Today's pre-school children are being brought up in an increasingly affluent environment. More families are being delayed until careers are well established both for mums and dads, who spend £2.5 billion on their tots every year (average age of women at first birth - 1980: 26.9; 2002: 29.3). Parents are also choosing to have fewer children (1980: 1.9, 2002: 1.6) so there's more cash to lavish on each child, driven by the guilt of working parents.
"The media coverage of 'celebrity' parents has made it very fashionable to have children," Dave Lawrence, the planning director at the children's marketing agency Logistix Kids, says. "Manufacturers have responded to this demographic and attitudinal shift with a host of premium products on offer from designer clothes - Paul Smith, Diesel, Burberry - to organic foods and 'fashion' prams."
The world of pre-schoolers is still dominated by family time at home, although peer influence is starting earlier now that so many children go to day nurseries. Their activities are centred on play and they are increasingly exposed to a wide range of media - the internet and pre-school TV channels joining their usual repertoire of videos, DVDs and terrestrial TV. Toys still play an important role and contribute massively to their overall cognitive and social development.
LeapPad: LeapFrog Toys' growing range of electronic books. Interactivity keeps pre-schoolers amused and parents feel less guilty leaving their children to acquire literacy and numeracy skills rather than plonking them in front of the TV.
Organic baby food: Sales have gone through the roof in recent years, with parents keen to give their little darlings a healthy start in life. Prime examples are Organix and the homemade organic food brand Babylicious.
Bugaboo Frog and BabyBjorn: Hip baby accessories such as prams and strollers.
Tweenies: The favourite pre-school programme (Teletubbies are now passe).
New characters: Fimbles, Balamory and Dora the Explorer have a big following, rivalling classics such as Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine.
Classic characters: The retro scene that is apparent with other age groups is also prominent with pre-schoolers, fulfilling a generation of parents who rediscover characters and toys with nostalgic affection. There's Noddy, Bill & Ben, Postman Pat, Care Bears and even talk of relaunching Muffin the Mule.
Alien toys: Little squishy things in eggs surrounded by slime. Messy, gruesome and unsurprisingly very popular with boys.
Finding Nemo: The mega-children's movie of the last year, which spawned a merchandise craze. However, expect this summer's third Harry Potter movie to rekindle the wizard phenomenon.
Busted: The boy-band that is safe for five-year-old girls to love.
The "tween" market, as this age bracket is often labelled, is a highly complex age group with big differences across genders and sub-age groups. They are extremely influential consumers.
According to Logistix Kids, tweens have spending power and purchase influence of between £600 million and £1 billion a year within the UK. Their pocket money has risen by 45 per cent over the past four years and the weekly spend for tweens is now £8.
Unlike in their pre-school years, these children live active lifestyles with parents ferrying their little ones from a range of clubs and friends' homes. School is central to their lives and the peer group influence starts to erode parental control and challenge pre-conceived attitudes and behaviour.
As they reject all things babyish, they eagerly experiment with new brands and teenage lifestyle experiences. They are hedonists in every sense, interacting with an ever-widening circle of other children and adults.
While experimental in nature, they lack the assurance of knowing what is the right brand choice and code of conduct. They act in a pack mentality, following the opinion leaders and older children en masse in the playground. Peer acceptance is their ultimate goal.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: A playground craze from Japan. Collecting and swapping these trading cards goes down a storm at school break-times.
Ant & Dec: The cheeky Geordie twosome's Saturday Takeaway strikes a chord with tweens. Soaps such as EastEnders are popular, too, as part of a family viewing experience.
Bratz: At last, a fashion doll to give Barbie a run for her money.
Cinema: Incredibly popular with tweens as a frequent family leisure occasion. Forthcoming smashes are expected to be Spider-man 2 and Shark Tale.
The Simpsons: Has reigned supreme with this age group for a decade.
Claire's Accessories: Girls are more social creatures than boys at this age and experiment with fashion at pocket money prices at Claire's and New Look.
Justin Timberlake/Britney Spears: Together again, at least in terms of their shared popularity. J-Lo, Busted and Beyonce Knowles are liked too.
Hello Kitty: Pink and winsome clothing and accessories brand for girls.
Computer games: Tony Hawk's skateboarding games offer boys danger-free extreme sports, while Pop Idol takes the TV show into the computer realm.
Mobile phones: Very aspirational. Although the majority of parents hold off purchase until their children reach secondary school, the current level of mobile ownership for this age band lies at 45 per cent. Texting is hugely popular.
Jacqueline Wilson: Her books, including The Illustrated Mum, are a success with tween girls. More than 15 million of her novels have been sold in the UK alone.
"The biggest difference between today's students and the ones of, say, ten years ago is that they are natural born consumers. They know exactly what they want, they know how much it costs and they understand what sort of money they'll need to be earning to support their consumer lifestyle." The words of a teacher, quoted in School Life, a report into 11- to 17-year-olds conducted by Vegas, the youth division of TRBI.
This is a generation switched on about brands and media like no other before it: children of the digital age who expect instant gratification.
TGI research shows many would rather surf the internet than watch TV as well as a clear disparity between the upper and lower age cohorts with regard to their cynicism towards TV advertising. While a tiny majority of 11- to 14-year-olds agree with the statement "I like to buy things seen in ads on TV", the great majority of older teens disagree.
Older children are more empowered to make purchasing decisions than before and have more cash. Vegas found 11- to 12-year-olds have £17 per week pocket money, 15- to 16-year-olds have £25 and 17- to 18-year-olds £36.
Blogs: What better way to let off teenage angst than through the pages of your own weblog? Teens in their droves have turned to the internet to air their feelings.
Adventure and ski holidays: Pottering on the beach is for the little children. Sandcastles are fine - if you can knock them down while beaching a jet-ski.
Eminem: The controversial rapper is one of a number of acts that really do it for the teens. Others are Sean Paul, 50 Cent, The Darkness and Christina Aguilera.
Mobile phones: Tweens all dream of owning one, but teens are the hardcore users. Research shows texting and gaming are more popular than voice calls.
Downloads: From ringtones to music for MP3 players. Teens have grown up with digital interactivity and struggle to understand why music should be paid for.
MSN Messenger: And let's not forget Yahoo! and Google. This audience has matured with these internet brands.
Diesel: Among the coolest fashion brands. The old timers Adidas and Top Shop continue to score well through perennial reinvention. According to Vegas, 15- to 16-year-olds spend £20 per month on clothes and shoes; 17- to 18-year-olds spend £28.
Orlando Bloom: Previous generations swooned for Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, but today's teen girls adore elfish eye-candy Bloom.
Graham Norton: MediaCom's School Children's Attitude Monitor among 12- to 16-year-olds identifies the comic as the favourite TV personality.
Gender polarity in magazine choices MediaCom's SCAM found that Max Power and PS2 magazine were the favourites among boys, while Sugar and Sneak were top choices among girls.
18-24 YOUNG ADULTS
"If you are in the 18 to 24 age group, everyone is trying to get into your space," the brand consultancy Dragon's senior consultant Nicky Owen says. Younger teens aspire to be older while many in their late twenties and early thirties still think of themselves as more youthful than they are.
More members of this age group than ever before are students as the boom in higher education places continues apace. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, during the 2002/2003 academic year, there were 2.17 million enrolments on higher education courses, a rise of 4.3 per cent on the previous year. But many in this age group have already started out on their career path.
Whereas a generation ago, The Face spoke eloquently to trend-setters and trend-followers alike, today there is an absence of a style bible with credibility for the 18- to 24-year-olds. There are just so many other sources to choose from.
Dan Holliday, a partner at the consultancy The Fish Can Sing, says: "It's interesting that there are so few mags that feel 'zeitgeisty' - and please don't fall for the myth that Heat is still cool. It's taking Now head-on and is consequently read by dieting human resources girls in Chingford.
Zoo, Nuts and FHM have no significance - they're 90s products in spirit, and it's 2004. Is peer-to-peer squeezing out the mass media?"
Young adult zeitgeists
WKD: Have you got a WKD side? The drinks brand has been smartly positioned to tap into the irreverent sensibilities of young adults. Advertising that focuses on the flat-share existence that is a fact of life for so many in this age group speaks volumes.
Beanie Hats: Headgear that has a cool street feel, despite Enrique Iglesias' personal crusade to make them appear naff. Brands such as Kickers are keeping hip heads hot.
Zara: Top Shop for a smarter, more knowing crowd. It is what Gap briefly was before inspiration dried up. Spanish style at high-street prices makes Zara the acceptable fashion retailer for this age group.
EBay: If the market stall doesn't have the quirky look you're after, how about bidding on something outre yet wearable on the auction website.
MP3 parties: Egalitarianism, or perhaps that should be "e-galitarianism", comes to DJ-ing. Everyone takes it in turns to play their favourite tracks. No sign of Dido or Westlife here.
Nag Nag Nag: West End nightclub (held Wednesday night at the Ghetto) that is about as far away in tenor from Stringfellow's as two businesses operating in the same sector could be. The release of the first Nag Nag Nag album in February shows its influence is spreading.
Billabong: Surfer shorts and casual fashions with a pleasing edge. Whether boarding, surfing or skating, it remains cool in a way that little silver scooters could never be.
Scarlett Johansson: Bill Murray was infatuated by her charm and beauty in Lost in Translation, but her own contemporaries also think she's stunning on both looks and acting talent.
Croyde: North Devon surfing village that fills up with a laid-back but trendy young crowd during the summer months.
Thailand and South-East Asia: Oh Phuket, let's spend what money we've got on the trip of a lifetime. Phuket's Patong Beach, once a fishing village, is now a party hotspot with bars and clubs to suit all tastes.
R 'n' B: N*E*R*D, Usher and other urban acts whose following isn't too "teeny".
This is an age group confident to mix and match. A Prada top with thrift store jeans, for example. Or, as Fitch's planning director, Pearse McCabe, puts it: "They'll travel easyJet to Monaco and then stay in a five-star hotel."
City breaks certainly appeal, with Eastern Europe high up the list as many are already familiar with a large number of Western Europe's urban jewels. South America, especially Brazil, exercises a strong allure for the big annual holiday.
London's Congestion Charge has had an impact beyond that originally foreseen.
According to Hicklin Slade's creative partner, Philip Slade, a significant number of Londoners who turned to motor scooters when the Charge was introduced became so enamoured with two-wheeled transport that they have upgraded to motorbikes.
History programmes have become the new gardening shows, Initiative says. But this is an age group that also likes The Office, Sex and the City, Wife Swap and I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!.
There's a huge diversity in musical tastes within such a broad age band, but Eminem is popular in some quarters with the justification that his lyrical inventiveness makes him the Bob Dylan de nos jours. Movies such as The Shawshank Redemption and The Usual Suspects are regarded as modern classics.
Apple iPod: Teens may be the MP3 file-sharing kings and queens but Apple's funky digital music player is the must-have device for the gadget-coveting middle-youth market. The eagerly awaited iPod mini, a smaller, cheaper version of the iPods currently on the market, was due to launch here in July. The launch date was postponed from April because Apple was overwhelmed with demand for the product in the US, selling 100,000 units almost immediately.
Style and function lovingly combined - for those with the disposable income to afford more than a Walkman. Don't doubt it, the mini is going to be big.
Fat Face: Outdoor and adventure gear predominantly worn at weekends by people who spend most of the week behind a desk - yet still think of themselves as free spirits.
Ducati: The company may have been founded in 1926 but the Italian manufacturer of performance motorbikes feels very "now".
Ocado: The grocery home delivery service launched in partnership with the upmarket supermarket Waitrose two-and-a-half years ago is now available to more than 5.2 million households. Quality and convenience: what many in this age bracket demand.
Firebox.com: For blokes (and a few lasses) who love their toys and can't be arsed to scour the high street, where better to go than Firebox? A website that makes gizmo buying a simple delight. Want to spend £8,000 on an internet fridge? Look no further. Taps into the mentality of an age group with attitudes largely forged in the consumerist 80s.
Harry Potter: The books, not the movies. Many parents and non-parents alike have read JK Rowling's bewitching bestsellers to children but equally for their own pleasure, in the process re-engaging with the wonders of their childhoods. The success of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, ostensibly children's books that have garnered a large adult audience, speaks of this age bracket's reluctance to leave behind their inner child, even when they have children of their own. Canny publishers have cashed in on the trend by publishing separate editions for adults and children.
Franz Ferdinand/Scissor Sisters: New music for thirtysomethings.
"It is the first time in history that a generation has remained in a leadership position from youth through middle age - and perhaps beyond," Laura Haynes, the director of the brand consultancy Appetite, says. "When young, they led by protest, demanding change and setting trends. Now, they lead through positions of power and influence, but still seem to be demanding change and setting trends. And the values that shaped this generation continue to influence and drive the social, political and business agenda: self-confidence, self-respect, self-fulfilment, independence and change."
Evo Research's managing director, Nick Johnson, says fiftysomethings are more open-minded on many issues than twentysomethings. This is a group that in no way sees itself as old. Many are happy to appropriate the brands and cultural traits supposedly earmarked for younger folk. "Things that you might think were self-defining for a younger audience were being hijacked by their parents' generation, like watching Friends on TV or swigging Bacardi Breezer out of the bottle."
There has been a paradigm shift, wittily identified several years ago by Jennifer Saunders in Absolutely Fabulous' relationship between reckless mum Edina and square daughter Saffy. "Once upon a time, it was 'girls just want to have fun', now it's 'grans just want to have fun'," Sanjay Nazerali, the managing director of the research consultancy The Depot, says. And why not? This is an affluent generation, many now unconstrained by a hefty mortgage. A generation that has worked hard and is determined to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Word magazine: A music magazine for grown-up readers able to sustain their attention span beyond caption length. Word is aimed at the "£50 bloke", the educated guy with money to spend.
Satellite navigation: A useful toy for the car. No need to get lost ... unless it's convenient to do so.
Something's Gotta Give: Oldies Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton act Keanu Reeves off the screen in a romcom that revels in showing that love and excessive behaviour are not the sole preserve of the young. Who needs a dose of Richard Curtis schmaltz when Jack's on song to make you laugh uncomfortably?
University fees: Rankles with today's middle-aged, middle classes as much as the Poll Tax infuriated young lefties in the Thatcher era.
South African nip and tucks: First-rate plastic surgery at reasonable prices. Perhaps combined with some sight-seeing.
Isabella Rosellini: Perpetually chic and lovely. Lauren Hutton, Julie Christie, Bryan Ferry and David Bowie are other role models growing older with style.
Harley-Davidson: A brand evocative of so much that has informed this age group's personal and cultural development: Easy Rider, the open road, the US counter culture of the 60s and 70s.
L'Oreal: The blue rinse brigade? No chance! Hair care and general grooming remain important. So what if some anti-wrinkle cream is called for, this generation refuses to give up on looking good.
Saab: Reconciling the two often disparate qualities of flair and reliability. Not as obvious as a "Beamer", nor as bourgeois as a fat Merc.
The Buena Vista Social: Club Ry Cooder's collaboration with some of the all-time greats of traditional Cuban music is a feel-good, chill-out soundtrack for the discerning listener. Broad life experience and eclectic taste gives 45- to 64-year-olds the confidence to reject the mass-produced pap of the US and UK.
Mallorca: Tuscany has been done to death, there's only so much Pisa and pizza you can take. The Ballearics are back in, but not, for this crowd, Ibiza. Mallorca is a far better choice, especially in and around Deja, a pretty town that has been home to artists, writers and musicians. So it's easy to pretend there's more to the holiday than the sun and a pool.
The over-65s are by no means a bunch of Thora Hird clones. Indeed, most would find the comparison offensive.
They see themselves as younger than they really are and many have an appetite for acquiring knowledge and new experiences.
They tend not to be as materialistic as younger age groups - indeed, many of the better-off seventysomethings have begun the process of divesting themselves of some of their assets to children and grandchildren as a means of minimising inheritance tax. "They get to a stage where it's not really about possessions - it's about making the most of what you have," Janet Kiddle, the managing director of Steel Magnolia, a research consultancy that specialises in the over-50s market, says.
Those who have worked hard and prospered over the years are determined to revel in their retirement. Exotic long-haul holidays are common, with destinations such as North America and Australasia proving popular. River and ocean cruises, though something of a cliche, continue to find favour. Last year, Saga purchased its second wholly owned cruise ship. Saga also offers an internet service, showing how willing many post-workers are to embrace new technologies for a range of reasons, from keeping in touch with friends and family to e-commerce.
Gardening is, of course, a popular pastime, but only one of many.
E-mail: So-called silver surfers are eager to stay in touch. Many have mastered computer skills in an effort to stay connected with children and grandchildren who are often spread far and wide. With time on their hands, and computer skills, many are now adept online shoppers.
Age Concern: The campaigning nature of the charity resonates well. The over-65s don't want to be ignored or forgotten about in an age of longer life expectancy and active retirement. By 2021, 40 per cent of the population will be over 50. Age Concern is eager to see more older people who wish to work full-time able to do so - for the good of the UK economy.
Toyota: Brownie points for its hybrid car the Prius have added to Toyota's sensible brand image. Older consumers are impressed by the technology and keen to know what they are budgeting for in terms of running costs.
Michael Parkinson: Age shall not wither his interviewing clout. The Beeb never really found a plausible successor for his convivial chat show, so Parky himself returned to our screens in triumph. If you're good enough, you're not too old. That's a message the over-65s heartily approve of. Parky turns 70 next year.
Sue Lawley: Has made Radio 4's Desert Island Discs her own.
Saga: Brand targeted at the over-50s that has successfully broadened its activities from holidays into areas such as financial services, publishing and radio. Saga Magazine goes to one million households every month and is edited by Emma Soames, herself a role model.
Classic FM: It is taking a hard look at reinventing itself for a younger audience but its core playlist of classics by popular composers has a large fan base among an older demographic.
Alan Titchmarsh: When Titchmarsh recommended Daphne du Maurier's classic Rebecca as part of the BBC's Big Read, sales of the book jumped by about 950 per cent year on year. Clearly, the TV gardening guru has wider influence than over what to plant in the herbaceous border. But, of course, his popularity is in part due to the pleasure many over-65s take in gardening.
National Trust/RSPB: Conservation, whether of wildlife or historic buildings, is a major issue for this group. They want to take pleasure in these beautiful things for themselves - and ensure that they remain as a legacy to be enjoyed by their descendants.
University of the Third Age: It's never too late to learn. As of March 2004, there were 533 groups in the UK with a total membership of 131,879. Retirement means anything but intellectual stasis for knowledge-hungry pensioners.