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Car Stereo, Games & Grandma

Car stereo people, you are not alone.

Just about the same day that the car stereo industry was deciding at the 12-Volt Summit that it couldn’t feed itself any longer by relying on a 16- to 24-year-old base, the gaming industry was doing the same thing! (Although it was not by a show of hands.)

Check out this story by Alex Pham of the Los Angeles Times.  It says gaming sales are stagnating so the industry is targeting … Grandma.

Many households already have several consoles, but not Grandma’s house. Plus the games that make Grandma happy are a lot cheaper to produce.

So 12-volters, maybe you are on the right track.

No one is happier about this trend either in gaming or car stereo than I, a middle-aged woman covering a category

aimed at pimply teens. I’ve been thinking it lacks dignity and I should cover … home audio tube amplifiers. But I really love car stereo and always have. So I’m glad that the demographic will now include me.

That brings up the issue of cool. It’s an issue that came up at the Summit in Dallas last week because kids aren’t buying car stereo the way they did even four or five years ago. 

“Is car stereo not cool anymore?” someone asked.

I noticed the morale at the Summit picked up when USA Today reporter Chris Woodyard on the media panel answered the question affirmatively, “Yes, car stereo is still cool.” You could feel the room get happy.

I think car stereo people have been beaten down lately. You lost your first-to-market edge — Ford cheated and teamed up with Microsoft and got the really cool Sync.

The kids think other things are cooler than car stereo — they are saving up for iPhones and tuner stuff.

So it was great to hear Ken Schmidt, Harley Davidson’s former communications director, at the Summit talk about how uncool Harley was in the 70s and how it turned that around.

For me, all the great presentations from the architect of the Got Milk! campaign and the kid at Rebel Industries who helped Toyota launch the Scion finally made sense when we broke into groups. It took my group 45 minutes to vote on who the target audience is for car stereo, and we would have kept going but we were out of time. Someone in the group said quietly, “It says a lot that we don’t know this.” He is the president of a large car audio company.

Every single speaker at the Summit said you must know who your audience is to be successful. You must talk to your audience — you must find out what they like and be where they are. 12 -volters were as clueless as any parent whose kid starts to drive, wondering where the heck they are.

By the end of the conference, though, the industry had decided to go the broad route and to try tell even Grandma it’s fun to plug in your gadgets, talk on the phone (without holding your phone) and, yes, listen to boom-boom stereo in the car.

The few follow up calls I’ve made about the Summit so far have all been very positive. For those who weren’t there, it was great to see Sony leading one of the discussion groups and Pioneer, Alpine and Clarion huddling in the halls to talk about what was going on. The feeling at the conclusion was that 12-volt can reinvent itself, a lot of industries must do this today, and we sure hope that steering committee works fast because they’re going to get distracted come November.

Organizer of the Summit, the Acumen Group, believes the industry will have an outline and budget for an awareness campaign by early October and a campaign or promotion will be fully launched by the end of December. Mary Leigh Hennings of Acumen said the message was clear that the industry is charged up and ready to go, and the steering committee got the message they need to act quickly on that momentum.

I hope that’s true.