NEWSWIRE: 9/10/18

  • Harley-Davidson recently announced several new models of electric motorcycles designed to win over Millennials. While the company has spent plenty of time and money revamping its product lineup, it remains to be seen whether the Harley brand will ever be able to outrace its exclusive, rebellious image. (Bloomberg Business)
    • NH: IMO,  too little and too late. Harley-Davidson rested on its laurels far too long after its late-1990s sales heyday (back when Boomers were still net buyers). As this story points out, it didn't even begin to use customer satisfaction data until 2011. While it understands it has to change its brand image radically to attract Millennials (see: "Trendspotting: 7/21/17"), it also can't risk alienating its Boomer and Xer customer core. As global marketing VP Heather Malenshek confesses, "That tone of ‘us against the man’ was making us inaccessible to young adults"--but it's a tone the company cannot abandon. (Incredibly, this includes not daring to say anything critical of Trump even after Trump urged voters to boycott HOG after the company was forced to move production offshore to escape the trade war that Trump started!) Motorcycle ownership rates are falling steadily for young adults (see: "Trendspotting: 4/23/18"), and the bikes they do buy are more likely to be smaller, quieter, friendlier imports from Japan or Italy (see: "Trendspotting: 11/13/17"). One of HOG's new Millennial-targeting models is a raffish-looking black-on-black sports bike ("only" 975 cc) called "Streetfighter." Sound attractive to many Millennials you know?
  • The growing demand for pricey, small-group swim lessons with expert instructors is further proof that parents of Homelanders will spare no expense for their children. “Parents are a lot more active with their kids now,” the founder of one Arizona-based swim school remarks. “When I learned how to swim, my father just chucked me in a lake.” (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: Older generations--the parents and grandparents of Homelanders--used to learn swimming at a public school or Y in large regimented groups led by coaches armed with whistles and clipboards. Kids nowadays, if they are from affluent families, get personalized spa-like instruction in water heated to exactly 90 degrees. In his recent book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, the eminent sociologist Robert Putnam asks whether parents' growing propensity to spend on their own kids rather than kids in general (he's talking about you, Xers) may ultimately throw inequality into a positive-feedback death spiral. On the other hand, I seriously wonder how much kids are actually advantaged by such spending. How many of you would bet, instead, on the kid who was just "chucked" into the lake?
  • One big winner has emerged from the Florida primaries: Generation X. Come November, Xers will be vying for key state government posts, including governor and attorney general—a noteworthy accomplishment for a state with one of the oldest populations nationwide. (Florida Politics)
    • NH: The upcoming gubernatorial election features two Xers, virtually tied in the polls, entering a fenced octagon in which no mercy will be sought or given. For the GOP, a Trump acolyte and right-wing ideologue (Ron Desantis, age 39). For the Dems, a charismatic progressive who wants to impeach Trump, abolish ICE, and establish Medicare-for-all (Andrew Gillum, age 39). Gillum is hopeful that a voter registration surge among Millennials in the wake of the Parkland massacre will put him over the top. Gillum is African-American, and the large share of Florida's Millennials who are black (including Caribbean blacks) are expected to vote 20-to-1 for him.
  • In a new panel, restaurant industry insiders discuss the ways in which they are trying to attract Millennial customers. The responses run the gamut from utterly unprepared (“We haven’t changed anything, but we plan to”) to minimally thoughtful (“We’re adding vegan options”); the common theme is a general lack of awareness when it comes to this generation’s particular dining habits and desires. (Restaurant)
    • NH: Here's one big problem with many Millennial customers that doesn't seem to be on these insiders' radar screens at all--and that is that many of them just hate dealing with people at restaurants. Why? Probably for the same reason they don't like tipping, don't like sending food back to the cook, and (come to think of it) would rather e-mail than phone their boss. McDonald's isn't moving toward checkout robots just to save money. Take a look at Eatsa, a perfect Millennial eatery: Sure, humans work there--you just never have to talk to them.
  • With The Eagles now laying claim to the top-selling album ever, writer Leslie Albrecht reflects on what this milestone says about Boomers. It’s what happens when lifelong fandom meets mega spending power, or in the words of one fan: “I had [Their Greatest Hits 1] twice on vinyl, once on cassette, and three times on CD. I’m pretty sure I’m due for another copy. I play them so much they wear out.” (MarketWatch)
    • NH: After leading the U.S. all-time hit list for nearly a decade, The Eagles' Greatest Hits was temporarily eclipsed in 2013 by Michael Jackson's Thriller album. Now, says the RIAA, the Eagles' album is back on top once again. What's more, another Eagles album ("Hotel California") is number three. Now that's domination. Even more dominating is that Boomer-led groups (not just The Eagles and MJ, but also Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, The Beatles, Boston, and many others) still rule the roost. The top eight are all Boomers. (The top-scoring Xer, in ninth place, is Garth Brooks.) Twelve of the top 20 are Boomers--and mostly first-wave Boomers (born in the late 1940s) rather than last-wavers (born at the end of the 1950s). Keep in mind that audience popularity typically peaks about 15 cohort years after the births of artists. Which means that The Eagles' prime customers have been Americans born in the late 1950s and early 1960s--when America set all-time annual birth records. Michael Jackson's prime customers were born 10 to 15 year later, in the midst of the baby bust. No birth records for them... and, it seems, no hit record either for their favorite singer.
  • At the Fed’s annual Jackson Hole retreat, much of the discussion centered on a new topic: declining business dynamism. The symposium discourse is the latest sign that mainstream policymakers and economists are beginning to buy into the idea that a loss of dynamism could explain many of our economy’s woes. (The Economist)
    • NH: You heard it here first. I opened my most recent Black Book (see: "Investing Webcast: Declining Business Dynamism: A Visual Guide") by announcing that ebbing business dynamism and the apparently related rise in market concentration has become the hottest new topic among U.S. economists and economic policymakers. And now the Fed, at its most recent Jackson Hole confab, found its invitees talking about nothing else.
  • Toy brands are finding success with a new theme: coding. From coding robots to a “coding Barbie,” these toys are training Homelanders for a STEM career at an early age. (Cassandra Report)
  • Amazon’s online ad revenue surged by 130% YoY in Q1 2018 to $2.2 billion. While $2.2 billion may be a mere drop in the bucket for Google and Facebook, it suggests that competition is rising in the online ad space—a bad sign for the growth prospects of these Internet giants. (The New York Times)
    • NH: We called this. Back in our February report (see: "The Next Big Thing: Danger Ahead for Google and Facebook?"), our skepticism about these firms' unrealistic earnings projections allowed for one possible counterargument: Yes, if their U.S. ad revenue continued to rise unchecked as a share of all U.S. digital ad revenue, there was an outside chance they could eke out these numbers. But, we cautioned, this biggest roadblock threatening this scenario is Amazon, whose massive entry into the ad business was just starting to take off. And now? Thanks largely due to Amazon's rising presence, FB and GOOGL are both rapidly decelerating in digital-share market growth. For us, that's the nail in the coffin.
  • More high school students are playing sports, but the number playing football fell 2% last year—its steepest annual decline yet. The image problems and concussion fears plaguing the sport continue to persist across the country, with participation down even in the mecca of high school football: Texas. (NBC News)
    • NH: This long-term challenge to football as a sport--and the NFL as a business--is not about to go away. If college and pro tackle football does remain popular with Millennials and Homelanders, it may be more as a gladiatorial sport which most people continue to watch even while ever-fewer people consider participating themselves. Yes, even in Texas, high-school participation is falling.

Trendspotting: Harley-Davidson Tries to Rev Up Millennial Sales - football in TX

  • Americans 30 and older are much less likely than 18- to 29-year-olds to believe that Republicans and Democrats can agree on basic facts. No wonder Millennials are more hopeful about political compromise; as far as older generations are concerned, partisans might as well be living on different planets. (Pew Research Center)

              DID YOU KNOW?

              What's in a Name? Plenty. Boomers are putting their own unique spin on old age. It should come as no surprise, then, that this generation wants a new label as it enters a new phase of life. Well-trodden terms for the older set, like “elderly” and “senior citizen,” just don’t cut it; to Boomers, these euphemisms conjure up images of retirement homes and early-bird specials. But the battle to replace the term has become highly fraught. “Perennial” is an early frontrunner; fans love its connotation with reinvention and longevity. But not everyone is happy—including 64-year-old Daniel Reingold, CEO of a retirement and managed-care company: “It sounds like a plant.” The stakes are high for executives like Reingold, who don’t want to turn off their potential clientele: “We have struggled over the years with words like aged, senior, and elderly in promotional materials.” Pam O’Brien, 69, suggests that anyone over age 60 should be called “lucky”—a fitting moniker for this fast-living generation.