a bit of fun playing them.

Then you are twenty-one — if there was anyone doubting you were an adult before — well they’re notable by their absence now. You should be, if not serious about your future, aspirational. And if not aspirational, at least spend a moment wondering how fractionally different adult you might be. Do you now need a Moss Bross suit — or will you spend the coming years staying in an education or organisation that puts off decision making? It’s all to play for, but at this once legally significant moment in your life, even doing nothing is a choice.

This decision will largely inform twenty-two — where you are likely to grammaticise the lifestyle you have been discovering in the last couple of years — you may now have found a passion— it could be gumming chemicals illegally in National Trust-protected woodland, it could be becoming the best Royal Marine to pass out at Lympstone — it could, again, be doing nothing — but you are at least now having to contemplate the processes it takes to sustain this lifestyle you have decided on. Whether it is completing benefit forms for drug money or training for amphibious beach landings into desert warzones; you are at least having to take affirmative action.

At twenty-three, and to a certain extent twenty-four, you are putting this process into practice, and it is either going well, or badly. If you are extending your adolescent hedonism; maybe you moved in with your agreeably liberal redbrick university friends — but you all have taken bottom rung jobs in whatever field you have chosen just so you can carry on the party. The real you is probably outside of work; and in social spaces is where you have capital, as opposed to real capital, as in capital capital, as in money. If you are this age, chances are you are nearest you will ever be to where the action is, and so popular culture, and the rest of us, follow you. You are probably organising, promoting or populating music festivals, whether it’s marshalling the disabled parking at psy-trance events or checking gas mark temperatures at Alex James’s Feastival, we all seem to have to fucking hear about what you’re doing.

Twenty-five feels like it should be more of a moment than it is — like New Labour commissioning The Millennium Dome just because they felt like they had to. It should be a moment of confidence — where your youth still has full hold but gone are the insecurities and ovine instincts of immaturity. Some of your peers may have achieved excellence by now; and this might trouble you. You are now older than when The Beatles released Please, Please Me and so, in our antiquated youth culture, your limitless potential is now limited. Remember that feeling of existential panic at nineteen that passed by relatively quickly? This is now a YouTube-diagnosable quarter-life crisis. You are now more worried about turning 30 than you ever will be at 30. It’s because you are experiencing your first taste of mortality and it is common to obsess about it; it’s the one thing at your age you can’t fix. On the upside; you can still just about re-invent yourself on LinkedIn at this point and have enough contemporaries around you to care.

At this stage in your life, what is motoring your spiritual wobble (if you are typically Western) — is likely to be relentless self-obsession. If it’s any consolation, this is probably the best time of your life to get this over with; you are going to need that engine to get you through the next couple of years of work; what is a relief is that around the mid-to-late twenties the anthropological instinct to herd with people that you don’t really like falls away, whether you have paired up or not. You should at this point have carved some kind of identity for yourself, maybe you discovered you can do a weird trick with flick knives, and this pastime most likely is reflected by the friends you now have around you. Even if this is now in prison.

A lot of people experience thirty as a unique moment in the sun; a badge of maturity still worn by someone still identifying as a twentysomething. It’s an absurd premise that you laugh about with your friends. You can string this out when you’re 31 — the close circle you have surrounded yourself with has bottled time; and you don’t immediately notice each other age. Stark differences in money now might have appeared; different career choices have yielded different results; or the particularly well off amongst you who only now it appears, were just playing at bohemia, and are reverting to deeper fate lines.

Thirty-two is at least an opportunity for a blaze of autumn sunshine — you have a glass left of youth yet the grounding of experience; and you have been once around the track fully — you have had successes and failures, loved and lost, and so now never wear any of these as heavily as you once did. It’s the last time you can be unconcerned about your thirties — actually — you should be looking at the opportunities the rest of the decade will bring; you still have almost all of it left.

At 33 there is no longer any doubting about where you are — it’s a bit like a counterfeit 21 that no one celebrates. And you may well be ready to be honest with yourself that certain dreams have not come true — this may have been midwifed by a change in your living or family arrangements. This is not necessarily a bad thing — in fact — you are compensated by the realisation that some of these dreams were buttressed by a desire for peer approval that is no longer there. You like thinking about boring things like super strong woodglue and it’s okay.

You are approaching the terminal; the ferryman is flirtatiously paddling over towards you, ready to spoil his blotchy ledger with what to him is just another another indistinct mark, but to you is your Due Date with destiny. You are no longer considered the key demographic for Joe.ie when they are discussing relatable talent for their new longform social formats. Lad Bible deliberately untick the box that denotes your age group when targeting Facebook ad spend. The stock value of your personal data overnight suffers a dramatic correction. You seem to receive apparently unsolicited invitations via email to attend Screwfix Live. You fold the laptop closed, and remember you should probably do the bins.



Tall tales & short lists | The South East London College of Arts & Communication: 11 Short Stories is out now: https://amzn.to/2FdAxlh

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Patrick McKemey

Tall tales & short lists | The South East London College of Arts & Communication: 11 Short Stories is out now: https://amzn.to/2FdAxlh