Falling Into the Generational Marketing Gap

Last year, we discussed why brands shouldn't use a one-size-fits-all marketing approach to market to Millennials, arguing that those who view this generation as monolithic, do so to their detriment, and often miss the bigger picture.

Marketers focus so much attention on reaching one specific age group that they ignore major cross-generational opportunities (which is why agencies like Influent50 thrive in this market).

We consulted a few different sources to demarcate American consumers by generation:

According to The Atlantic, Baby Boomers are most clearly defined as the 76 million children born between 1946 and 1964, in post-World War II America.

The Census Bureau projects that the Baby Boom population will total 61.3 million in 2029, which is when the youngest Boomers will reach the U.S. retirement age of 65.

Generation X encompasses the 55 million children born between 1965 and the early 1980s. The cut-off year for this group is still somewhat fuzzy –– some sources say 1980, others claim 1982, and some maintain that this generation tapers off as late as 1985, which may indicate why some early-80s babies feel like they're in a generation of their own.

The Millennial generation (aka Generation Y) was almost as fruitful as the Boomer generation, with about 66 million births from the early 1980s through Y2K, the start of the new millennia.

With immigration adding more numbers to its group than any other, the American Millennial population is projected to peak in 2036 at 81.1 million, and ebb to 79.2 million by 2050.

The Baby Boomer generation accounts for 10 million more children than the Millennial generation, but brands (sometimes mistakenly) place a much higher value on the Gen Y consumer, thus alienating Boomers.

That said, these "wildly different" generations could have more in common than we realize.

Baby Boomers were labeled the Me Generation, due to the overwhelmingly "self-involved" characteristics that author Tom Wolfe discussed in his New York Magazine article, The "Me" Decade, in which he summarized an entire generation with the words: "Enough about me… what do you think about me?"

Joel Stein similarly scrutinized Millennials and their "narcissistic tendencies" several decades later in his Time Magazine article: The ME ME ME Generation, in which he wrote:

"They are the most threatening and exciting generation since the Baby Boomers brought about social revolution, not because they’re trying to take over the Establishment, but because they're growing up without one… Millennials don't need us. That's why we're scared of them."

Wolfe and Stein were in their early 40s when their respective articles were published in August 1976 and in May 2013 –– both authors, decades apart, describe posterior generations as "narcissistic" and "self-involved."

To quote The Atlantic article Every Every Every Generation Has Been the Me Me Me Generation:

"It's not that people born after 1980 are narcissists, it's that young people are narcissists, and they get over themselves as they get older. It's like doing a study of toddlers and declaring those born since 2010 are Generation Sociopath: Kids These Days Will Pull Your Hair, Pee On Walls, Throw Full Bowls of Cereal Without Even Thinking of the Consequences."

We dichotomize our marketing strategies because we assume that each generation requires appropriated messaging, but is this always the best approach?

Not all Millennials (or Generation X, or Baby Boomers) are created equal. Distinguishing consumer groups by what and how they consume, instead of by their age group, is sometimes more effective.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that we were once young, naive, egotistical consumers, and ask ourselves: How would the older me market to the younger me?