How Old Do You Want to Be?


Undoubtedly my favorite measure from my time at TRU was a particularly strategic one, which we called “Age Aspiration.” Many years ago, I attended a teen marketing conference. The speaker, herself a renowned youth expert, explained how 12-year-olds want to be 14; 14-year-olds want to be 16; and 16-year-olds want to be 18.

I thought that made logical sense. But, I also knew that teen attitudes were anything but logical. So, in our next wave of The TRU Study, we posed this question: “If you could be any age right now, how old would you be?”

The results proved to be “teen-logical.” Twelve-year-olds wanted to be 17! They essentially wanted to zoom right past the challenging adolescent years, filled with both physiological and parental restrictions and insecurities. They wanted to fast-forward to an older lifestage of greater independence and growing self-confidence (think parties, driving, making money). When teens hit 18 and 19, their eyes were on the prize: becoming legal.

So, when we expanded this study in 2007 to include twenty-somethings, I was excited to repeat this question. And, again, I was surprised by the results. Now facing new responsibilities (such as college and full-time employment, marriage, and kids) those in their 20s wanted to turn back the clock! They yearned to be back in the day of fewer significant responsibilities.

So, the strategic moral of the findings was a convenient one: brands that target “youth” can aim for an aspirational age (in terms of themes, trends, tonality, and talent)—ages 19-21—and narrow what is otherwise a broad and fragmented group.

Fast forward to 2017. We have a new opportunity to ask this question of a much more diverse audience. “Generation Nation,” a study now offered on Collaborata that will be the first to compare the four big cohorts, will pose this question to 13- to 70-year-olds, representing Gen Z, Millennials, Xers and Boomers.

What’s your guess as to the results? For example…

  • Will Gen Z mirror their older Xer and Millennial cohorts in aiming toward age 19-21?
  • Will the older Millennials want to turn back the clock to their more carefree days?
  • How about Xers, many of whom are now parents of teens: Do they pine for the days of their own youth, or instead are they growing nostalgic about the days they were parents of toddlers?
  • And, finally, what about Boomers: Has this perpetually youth-obsessed cohort grown accepting of its age, as they qualify for Social Security?

Let us know your predictions and—and more importantly—why. We’ll publish your hypotheses and share the topline results from this measure, soon after its release.

And, this is just the tip of the iceberg for “Generation Nation.” From learning which decade of their lives respondents believe is the “best” to defining success, fun, the American Dream, and their personal priorities, this study will unravel so much of the mystique that has always been associated with generations. The resulting insights will help brands more resonantly reach and connect with a narrower target by identifying and understanding a common mindset for those young and young-at-heart.

These are just a few of the many inventive measures my ex-TRU colleagues Michael Wood and Kate Danaj, principals of 747 Insights, have created for “Generation Nation’s” questionnaire. (For more details, including how to become a sponsor, click here.)

Generational theory says we’re greatly shaped by the social, economic, and political events (and their implications) from our formative years. But, what happens when there’s profound tumultuous change, beyond one’s formative years? Can such an effect re-shape the collective zeitgeist of a generation no matter its age? In other words, how should we be characterizing these familiar generations in 2017 and beyond? That’s what “Generation Nation” will tell us.

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Jimmy Zollo is the Co-Founder and CEO of Collaborata -- a Chicago-based tech startup serving the insights and marketing research world. Collaborata is the first-ever platform that enables organizations to share research costs and insights. Collaborata was a finalist for the 2017 Midwest Digital Startup of the Year, the 2016 Insight Innovation Award and has been featured on Business Insider, BuiltInChicago, Greenbook, Quirks, Research Live, MRWeb, and Market Research World. For more information, please visit: Jimmy developed his passion and enthusiasm for the Chicago tech community, while driving growth at GrubHub for four years. He helped develop GrubHub's industry-leading restaurant network, traveling across the country to launch new markets and grow existing ones. Following GrubHub's IPO and merger with Seamless, Jimmy transitioned to the corporate team, leading partnerships between GrubHub and many of Chicago's leading law, consulting, tech, and marketing firms.


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