Grownups hijack cute Generation Z meme
We’re all for young entrepreneurs. But the sad reality is that many – maybe most – see their Big Ideas co-opted by interlopers.
So it is with OK Boomer, the Generation Z meme of the moment. After teenagers launched this cute pouty put down, adult arrivistes quickly hijacked it as a platform for personal agendas, pontification and PR.
In addition to millions of TikTok and YouTube views, Googling the term yielded over 12 million news site hits in the first two weeks of November as all the major media and marketing players piled on.
Mercifully, the end is near: after riding the wave, OK Boomer has jumped the shark.
Cecilia D’Anastasio at gaming review site Kotaku, nailed it: Peak ‘OK Boomer’ Reached. Steel yourself and click her link to anime star Naruto’s voice actor screeching out the meme. You’ll be over it in no time.
Gen Z: MadAve’s fig leaf fix for Millennial mistakes
Although their Boomer baiting barb is fading, for the next dozen years or so Gen Z itself will be the go-to grabber for news outlets, brands, pollsters and ad agencies ballyhooing a slew of recycled claims about how
Millennials Zers will disrupt everything, nothing will ever be the same again, etc., etc.
Z-boosting reflects Adland’s eagerness to divert attention from past predictions – now revealed as mistakes and missteps – because Millennials are selling out to normalcy.
Crossing the 30th birthday threshold, they adopt conventional lifestyles, marry, have children, buy homes in the burbs and opt for family-friendly vehicles – in short, becoming like their Boomer parents and older Gen X siblings.
Faced with the challenge of convincing management to focus ad budgets on its Gen Z wunderkinder, MadAve scurried for ways to bestow importance on 12-year-olds whose main source of income is taking out the garbage and walking the dog.
They found ample precedent.
Except for Baby Boomers, memorialized as born 1946-1964, generational labels and birth year ranges skittered around for decades as unexpected events forced constant revisions, keeping trend-trackers in steady employment.
- 1965-1974 (New York Times)
- 1965-1976 (J.D. Power)
- 1965-1976 (Pew Research Center, 2010)
- 1965-1981 (Strauss and Howe, authors)
- 1965-1984 (The Harvard Center)
With history as a guide, news-makers were emboldened to recast the pecking order: Job One was to dethrone Millennials as America’s largest generation.
In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau defined Millennials as people born 1982-2000, but in 2018 The Pew Research Center switched to born 1981-1996, cutting them off at the knees. Some 16 million Zers arrived in the 18-49 demo overnight as America’s most influential generation. Meanwhile, under the radar, Boomers bounced back as the largest.
If you’re keeping track of Adland’s favored – for now – headliners and their birth years, Pew says Gen Z is born 1997-2012. But stay tuned. Before you can say Father Time it will 2030, Zers will be “old” and today’s hip 5-year-olds will begin to disrupt everything … etc., etc.
Full disclosure: Boomer / neXt uses Census Bureau definitions – keeping score is so much easier when the goalposts stay put.
Get real: Boomers are OK
When The Washington Post asked AARP senior vice president Myrna Blyth about the OK Boomer surge, she zinged back “we have the money.” Ouch!
“Blyth’s point is that ad and marketing execs routinely pit generations against one another and overlook older people, especially older women,” said AARP’s media relations editorial manager, Colby Nelson, in a statement.
In fact, after the USA itself and China, Americans over 50 represent the world’s 3rd largest economy. Dominated by Boomers, supplemented by older Gen Xers – arriving at the rate of 4 million annually – it is the most powerful purchasing group on the planet.
What’s more, Boomers have a strong sense of cohesion: they know who they are.
The Boomer label is so powerful that 15% of Gen X and 34% of the Silent Generation apply it to themselves – the latter due to socio-cultural overlap; many iconic “Boomers” were actually born in the late Silent era, including all The Monkees, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross and Jerry (The Grateful Dead) Garcia.
Also, Boomer / neXt research found that Boomers bond over the time frame and shared memories of their younger years. Asked what Baby Boomer means to them, they focused on when they were born, their current age/life stage and the wars and the music that bracketed, punctuated or dominated their youth.
And there were consistent undertones of hard work, responsibility and playing by the rules, values that Pew, Gallup and others say younger groups do not strongly associate with their own generations.
Why brands need authentic guides to cross the chasm to the world’s #3 economy
Awash in Big Data, metrics, surveys and statistics, brand strategists are well-aware of the Boomers’ incredible purchasing power. But they flounder when it comes to the inner mind decision-making of the 50+ space. It’s understandable.
The average agency creative staffer is 28; half of ad/marketing professionals are gone by age 39; only 5-10% are 50-plus. While incredibly talented, young marketers have few authentic connections to the socio-cultural imprinting that motivates people who have already transitioned through several life stages beyond their own.
But the most powerful barrier to winning brand share in the world’s 3rd largest economy is that consumers themselves cannot fully express their embedded perceptions. Boomer world is a place where native speakers communicate in a subtle, highly nuanced silent language, the sources of which they barely remember.
Without a true understanding of how to navigate these hidden dynamics, as with OK Boomer, advertiser outcomes are stereotypes at best, caricatures at worst.
Fortunately, authentic Boomer guides and interpreters are on hand to bring astute Adlanders across the chasm.
Topping our own reading list are Advertising to Baby Boomers (Chuck Nyren), Boomer Reinvention (Brent Green) and Barry Silverstein’s superb primer on Iconic Brands that Shaped Our Childhood, Boomer Brands.
Barry illustrates how lifelong attitudes are imprinted more powerfully by the routines of everyday life – from food to clothing to automobiles to entertainment and, yes, to memorable advertising – than by big events in the outside world.
About Boomer / neXt
Boomer / neXt publishes reports and conducts creative seminars that stimulate managers to greater insight, innovation and brand re-generation in the 50+ space.
Contact us learn how generational imprinting and the silent language it creates still drive brand destinies in the world’s 3rd largest economy.