Talking ‘bout my generation

13th Jul 2009

Marketers have long studied different age groups for answers on how best to engage them. But who are we referring to when we break down the generations? Verity Gough looks at the key influencers and how they should be treated differently when it comes to marketing.

Mature or silent generation (1928 - 1945)
Characteristics: Hard working, married young, family-friendly, affluence, domesticity, activism, conventional, morally confused.
Defining events: World War II, the start of the Cold War, sub-urbanisation, Elvis Presley, the Beat movement, the Korean War, Women’s lib.
The so-called ‘silent generation’ are the children who grew up surrounded by war and depression. Stuck somewhere between two significant cultural periods, they inhabited a difficult middle ground: born too late to be war heroes like their fathers and older brothers and too early to enjoy the liberty and youthful folly of the first Baby Boomers. They married young, were early adopters of a more innocent rock n roll sound and quickly became safe and solid professionals before making a stand as civil rights activists.
They witnessed cultural diversity, fragmenting families, affluence, and had a propensity towards indecision. However, while activism is one of the key characteristics of this generation, many were also quiet, hardworking people who focused on getting things done and advancing their careers, despite an internal struggle about their identity and place in the world.
The silent generation, so called because of their lack of voice, were encouraged to conform with social norms but this generation struggled with the aspirations thrust on them from past generations with the revolutionary ideals of the growing civil rights movement and the women's liberation movement.
The baby boomers (Born 1945 -1964)
Characteristics: Experimental, individualist, free spirited, self-belief, self-fulfilment, self-improvement, rejection or redefinition of traditional values, spiritualism, sub-cultural explosion.
Defining events: The Cold War, the rise of television, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the civil rights movement, the Beatles, the Vietnam War, first Apollo moon landing, Woodstock.
The baby boom generation is a term which portrays a generation born during the middle part of the 20th Century. The exact dates for this generation is subject to much discussion but they are stereotypically associated with cultural touchstones like the Star Trek and Mission Impossible TV shows, Woodstock, and theaAnti-Vietnam war Movement. They are also widely associated with privilege, with many of them growing up in the affluent and revolutionary 1950s, and their values changed as much as their hairstyles.
Boomers considered themselves as special and felt that they were making a change in the world, and their idealism, coupled with the sheer force of numbers saw them remodel society. Interestingly, modern marketers are now finding that this demographic is market-savvy, consumerist and are happy to ‘brand hop’  thanks to the fact that they came of age in the swinging sixties when novelty and experimentation were favoured over conformity and tradition.
Today’s boomers are healthier, richer and preparing for a second flush of youth in their 50s as the kids move out and their savings can be spent on luxuries. And as an increasingly web-savvy demographic, Boomers are fast becoming a marketer’s dream customer.
Generation X (Born 1965 -1979)
Characteristics: Rebelliousness, independent, entrepreneurial, anti-establishment, sceptical, eco-minded, anti-consumerist, short attention spans, multi-career minded.
Defining events: 1980s miners’ strikes, Margaret Thatcher appointed as the first female Prime Minister, Watergate, the 1970s oil shocks, the Iran hostage crisis, rising divorce rates, the PC revolution, AIDS, grunge music.
Although the name generation X is most commonly associated with author Douglas Copeland’s 1991 novel of the same name, it has also been referred to as the ‘baby bust’ generation, due to the drop in the birth rates after the baby boom. Other tags include YIFFIES (young individualistic freedom-minded few), the brash pack, FLYERS (fun-loving youth en route to success), DINKYS (double income no kids yet) the NIKES (no income kids with education), the indifferent generation, and the invisible generation.
Whatever term you prefer, gen X is known for its independent and sceptical approach to mass marketing and now in their 30s and 40s, they represent an affluent demographic that are buying homes earlier and starting families later. This love-affair with consumerism stems from a childhood dealing with recession, single-parent households, the internet and other personal technology. Consequently, gen X consumes media differently than earlier generations and presents an interesting dilemma for marketers, mainly due to their transient tastes and lack of identity.
For example, gen X are poor decision makers, they have few heroes, crave entertainment, hate yuppies, hippies, and druggies. With a consummate fear of divorce, they are loathed to marry but hold family life dear. They are inspired by nature and want to make a difference, a characteristic that is evident from the huge numbers of entrepreneurs in this group.
Generation Y or Millennials (1980 -1994)
Characteristics: Style-conscious, tech-savvy, ‘prematurely affluent,’ independent, needy, socially and environmentally aware, pro-community, pro-multi-culturalism, pro-gender equality.
Defining events: The fall of the Berlin Wall, the birth of the web, the dotcom boom and bust, Princess Diana, anime, 9/11, electronica, growth in social media, rebirth of pop culture.
Never has there been a more needy generation than Y. In fact, a recent article in the Economist stated: “Gen Y are spoilt, narcissistic layabouts that can’t spell and waste too much time on instant messaging and Facebook.”
Defined by the rise of instant communication technologies, thanks to the birth of email, texting, instant messaging (IM), new media used through websites such as YouTube and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Generation Y's reputation for being peer-oriented and for seeking instant gratification is well-earned. They have a strong ‘authenticity’ radar and loathe blatant advertising, meaning that consumer brands are turning to gen Y’s own communication means to get their brand messages across.
But for all these negatives, there are many virtues: they are net savvy, are natural collaborators, are frequently in touch with their parents, use technology at a far higher rate than any previous generations, cannot function socially without a mobile phone, and have refined the art of multi-tasking to such an extent that they can text, surf the net, download music and chat to friends on IM simultaneously.
One major differentiator with gen Y and other groups is how they act in the workplace. These young people, often referred to as ‘trophy kids,’ have great expectations about the working world. To this end, gen Y are considered needy, constantly seek feedback, responsibility and involvement in decision making.
But they are also adaptable and crave independence - why do they need to be shackled to their ‘prison’ when they can do their work in Starbucks? They demand respect and expect to have a voice, and that voiced to be listened to. Environmental issues are also of high importance having grown up with a green message at every turn: knowing that the brand they buy, the company they work for or the clothes they wear are ethically produced can be a deal breaker for gen Y.
The net generation (1995 - present)
Characteristics: Web and technology savvy, brand conscious, community minded, pro-multi-culturalism, pro-equality.
Defining events: Explosion in social media, war on terror, growth in mobile technology, New Labour, Bush Administration/Obama election, reality TV.
Generation Z, the net generation or iGeneration are considered to be those born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s. As the children of the youngest baby boomers and generation X, this group has taken the use of technology and the internet to new heights. Nick-named ‘digital natives’, these youngsters have never known life without the internet, DVDs, instant messaging, texts, MP3s, mobiles, YouTube or other such technologies.
In gen Z’s world, there is widespread gender equality and multiculturalism is part of the everyday fabric of life. Single parent families are now evolving into same-sex families, with many of these people having come of age in breakfast and after-school clubs. The social conscience of gen Y is also evident in this generation but it is thought that they will possess a greater work ethic more on a par with the baby boomers. Most importantly, this generation will share the taste for technology with its parents.
In fact, brands are going to have to compete even harder to get gen Z to even raise an eyebrow at their products - if it doesn’t get their attention immediately, it never will. Old media that fails to adapt and develop their brand integration strategies will also be left on the sidelines. Forget the internet revolution; the net generation are poised and ready to turn the industry on its head.

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