ImageWe recently headed into the field to research the coveted 18-24 male demographic. By which we mean the energetically consumerist, technologically savvy boys of Generation Y (aka "Generation @," aka "the millennials").

Well, that's not strictly true; we just went to the movies.

We were eager to catch the very first showing in our area of Pineapple Express. But said prized demo was there in force. They sat in a cliquish clump in front of the not-yet-open box office. They gathered for a spirited game of Egyptian Ratscrew outside a neighboring cafe, sucking as coolly as possible on their American Spirits. They processed the voice and e-mail messages on their tricked-out phones and texted idly on their PDA kalimbas.

We knew this bunch of early adopters — so keen to watch Seth Rogen (their Cary Grant) et al. cavorting across the cannabisphere with guns and wisecracks a-blazing that they'd made camp hours ahead of time — represented a goldmine of market research. What were their current passions in TV, tech, games, clothes, food, drink? Like naturalists in the Serengeti, we strained our eyes to observe.

We noted their hairstyles, their shoes, the slightly menacing iconography on their T-shirts, the color of the lighters they used to jumpstart their emphysema. We cocked our ears for the lingua franca. With so much data at our fingertips, we were bound to uncover what made Johnny Skateboard tick. Then we'd know better how to "call out" to him.

But all we saw were some kids waiting for a movie. The only really measurable thing was this: They'd come out in force for a flick that would never have been made by the kind of people who think of them as a "demo."

With so much data at our fingertips, we were bound to uncover what made Johnny Skateboard tick.
In fact, the idiosyncrasies of the film – its irreverent voice, its daring blend of sweet-natured comedy and graphic violence, its winking homages to action-movie tropes, its ability to be anti-authoritarian even as it ridiculed anti-authoritarian stances – summoned its audience with all the seductive force of a Siren.

This cohort is hyper-aware of their status in the commodity food chain. They can smell hype a mile away and know when they're being sold. Still, all kinds of products (whether made of celluloid or sugar water) will get their money. After all, as anyone who's ever been young can tell you, the first disposable income is the most disposable. But only a handful will win their loyalty. And that list varies wildly according to individual taste.

Which is precisely the point: There is no "youth market," no monolithic, U.S.S.R.-style bloc of teens and early-20-somethings; there is no prototypical kid who answers to a universal set of buzzwords and is dying to be an empty vessel for your energy drink, social-networking site or first-person shooter (just as we now recognize Estonians and Tajiks and Azerbaijanis and Turkmen). As with any other kind of outreach, you must do the legwork and identify your audience by sensibility, not merely by birth date (or gender or educational level or household income).

At one point, I wandered off to check out the poster for Burn After Reading, which compelled my attention with its jagged, Saul Bass-inspired graphics (the Coen brothers so have my number). Julia, impatient for the box office to open and wanting to know the time, hollered to me, "Dude!" And the entire young-man nation turned as one. I figure that's about the only surefire way to call out to this generation en masse.