Talkin’ ‘Bout MySpace Generation

Last month, BusinessWeek loved baby boomers. This week, the magazine loves another demographic group -- young people. But why, exactly, that's worthy of a cover story, we're not sure.

Last month, BusinessWeek loved baby boomers. We know this because it published a cover story called “Love Those Boomers!” There was a cartoon middle-age man and woman windsurfing across the front of the magazine, illustrating that people between the ages of 49 and 59 have “new attitudes and lifestyles.” Marketers, the magazine reported, are having to “rethink the rules for reaching graying customers,” and, it seems, “figuring out how to reach the new fiftysomethings takes some effort” because, while some Boomers are approaching retirement age, they aren’t all, believe it or not, “just hanging around and playing bingo.” In other words: Baby Boomers. There are a lot of them. Corporate America needs to sell to them. It’s hard to do, because they don’t all act alike.

This week, BusinessWeek loves another demographic group. Using the burgeoning popularity of online social networks like as a jumping off point, the magazine’s cover story discusses the marketing goldmine (and challenge) that is a generation of tech-savvy teens and twentysomethings. In other words: Generation Y. There are a lot of them. Corporate America needs to sell to them. It’s hard to do because, like boomers, they are not monolithic (although you might not know that from reading this article.)

Why is this cover-worthy now? Didn’t BusinessWeek do their Generation Y cover story way back in 1999? On (February 15, to be exact: “Generation Y, Today’s Teens —The Biggest Bulge Since the Boomers May Force Marketers to Toss Their Old Tricks.”) So what’s new? Apart, that is, from the touchstones of “cool” that must inevitably be included in BusinessWeek stories like this (a list of “Cool Stuff” that accompanied the 1999 piece included Motorola Flex Pagers and The Spice Girls).

One thing that’s new is we can’t call them Gen Y. That’s so 1999. Let’s call them “The MySpace Generation,” as BusinessWeek does on its cover, or better still, “Generation @,” the cringe-inducing moniker BusinessWeek’s Jessi Hempel and Paula Lehman roll out mid-story. (“You have just entered the world of what you might call Generation @,” Hempl and Lehman write, where young people like the one in our anecdotal lede are “online more than ever” and “use many forms of media simultaneously” — IMing while listening to iTunes while socializing at “virtual hangouts” like with the TV running in the background.)

And once you’ve coined a new nickname or two — voila! — you can take a story that merits a page or two inside the magazine (which was how BusinessWeek treated its last Hey, online social networks are really popular with the young people — especially this thingy! piece six months ago) and blow it up into a cover story.

But renaming Gen Y “The MySpace Generation”? Kind of bold. BusinessWeek must be pretty convinced that this thingy is here to stay, unlike those silly 90s Internet companies (alas, we came up empty in our search for a BusinessWeek cover from that decade dubbing Baby Boomers “The Generation”).

Well, let’s see. Hempel and Lehman report that “the phenomenon of these exploding [online social] networks has companies clamoring to be a part of the new social landscape” and that “Silicon Valley venture capitalists” are “pouring millions” into them. But “what’s not yet clear,” the duo continues, “is whether this is a dot-com era replay, with established companies and investors sinking huge sums into fast-growth startups with no viable business models” — and, we’d add, with the business press cheerleading it right along.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.