Gen X Marketers: Older Now, But Still Runnin’ Against The Wind

Adland blacklists 17 million Gen Xers – including clients. Oops!

With summer almost gone and plastic pumpkins poised to promote America’s retail places, the marketing media will soon be prepping for January 2019 and its annual look back/look forward ritual.

January, as trivia mavens, scholars and smarty pants in general well know, is named for the Roman god Janus who, equipped with two heads, looks both to the year just ended and greets the year just beginning.

As usual, Madison Avenue will celebrate 2018 winners and losers with 20-20 hindsight and make bold – but safely hedged – assertions for 2019.

With Millennials now being rapidly displaced by Gen Z as the poster child – key word child, since most have not yet entered middle school – for all that is hip, cool and on-trend in adland, we (boldly) predict click-bait headlines such as:

  • 12-year old Gen Z creative director rewrites rules for … (whatever)
  • Marketing departments offer free Pull-Ups as perks to tempt toddler talent
  • Agency CEO: our Gen Z pre-schoolers are smarter than their Millennial has-beens

The irony is – with a median ad/pr biz employee age of 38 (US Department of Labor) – older Millennials will soon follow on the heels of the Gen Xers they shoved aside as they clawed their way to the middle of the heap.

Not only did they sideline their Gen X managers and mentors (thanks a bunch, kids) in the scramble for the corner office, but also they have been blacklisting 4 million Gen X consumers annually as they exit the 18-49 demographic.

How can this be? For starters, don’t blame the Millennials – or even the Gen Xers who came before. No, not the Boomers either. Each generation in its turn was just following the safest path to advancement in adland – cry creativity but practice prudence.

In this case, prudent policy was laid down way back in the 1960s when 3-Martini lunch Mad Men strode the earth, preaching that consumer adaptability shrivels at the stroke of midnight on their 50th birthday.

After that, the Solons decreed, they won’t try new products, switch brands or adopt new buying behaviors. So don’t waste ad dollars on them unless to peddle pills, potions or portfolios as they cruise off to Florida and Sun City in their Packards and De Sotos.

Don Draper’s rules and Don Knotts’ smarts … what could go wrong?

Janus_The Two DonsOne thing is certain; combining Don Draper’s 1960s rules with Don Knotts’ 1960s smarts is as dumb as it is dated.

When Janus looked back on 1964 and forward to 1965, only 3% of U.S households owned a color TV, American auto brands won 95% of the market, outside the Starship Enterprise no one had a cell phone and the typical 25-year-old woman was a married home-maker with two children.

Ground Control to Major Tom, your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong.
Can you hear me, Major Tom?

When the ball drops in Times Square on December 31st, 2018, thanks to weird old group-think, almost 17 million Gen Xers will have disappeared from brand targeting since they started turning fifty in 2015. As media planners well know, of 383 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) only one – New York – has more people.

It’s as if the populations of Los Angeles and San Francisco were blacklisted overnight.

Hey, we heard that! No snarky jokes please, this is serious stuff.

We’re not just talking about the annual loss of 4 million Gen Xers. The 50+ space they now join is home to 110 million Americans who control 80% of US household assets and account for 58% of retail sales (Video Advertising Board).

Once dominated by Baby Boomers, as the Xers pour in, we call now this enormous marketplace the Boomer / neXt Generation™ – it’s the world’s third largest economy after China and the US itself, and the least understood by Madison Avenue.

Generation X, not Gen Z, will re-write the rules

Judging by a scattering of articles cropping up in the business media, at least some brand managers are reassessing Gen X world and are alarmed at what they see: those mid-century Mad Men myths are driving away customers.

Long dismissed in silly memes as the “slacker” or “middle child” or “grunge/MTV” generation, Xers are slowly gaining recognition on three fronts.

$$$ There are more of them than you thought

$$$ They have way more to spend than Millennials

$$$ They are taking over C-Suites nationwide

Don’t just take our word for it. The Washington Post has already re-written the narrative: We thought Gen X was a bunch of slackers. Now they’re the suits (March 1, 2017).

So let’s take a look at what we at Boomer / neXt know about the coming Gen X bandwagon.

$$$ There are more of them than you thought

Forget what you’ve read about the “small” Gen X generation; Googlesphere is full of articles hyping the size/importance of the Millennials at the expense of Xers.

You’ll find some sources starting the cool M-crowd as early as 1975, squeezing grungy Gen X into a mere 10 birth years. It wasn’t until 2015 that the U.S. Census Bureau stepped in to set the Millennial birth range as 1982-2000, thereby leaving Generation Z 1965-1981 as their very own territory.

Bottom line: 66 million consumers aged 37 to 53 and in their peak earning years is not a “small” market.

Global brands that disagree should consider pulling out of the UK, France or maybe Italy, because each of these “small” markets has “only” 60-66 million people.

$$$ They have way more to spend at 50 than Millennials aged 18

Myopic preoccupation with the 18-49 demo costs marketers, big time. Of course, only if one considers a net annual loss of $117 billion in consumer expenditures “big time.”

In 2018, that’s how much replacing exiting 50-year-olds with 18-year-old newcomers will cost marketers in net spending power – billions with a B.

Here’s why: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows the U.S. workforce aged 50 earned 10 times as much as the workforce aged 18 in Q1 2018.

  • 2.6 million full time workers aged 50 earned an average $986 per week… $130 billion annualized.
  • But only 500,000 18-year-olds entered full time work, averaging $500 per week … $13 billion annualized.

$$$ They are taking over C-Suites nationwide 

Generation X is in the process of assuming power in business, industry and government; we can be sure they’re not about  to put up with any more disrespect from pundits and taste-makers. Least of all, their ad agencies’ incoming crop of Gen Z ingenues.

And they’ll find plenty of support from an unlikely source: Millennials, who are only just now entering “adulthood” in large numbers and really (really) understanding what drives everyday consumer life when mortgages, dirty diapers and auto expenses replace loft rentals, craft breweries and Uber.

Say what?

  • The median age at first marriage for women is 28 and 30 for men
  • Millennials themselves say adulthood begins at age 30 (CBS survey)
  • The average agency creative is 28; media planners run younger

So, good luck, adland telling your new Gen X brand bosses they’re too old to target in their own ad campaigns:

Run that by me again, junior.

Well, ma’am, it’s because you’re unable to change with the times or learn about new ideas.

Good luck too in the face of a mountain of data, including from our own Boomer / neXt surveys, showing over 80% of consumers in the 50+ space actually enjoy learning about and trying new brands and  products.

Welcome, Gen X to ever-evolving Boomer / neXt World™

Gen Xers hitting 50 this year – like the Boomers before them – will find it’s not the end of life after all, despite disappearing from mainstream advertising except as stereotypes.

Happily, the idea of targeting the 50+ space is approaching a tipping point, helped along by “wait, wait, I’m not old” realizations of marketing’s own Gen X insiders and a business media that now chronicles them with revisionist respect.

But engaging – authentically engaging – this newly-discovered bonanza isn’t about the mind-numbing numbers or stacks of statistics.

To understand Gen X is to understand the Boomers; the blended Boomer / neXt generation is mainly composed of siblings – born several years apart but experiencing dynamic Boomer world together in shared moments and events year by year, decade by decade.

With Gen Z chomping at their heels, this is not lost on savvy 30-something Millennials.

These forerunners have seen the metrics, and they’re smart enough to know marketing to Boomer / neXt consumers requires authentic interpreters who speak a socio-cultural dialect that cannot be imitated, evolved in a unique world that cannot be revisited.

We’re here to help.

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published in September, 2017, this up-date welcomes the 4 million Gen Xers joining the Boomers in the 50+ space in 2018.

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