Many brands aspire to “catching” a customer for life. Especially for services, it costs far more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one: you need to advertise, rent shops, spend time explaining your services, give away free trials, and so on. Once the customer is in, all you really need to do is send out a bill, answer the occasional phone call, and make sure there’s an easy way to upgrade when the time comes.

Most advertising is therefore aimed at the all-important 18-35 age group, hoping that, once “hooked,” they’ll be retained for life. It’s also believed that since everyone aspires to a more youthful identity, any advertisement featuring young people will also appeal to older generations (but not the other way around).

Customers’ wants and needs change as they grow older; brands try to provide a range of offerings with appeal to young, middle-aged, and older customers. For example, telecommunications companies try to package their services to appeal to a full range of ages and lifestyles, with different combinations of phones and service plans meant for teenagers, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, and older users. They know younger customers will be attracted to, for example, prepaid cards with the hippest new phone and extras like downloads and ring tones, while older customers will demand simpler plans at lower cost, and phones that simply make phone calls. The hope is that as each user matures, he or she will naturally move up to the next appropriate offering, but stay with the same brand. Personal-care brands try to do the same thing. For example, a line of skin cream will have products tailored to teenagers, adult women, and older women. All need different products, so why do they all need the same brand?

Realistically, can lifetime brand loyalty be achieved under a single brand concept? While it makes sense to try and gain a customer for life on a rational, economic level, it is hard to see how a single brand can be interesting to both young and old, energetic and retiring. Teenagers don’t want to use the same brands as their parents. People in their forties probably feel they’ve outgrown the brands they used 20 years ago. Given the rapid pace of change today, it is unlikely that many brands will live as long as their average customer anyway.

Brands that appeal to all ages do so with a single concept that is so simple, it is universal. Coca-Cola, Band-Aid, and the BBC are examples of this: everyone can relate to them. As soon as a company introduces diverse ideas aimed at diverse age groups, it should consider building a discrete brand for each, one capable of focus and strength among its particular users, rather than trying to be all things to all customers.

One way to do this is to invent a new category. When Curad wanted to challenge Band-Aid’s near-total dominance of the sticking-plaster category, they introduced decorative plasters for children, in effect creating a new category for their own brand while cutting into Band-Aid’s sales.