The final demographic

65plusI worked in retailing, wholesaling, journalism and radio when I was 18-24.

I co-founded an advertising agency when I was 25-34. Among the things I studied while working in that age bracket were Nielsen and Arbitron ratings for radio and TV. Everything those companies had to say was fractioned into age brackets.

The radio station I did most of that work for was WQDR in Raleigh, one of the world’s first album rock stations. Its target demographic was 18-34. It’s a country station now, aimed at 25-54.

Other “desirable” demographics for commercial media are 18-49 and 25-49.

The demographic I entered between the last sentence and this one, 65+, is the last in the usual demographic series and the least desirable to marketers, regardless of the size of the population in it, and the disposable wealth it is ready to spend.

Thus I have now fallen over the edge of a demographic cliff, at the bottom of which is little of major interest to marketers, unless they’re hawking the cushy human equivalent of parking lots. You know: cruises, golf, “lifestyle communities,” “erectile dysfunction,” adult diapers, geriatric drugs, sensible cars, dementia onset warnings, Florida, Arizona, and so on.

For individuals, demographics are absurd. None of us are an age, much less a range of them. We’re animals who live and work and have fun and do stuff. Eventually, we croak, but if we stay healthy we acquire wisdom and experience—and find ourselves more valuable over time.

Yet we become less employable as we climb the high end of the demographic ladder, but not because we can’t do the work. It’s mostly because we look old and our tolerance for bullshit is low. Even our own, which is another bonus.

Nearly 100% of the people I work with are younger than me, usually by a generation or two. I almost never feel old among them. Sometimes I joke about it, but I really don’t care. It helps to have been around. It helps to know how fast and well the mighty rise, and then fall. It helps to see what comes and stays—and to know why those things matter more than what comes and goes. It helps to know there are sand dunes older than any company born on the Internet.

For most of my life, I’ve worked in the most amazing industry the world has ever hosted. Technology is a miracle business. Lots of good new things come and go, but three aren’t sand dunes. They’re staying for the duration. I knew they would when I saw each arrive and then fail to leave. They were things nobody owned, everybody could use and anybody could improve. For all three reasons, they supported boundless economic growth and other benefits to society. They are:

  1. The personal computer
  2. The Internet
  3. The smartphone.

All three were genies that granted wishes without end and weren’t going back in their bottles.

Yeah, they all had problems and caused many more. They were like people that way. But the graces of computing and worldwide communication ease, in your pocket or purse, are now as normal as wearing shoes. Nobody owns the design for those either. Also, everyone can use them and anyone can improve them. That’s pretty freaking cool, even though it’s hardly appreciated.

I could go on but I’ll let this interview* with Dorie Clark suggest the rest. I’ve gotta sleep before we hit the road early in the morning to celebrate the beginning of the rest of my life. May yours be at least as long. And as good.

*Alas, Forbes 404’d its history starting sometime after that piece went up on 27 July 2012. Today (eleven years since I posted this page), it’s probably somewhere in the Internet Archive, but I can’t find it. The original URL was

9 responses to “The final demographic”

  1. Happy Birthday Doc. One day I hope to be as young as you!

  2. “KUri0SiTy”, the password to old age.

  3. […] Doc Searls said something interesting. He’s not a range of ages — 18-54. We’re not coveted age groups. We’re people with hearts and minds and lives and ideas. We don’t use these things so much to make your wheels spin, rather to get a thrill about using something very futuristic, and wondering how it might evolve. I think even the newest Twitter user gets a lift from the possibilities. NBC had a chance to make sports exciting in some incredibly interesting ways. And all they think of, instead, is how to keep people from doing that. It’s the saddest story in tech, and it’s one that just keeps repeating. […]

  4. 65 – The beginning of life the way I see it – Just a young in 🙂

  5. Happy (belated) birthday, Doc..

  6. Hey Doc : 65?
    Been there, done that … and it hardly seems different – other than my medicaid card and discounts (G)

    Consider ourselves half way to the finish line, 65 laps down, 65 to go.


  7. PS
    My tag:
    “Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
    Learn as if you were to live forever.”

    Alt tag : “What sort of ancestor will you be?”

  8. […] The final demographic DOC SEARLS   |  SATURDAY, JULY 28, 2012 […]

  9. I agree with most of what you said, however I think that while this may be a miracle business, sometimes because it takes the personal element out of the equation humanity prevails.

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