Adult or rejuvenile?
January 13, 2009
A look at the growing trend of adults cultivating tastes and mindsets traditionally associated with people younger than themselves.
I came across Chris Noxon’s book Rejuvenile before boarding a red eye flight home from Los Angeles. By the time the flight was over, I had read the entire book and sent an email to the author to arrange a meeting.
For those of you who don’t immediately relate, “Rejuveniles” are what Noxon describes as “people who cultivate tastes and mindsets traditionally associated with people younger than themselves”.
For me, the book was not only a personal epiphany (now I know what to call myself) but also a professional one. For years, my company has worked with brands in kid categories where we knew that adults were actively participating. We knew that movies, ad campaigns and products that, on the surface, seemed very “immature” could, in fact, strike a chord with a segment of adults that Noxon aptly described as Rejuveniles-a group that, it turns out, is a desirable, responsible, economically viable audience.
The Rejuvenile trend is fueled in part by adults putting off marriage until the average age of 27 (women) or 28 (men); exhibited by the average age of a video gamer climbing to age 33 (a quarter of them are actually over 50!); celebrated by Nickelodeon, the number one co-viewed network for kids and adults; and depicted in such movies as Failure to Launch and just about any movie starring Will Farrell.
Two high-end categories that clearly recognize this segment of the adult population are the personal technology and automobile sectors, which reflect a Rejuvenile tone in their product design.
Cell phones and personal computers have morphed from a mark of safety and responsibility to a form of social and personal expression (Who are we kidding? They’re toys!). The game features, brightly colored icons and graphics and playful ringtones and sounds are not too far off from a toddler’s toy.
And, of course, for guys, there has always been a Matchbox/Hot Wheels immaturity disguised as an appreciation of the combustible engine. But it’s now happening with women too. The idea of “car as fun” has become a big part of automobile design and automobile advertising. We feel that “fun” is actually the new “luxury” in the automobile sector. Less stuffy. Fewer excessive amenities. And more personal expression. Think of the Mini Cooper and Honda Element.
So what about brand and packaging design? Since this is my professional focus, I asked my team to dig up examples of the Rejuvenile philosophy being expressed via brand and packaging design.
Web 2.0 identities. It is no surprise that the under 40 “powers that be” in Silicon Valley are Rejuveniles, but the fact that the fanciful letterforms, iconography and color palettes of Web 2.0 appeal to the masses is a testament to the influence of the Rejuvenile style. The lowercase letters, rounded corners, bright colors and fun icons like bubbles and smiley faces are a far cry from old-school technology logos like IBM. They reflect the freedom and limitless potential-tangible or intangible-of these next-generation tech companies.
Organic foods and household care. This category really has two visual styles. The first is more of a cold and impersonal approach of superiority and source credibility. The second is a whimsical, colorful, humorous “life is too short to not have fun” approach-and this is where we find great examples of Rejuvenile-inspired brand design. In our opinion, the strategy not to take yourself too seriously is exactly the approachable and refreshing style that’s needed in a category that, at first, can be very intimidating for newcomers. Using bright and non-traditional colors and adding a touch of whimsy visually and verbally are not only breakthrough techniques on shelf, but they also appeal to a certain “against the grain” mindset.
Spa and personal care. Just as we see “fun” as the new “luxury” in automobiles, we see it in the spa and personal care category. Perhaps there is a part of us that wants to be pampered but does not want to feel guilty or extravagant about it.
As we scan the consumer packaged goods horizon beyond these categories, though, it’s clear that the Rejuveniles personality is not yet pervasive in packaging design. It’s much easier and much less of a commitment to depict this attitude in commercials and video rather than with the entire brand essence on pack. Combine this with the notion that the masses don’t yet clearly understand Rejuveniles and you can appreciate the challenges.
To be fair, it’s not certain that the brands we mention here had Rejuveniles in mind as a target audience. And while you may notice some visual similarities such as bright colors, simple iconography and humor, there is really no magic formula for attracting Rejuveniles. In fact, these men and women are a lot like teens: if they sense that you are trying too hard to reach them, they will reject you permanently. Any campaign or tagline that smacks of any semblance of “for the kid in you” is sure to turn a Rejuvenile off.
In our opinion, the brands that do the best job of relating to Rejuveniles are the ones that make a bold brand statement but, on the surface, appear more like they’re actually playing hard to get. Said another way, Rejuveniles would rather randomly “find” a brand than be overtly told “this is for you, Rejuvenile.” To speak to them directly dilutes the feelings they love the most, i.e., the feeling of acting against ordinary expectations.
Entire companies can embody the Rejuvenile spirit. Google, Virgin and Red Bull are a few. They are playful inside and out, take risks and do not mind being different or even unpopular. But they are still successful. Often, they are even the most successful in their category-after all, it can’t just be about fun and games. BP