Commentary

Gen X: 'The Forgotten Generation' By Name, By Advertisers In Real Life

Generation X, ranging in age from late 30s to early 50s, is oft referred to as the “forgotten generation.” Advertisers have taken this moniker literally, as the generation sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials is scarcely targeted by them. To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: “Big mistake. Big. Huge!"

Yes, Gen X falls behind Boomers and Millennials by size; 66 million for Gen X, compared to 75.4 million Boomers and an estimated 83.1 million Millennials.

When did a targetable audience of 66 million become unexciting?

Also dubbed the slacker generation, a 2015 report by Sage Group found Gen Xers actually launched 55% of new businesses in the United States and Canada that same year. The bad rap is hard to shake.

“When Gen X first started making noise, they were labeled as slackers, and that stuck in the minds of companies," author and marketing consultant Rieva Lesonsky told Adweek. "Even when Gen Xers proved they weren't slackers, nobody ever gave them another label, and nobody's paid them any respect at all," she added.

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The challenge for advertisers might be in where Gen X is positioned demographically. This generation wasn’t born computer savvy, email wasn’t a commonplace form of communication … yet, and social media was far from existence; traditional methods of targeting like TV, radio and print were the likely ad mediums. In 2018, Gen X is the generation that spends a hefty chunk of time on social media, yet also still watches television. Where does an advertiser target Gen X? Online, TV or a combination of both?

A Verto Analytics study from Feb. 2018 found the majority of adult online shoppers are Gen X (35%), ahead of Millennials (30%) and baby boomers (31%).

Yet at the same time, Gen X viewers watch more TV shows produced by networks compared to Millennials, according to a Business Insider survey conducted by Rotten Tomatoes.

Referrals from friends and family, along with show buzz, largely decide which programs both Gen X and Millennials watch. After that, the survey found, Millennials look to social media (43%) for information while Gen X looks to television ads (39%).

Which brands should target Gen X? All of them. Gen Xers are notorious for having minimal retirement savings, thanks to credit card and student loan debt, so financial services companies should be more aggressive targeting this demo than the obvious Baby Boomers and Millennials.  A 2017 Stash survey found that Gen Xers (73.04%) are investing more toward retirement than Boomers (72.58%) and Millennials (61.41%).

Despite the lack of savings, Gen X households spend more annually than Boomers and Millennials, according to a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. The possibilities for advertisers are limitless.

3 comments about "Gen X: 'The Forgotten Generation' By Name, By Advertisers In Real Life".
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  1. R. M. from self, March 30, 2018 at 2:58 p.m.

    I personally disagree that targeting by biological age (whether X, Y, Z, AA, etc) is an effective or efficient tactic. There are hundreds! of other data points that are better in predicting what a peraon will do, watch, share or buy.

    "The possibilities for advertisers are limitless." has nothing to do with biological age (aka generation age breaks).

    Think it's seriously time to start targeting on more complex mindsets than the year a person was born. Enough with the Mills or any other gen. People should be (and analytically can be) targeted at the multiple persona level for each person.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 30, 2018 at 3:21 p.m.

    R.M. only the dumbest advertisers target their campaigns exclusively against a consumer's age or sex. Most TV commercials try to exploit a number of variables---product usage, brand preference, lifecycle, life style, mindset, etc. ---in order to fashion a message thet the brand thinks will work well in its behalf. The TV time buying process ---often corporate rather than brand by brand in nature----uses sex and age in very broad strokes ( 18-49, 25-54 and 35+ ) primarily because the sellers will not guarantee audience tonnage delivery on more refined demographics which in corporate buys involving 25-35 brands are fairly useless anyway. The ongoing assumption is that you get enough low cost "imprssions" against your many target groupings via corporate buys and that the individual brand commercials will seek out those viewers who are amenable to their pitch and how it is conveyed anyway.

  3. PJ Lehrer from NYU replied, March 31, 2018 at 10:10 a.m.

    Generation data will always be an important part of the marketing puzzle because the experiences we have when we are young shape the way that we see the world.  A friend once told me - I see a huge difference between people who remember President Kennedy and those who do not.

    This blog talks about the impact 9/11 has had on Gen Z and how that is playing out in terms of their attitudes about free speech...
    http://pjlehrer.blogspot.com/2017/09/is-gen-zs-intolerance-of-free-speech.html

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