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Appealing to the Nexters and Beyond

My 18- and 14-year-old daughters keep me in constant awe of life and the accelerating passage of time. When they were born, George Orwell's 1984 was no longer a futuristic, science fiction literary work. When my daughters were in grammar school and each in turn was assigned the book for English class, I was all smiles, anticipating that we could finally communicate on an adult literary level rather than on the level of Dr. Suess' Green Eggs and Ham. A real "grown-up's" book, I thought, and it's just about my favorite literary genre: sci-fi!

They each thought it was boring. They hated it. Was I disappointed!

Being the persistent person that I am, I didn't let their opinions deter me. Maybe there were too many societal references, or the setting was too unfamiliar, or there wasn't enough action, I told myself.

So I introduced them to 2001: A Space Odyssey. They didn't like that either. How could anyone not love 2001? Star Wars? Same reaction.

Then, just this past weekend, I had a revelation. My "Sharper Image" catalog arrived in the mail. (For those of you off US soil, this catalog contains high-tech, fun-type merchandise for the person who has almost everything. Not that I do, I just happen to be on their mailing list.)

Now keep in mind that I am from a generation that still likes to flip through real catalogs, with paper pages. When I was a kid, the greatest event of the year was the arrival in the mail of the Sears Roebuck "Wish Book" catalog, and I still enjoy flipping through magazines and catalogs, more so than scrolling through e-page after e-page on a web site.

Back to the Sharper Image catalog. The inside front cover spotlighted one of the company's newest products—AIBO, a Sony-developed, robotized dog that "is sensitive to its environment, autonomous, and able to learn and mature."

According to the manufacturer, AIBO uses its own language and has soulful LED eyes and body movements to show its emotions. It comes with Personality Enhancement AIBO-ware software.

The catalog description continues: "AIBO is the result of Sony's major development effort to create robots that can coexist with people—opening up limitless possibilities for interaction between man and machine. The name AIBO derives from Artificial Intelligence (`AI') and Robot (`BO')—plus the happy concurrence with the Japanese word `aibo,' which means `companion.'"

This, my teenagers declared, is "cool."

"Why on earth would you spend $1,500 on a robot when you could have a real dog?" I asked. The answer is obvious. You don't have to feed it, and therefore, you don't have to clean up after it.

But "simulated affection"? My girls had no problem accepting this idea and soon learned more about AIBO on the web.

I, on the other hand, don't understand the appeal of AIBO (and I can't wait to escape the computer when I call an end to the day).

My children and I represent very different generations—not just from a chronological point of view but from a consumer's point of view as well. They would sooner sit at the computer all day than look at a paper catalog for hours.

It is beyond my knowledge of marketing how a company sells today's products to a variety of generations ranging from WWII great-grandparents, through baby boomers, through generation Xers to Nexters.

Today's children are born with a mouse in their hands. Their older siblings conquered the VCR for their parents years ago. In five years, who knows what new electronic, computer-based gadget they'll curl up with after a busy day.

Will the web truly be our main mode of communication in the future? If so, how will we establish relationships with other people, and how will marketers establish relationships with consumers?

With the year 2001 upon us, maybe 1984 isn't really that far away.

Rollem Insignia6 Flexo-Magnetic Die Cutter runs inline w/ Chameleon folder/gluer

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