Collett Dickenson Pearce has just finished an ambitious study of the twentysomething age group (dubbed 'Generation X', or the 'Lost Generation'). According to the agency's strategy director, Douglas Atkin, this group is at the 'coal-face of experience' of the world. Discover what makes them tick, and you can draw up ground rules for new approaches to advertising.
Members of this group, says Mr Atkin, see a chaotic world where 'expectations like health, education and law and order are seen to be falling apart'. How they respond to this depends on their confidence.
'Some people are predisposed to lack confidence in the face of chaos,' he says. 'Therefore, one of the ways to appeal to them is to hark back to nostalgia and the past - Hovis, for example.' More confident types, on the other hand, want to be challenged by the unexpected: advertising must surprise, not reassure.
Leo Burnett is taking a more pragmatic, less psychological approach. The agency is undertaking a 'brand contact audit', which it calls 'a systematic analysis of all points of contact between the consumer outside the home, and the brand'. Essentially, this means tagging along with people in shopping centres.
Neil Cassie, director of planning, says: 'Accompanying the housewife on a shopping trip throws up all sorts of reasons for purchasing a particular brand.'
Meanwhile, Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury has completed its Middle England Project, a study of 25- to 45-year-old housewives. Although this group has a large spending power, it still has to suffer inane advertising for such products as soap powder.
There were two main findings: the Middle Englander resents being treated like a 'half-wit that can just about cope with household chores'; many of them are also hopeless romantics. The first fruit of this research is a highly original Pierre & Gilles poster for Britvic Orange that uses camp (the romance]) imagery and credits its audience with some intelligence. A male fairy, naked except for a bulging thong, symbolises the magic of Britvic's managing to 'cram' 12 oranges into one carton. There are many ways to skin a consumer.