May 30, 2004

Battle for the Pope's babies

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This summer, Wexford County Council will ban jet skis from its beaches. In the lakes of the midlands, the jet-skier is the menace of the local fishermen and boaters.
Apparently, the noise scares the fish, infuriates the anglers and destroys the tranquillity for lazy, summer mariners. In Wexford, quite apart from the noise, jet skis are dangerous to swimmers.

But the jet ski is here to stay. Take Harry: he sells and fits plasma screens and Bose home entertainment systems, and swears by the jet ski. Harry is doing well.

Over the past three years, he has graduated from selling bouncy castles to the full home entertainment fit-out.

He tells me that the bouncy castle is a thing of the past. It was a great job in the 1990s, but there are too many players in the market and not enough quality dates.

This seems bizarre to me as this month’s Communion season seemed to turn large swathes of suburban Dublin into the equivalent of a bouncy castle Spring Show.

However, he must be right because he is making out like a bandit with his home entertainment systems – €18,000 each and he has bookings until October. He bought two houses off-the-plans in Budapest last week – he hasn’t been there, but he has heard it is very sophisticated.

His sister Yvonne works for one of the big mobile phone companies. She is also doing well. Her commission is based on revenue per user. Over the past fortnight statistics have been released that show Irish mobile users spend an average of about €570 per year on mobiles.

This contrasts with about €360 in Germany and France.

Even in Spain, which prides itself on a young, chatty population, a mobile bill averages about 60 per cent of its Irish equivalent. Because we are a nation of phone addicts, Yvonne’s substantial April bonus went on a new Cherokee jeep.

Despite doing well at the phone company, she is making even more cash from her nixer. Together with her old school pal Michelle, she set up a ringtone-selling franchise.

She offers over 2,000 different ringtones over the web at €5 each. This is a big business that can be leveraged in a few interesting ways. For example, Yvonne can trace the age of her clients and build a database based on the ringtones they choose.

Although technically illegal, she sells this database on to her brother John Paul, who runs a security and home alarm firm.

He employs a couple of Russian girls on commission who don’t mind cold calling to offer deals.

Yvonne gets fantastic `pay as you go’ phone deals for them as well, so it hardly costs John Paul a penny.

The database is useful because anyone with a Toto, Bon Jovi or Guns ‘n’ Roses ringtone is highly likely to live in a new estate in the Meath/Kildare commuter belt.

It’s an age thing – a late 1980s or early 1990s teenager is likely to be a first-time buyer in 2004. First-time house buyer also means first-time alarm buyer, which suits John Paul.

But Harry and Yvonne have their eyes set on the real prize. Next week, the world’s first ringtone chart is to be unveiled. Like the old singles chart of Top of the Pops fame, the new chart will rank ringtones according to their weekly sales.

Harry plans to set up a reality ringtone competition – people text the ringtone they most love or hate to a special premium number so Harry can then have his own chart.

The reality game will involve benchmarking his chart against the real ringtone chart each week. Whoever guesses both the real number one and the most hated number one will get a free phone upgrade and a Blackberry, courtesy of Yvonne. Harry pockets all the money from the premium rates.

In addition, after a chat with his friend Wayne, who runs an online spread-betting company, he believes he can offer another premium rate line offering buy/sell spread points on the difference between the real ringtone weekly sales winner and his own weekly competition winner.

Game on.

Yvonne’s boyfriend, Gary, used to work in the alarm business with John Paul but now he runs a team of bouncers who do security for concerts.

This summer will be the best ever as there are more concerts in Ireland this summer than almost anywhere else in Europe – Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Radiohead, Morrissey, The Streets, Britney Spears and Madonna.

What’s more, the promoters are suggesting that there is no price sensitivity for tickets. Prices have gone through the roof, but people continue to buy.

In fact, Irish people spend more per head on concert tickets than any other country in Europe. Scan the entertainment pages of any newspaper this weekend if you doubt the bonanza in live entertainment.

Gary is busy until next February but should make his big money on crowd control at the summer’s big outdoor events where he can charge double time.

It is a good sideline, because the bottom has apparently fallen out of the clubbing market in the past year, where Gary used to make a bit of money on the doors trying to separate the dealers from the ravers.

One of the dealers was a school friend of his. Christy made good money selling ecstasy during the 1990s but he’s clean now.

Back then, when the kids were taking four or five pills on a Friday night, Christy was red hot, earning a fortune. He spent his dirty money on seven apartments in Dublin 1 and is now a short-term corporate-let landlord.

He doesn’t smoke or drink, plays water polo regularly and his only vice is handling counterfeit Dublin jerseys outside Croke Park on championship Sundays.

He believes his mother spent so much in Arnotts on Communion outfits for his seven brothers and sisters that it is only fair to take a bit back now.

Gary, Harry, Yvonne, Michelle, John Paul and Christy all have one thing in common: they are making money out of the “Pope’s children”. The Irish post-war baby boom peaked in June 1980, nine months to the day after Pope John Paul II’s historic visit, which was 25 years ago this September.

Our baby boomers are the Pope’s children. If we regard the Pope’s generation as those babies born in the four years before and four years after the Papal visit, you have a huge demographic cohort of 605,000 consumers between the ages of 21 and 29.

These people make upmost of the market for goods and services as well as politics, culture and sport.

On June 11,many of them will not vote in either the local or European elections – not because they are apolitical but because local politicians say nothing to them.

Their politics is evident in their choice of books – they put Michael Moore, Naomi Klein and John Pilger in the top Ten best selling books in the country. Who says they have no politics?

Most interestingly, they are a generation of full employment and, significantly, are the first generation ever in this country of full female employment. The impact of this on spending patterns over the coming years will be phenomenal.

The most important difference between the Pope’s children and previous generations is that they have the power to choose.

They will determine what product wins and what product fails and the battle for every brand manager is to get inside their heads. Because there is nothing going on in brand A that is not going on in brand B, today’s companies only have a temporary monopoly rather than a lasting comparative advantage.

There is nothing going on at Vodafone that is not happening at O2, nothing going on at Ryanair that is not evident in Aer Lingus. There is nothing unique about Prada, Pringle, Dolce & Gabbana or DKNY.

All brands are fighting for the head space of the Pope’s children. This generation identifies with brands in such a way that the traditional shopping motive of “I like that” is replaced by a very different “I am like that”.

The battle for John Paul’s babies is on – let the games begin.  


  1. Paul Rux, Ph.D.

    David, we have the same jet-ski retards at work here in
    the State of Wisconsin, USA.

    As a rule, most folks seek the pleasures of nature to
    escape the assaults of the noises of the Industrial Age on
    their senses and sensibilities.

    According to my study of Irish history, Patrick Pearse of
    1916 fame recoiled at the death of the soul in
    Industrialized England. One of his reasons for seeking
    independence for Ireland was to preserve the non-
    industrial senses and sensibilities of Ireland of his
    day. Political independence was one way to do this.

    I believe you poet W.B. Yeats echoes Pearse’s values
    position. The roar of engines driven by retards is hardly
    poetic, aesthetic, mystical, and natural, the stuff of
    classic Ireland — the core of music like Enya.

    The barbarians are coming — and they are riding jet skis!
    Run for your Round Towers!

  2. MC

    The jet ski’s are one thing, but the noise coming out of Enya is far more terrifying!

  3. [...] David McWilliams’ “new elite”, the Pope’s Children? Ireland’s baby boomers, the pig-in-a-Python demographic bulge, the 605,000 Irish born between 1975 and 1983? They – and [...]

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