The Boomer-Millennial Connection

by , , Nov 19, 2013, 3:45 PM
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A lot has been written on the difference between the Boomer and Millennial generations, but take a closer look and you’ll see the two generations have a lot more in common than you may think. There have even been instances when a message targeting one of these generations has also resonated strongly with the other. Could it be possible to tap into the over $3 trillion in spending power the combined audiences represent with one campaign? 

What many researchers have missed by focusing on the “young vs. old” hype is that many of the values that Boomers hold dear are emerging among Millennials as they come into adulthood. According to Iconoculture, this suggests that with more than 150 million consumers between the two generations, your brand may be able to appeal to both generations by honing in on some of their shared values. 

When comparing Boomers and Millennials, we see the life experiences of both generations have been shaped by similar historic events and technology revolutions. Boomers condemned the Vietnam War, experienced the mainstreaming of TV, and partied at Woodstock, while Millennials faced the Iraq War, experienced the emergence of the Internet, and flock to Coachella and Bonnaroo every year. Pair these similar experiences with the fact that many Millennials are the children of Boomers, and you know the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall from the tree.”

Here are three of those shared values driving both generations: 

Functional Fun

What do the Ford Fiesta, Kia Soul, and Fiat 500 all have in common? According to WSJ.com, almost half of the purchasers of these cars are Boomers, despite the fact that all three models were initially designed to appeal to Millennials. It turns out both Boomers and Millennials want versatile cars that support their personal lifestyle, according to Iconoculture’s Values and Lifestyle Survey (December 2012). In terms of marketing, all of these brands have been able to achieve cross-generational appeal by promoting a fun driving experience, maneuverability, and eco-friendly benefits, which support the active personal lifestyles both generations aspire to.

Individuality

This value is fundamental to both generations because of the social influences they faced. Boomers wanted to prove they were different than their parents and the status quo, so they blazed new trails in every phase of their lives. Millennials grew up hearing they could be whatever they wanted to be, and the Internet continues to allow them to evolve their identities with a click or tap. This desire to express themselves and put their unique stamp on the world presents a rich opportunity for brands to connect with both groups. Pepsi Refresh, which encouraged users to submit their ideas for making a positive impact on the world for a chance to win funding to bring the idea to life, saw terrific initiative penetration among both groups by focusing on the “power of one” to make a difference.

Experiences Over Possessions 

The recession shifted the mindsets of both Boomers and Millennials from a desire for luxury to a desire for personal richness, which resulted in the prioritization of “memories first” when it comes to discretionary spending. Both generations have decreased their big-ticket consumption and are prioritizing experiences. The culinary, entertainment, and travel categories have all benefited from this attitudinal shift. Checking out of the real world, making progress on their bucket lists, and being together as a group are motivating both groups and even inspiring more cross-generational traveling. Norwegian Cruise Lines has embraced this and brought Boomers and Millennials together by adding features like “the Haven,” a high-end escape on the ship, no set schedules, and even “pub crawls” for the young at heart. 

There can be potential pitfalls in trying to create marketing that resonates with disparate generations, such as oversimplifying who they are, stereotyping, or employing a mocking tone.  If you’re not careful, this can lead to a message that pushes away one or both groups. That is why we typically advise our clients to focus-in on one generation when crafting messaging. However, we feel it’s time that marketers start looking at these two mega-generations a little differently, calling out their commonalities versus differences.  We know that there are fundamental core values that pertain to both groups. By honing in on those values, brand marketers may be able to utilize value-based messaging that creates that magical halo effect, appealing to both Boomers and Millennials.

5 comments on "The Boomer-Millennial Connection".

  1. Taylor Wray from Kantar Retail
    commented on: November 19, 2013 at 4:06 p.m.
    HA! Intriguing article, but I think you meant "The apple doesn't fall FAR from the tree."
  2. Matthew Kessler from Vox Media
    commented on: November 19, 2013 at 4:18 p.m.
    Cool read, especially as a millennial child of boomer parents.
  3. Tony Nino from PADV Pasadena Advertising
    commented on: November 19, 2013 at 7:08 p.m.
    As a card carrying boomer (social security card of course), I have to thank you for your considered and common sense observations. I would perhaps suggest that finding so many commonalities between these two wildly disparate groups means that with a little work common messages could work well with other groups that apparently have little in common such as 50-year olds and 70-year olds (trust me on that) or better yet, men and women... of any age (trust anyone on that). @Taylor Wray, I think they meant that after a few pub crawls those damn apples never seem to fall from the tree. =) But seriously folks, nice work.
  4. Stephen Reisman from Reismancy Theory Industries
    commented on: November 20, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.
    The apple not falling far from the tree does not always hold when evaluating values. For example, the Boomers rejected the values of their parents (the Greatest Generation) who extolled hard work, thrift and service to others. The values noted above could easily be ascribed to a number of population segments.
  5. Danielle Johnson from Slingshot, LLC
    commented on: November 21, 2013 at 6:58 p.m.
    Thanks for the feedback! Glad that we could initiate some discussion about the topic. We understand that no target or generation is going to be alike on all levels and that there will have differences, but thought this was an interesting challenge with potential to expand our messaging tactics. Sometimes we focus so much on what makes our targets different, we overlook similarities and the potential to connect to the same ideas and brands.

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