Generation X steadily transitioning into obscurity in 2016
January, as trivia mavens, scholars and smarty pants in general remind us, is named for the Roman god Janus. Equipped with two heads, he looks to the past – the year just ended – and greets the future – the year beginning.
Marketing world celebrated the season with steely-eyed hindsight about 2015 winners and losers and bold assertions for the coming year. You know, Sky-Writing Drones: The Hot New Mobile Ad Trend For 2016.
According to old Mad Men dogma, as consumers exit the 18-49 demo their adaptability shrivels at the stroke of midnight on their 50th birthday. No longer worth active targeting, they are banished to the Boomer Triangle – that hazy half-world from which no traveler returns.
By the end of 2016 the population of blacklisted Gen Xers will exceed all but three of 381 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have more people.
That’s throwing away more customers than live in Dallas, or Houston, or Philadelphia, or Washington DC, or Miami, or Atlanta, or Boston – and almost twice the population of San Francisco, or Phoenix, or Detroit, or … okay, okay, you get the picture.
Oh well, adland’s loss is AARP’s gain.
It’s also a gain for the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1966. Cast aside by mainstream brands, at 94+ million strong and owners of more than 70% of U.S. household net worth, if it were a country this huge cohort would be the world’s third largest economy and 15th most populous nation.
Adland’s annual Janus Ritual hugs the comfort zone
Advertising and marketing pundits – while astutely stroking their audience’s self image as, ahem, creative and disruptive – played it safe again in this year’s Janus Ritual.
We got our hopes up over ADWEEK’s December 7, 2015, cover congratulating “those who OUT do, OUT hustle … OUT run, maneuver, think and fox their competition.”
Cool. Finally, we thought, the ultimate OUT-whatever disruptives are being recognized – advertisers who directly engage the 50+ space, aka the buyers of half of just about everything mainstream brands serve up.
Yeah, right. As in years past – make that decades past – all accolades went to marketers in the 18-49 comfort zone.
Ad Age was equally comfortable. Of twenty luminaries asked “What’s the No. 1 issue that the overall marketing and advertising industry needs to deal with in 2016?” not one dared suggest boosting clients’ brand share by un-blacklisting consumers over fifty.
Boomers and Gen X; we shared so much and speak the same dialect
Our own New Year prediction: the idea of targeting the 50+ market will soon reach a tipping point – helped along by “hey, not me, I’m not old” realizations of marketing’s own Gen X insiders as they hit the Big Five-O. There’s nothing like the prospect of a hanging to focus the mind.
But engaging – authentically engaging – the Boomer-Plus Generation is not a job for amateurs; we speak a complex cultural dialect that cannot be imitated, evolved in a unique world that cannot be revisited.
And like any other, our 15th Nation is diverse yet still bound together. Case in point, Gen Xers born in 1965 and 1966 grew up in Boomer world but experienced it in unique, personal moments year by year, decade by decade.
Janus view: the 1970s
For little kids, although their parents worry about the Vietnam War, air pollution, Watergate, oil crises 1.0 and 2.0, economic malaise, American hostages in Iran and Three Mile Island, life is pretty good.
Thanks to Star Wars, the Space Age finally replaced Westerns and Scooby-Doo, The Brady Bunch and Happy Days make for fun evenings as color television set penetration reaches 80% by the end of the decade.
Janus view: the 1980s
And technology is on a roll: Apple launches, cell phones arrive and VHS videotapes win out over Betamax. Best of all, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War is over. It’s a new world; anything is possible.
Janus view: the 1990s
An old hit from 1966 is hot again: Devil With A Blue Dress On. There’s a war on “over there” but the US economy still rocks, gasoline averages around $1.20 a gallon and the Internet revolution is awesome. Y2K, bring it on! Way cool … if our computers still run.
Fifty-plus: not so bad after all
The Gen X crop of 1966 – like those of earlier vintages – will discover that turning fifty isn’t the end of life after all. No wonder they’ll be puzzled to find how quickly they disappear from mainstream advertising except as clumsy stereotypes.
But take heart. Here and there, ambitious young Millennials are slowly waking up to the incredible opportunities in the 50+ space. They’ve seen the data – metrics is the current buzzword – but they’re smart enough to know they can’t speak the dialect.
The winners will call us to help them OUT-everything their competition. We predict it.