Four Million Gen Xers Disappear: Blame Madison Avenue’s Death Star

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Star Wars turns forty in 2017

The fortieth birthday of the Star Wars franchise arrives this year; look for quotes and metaphors to crop up ad nauseam in marketing circles. Always ahead of the pack, we’ll get ours out early – no less ad nauseam, just early.

obi-wan_millions-of-voicesAlso in 2017, for the third year in a row, over four million members of Generation X – born 1965-1981 – will reach their 50th birthday and disappear from mainstream brand advertising.

Thanks to Madison Avenue’s remorseless Death Star ad targeting model, by year’s end, their voices will have cried out in terror and been suddenly silenced.

All because long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, 1960s Mad Men decreed that Americans are no longer willing or able to adapt new behaviors after age fifty and, anyway, their grizzled presence in advertising sends young prospects fleeing in horror.

us-population-by-age-and-gender-2015So, from 2015 through 2017, around 12.5 million Gen X consumers in their peak earning years will have become as unwelcome as a droid in a Mos Eisley spaceport bar. That’s like banishing the entire Los Angeles/Orange County metro area population – okay, okay, hold it down, no snarky jokes please.

Happily for the Xers, a new home awaits in an alternative universe run by grownups – prosperous Planet Boomer.

Joining the Boomers in exile: not such a bad thing

As it turns out, the 18-49 demo exit is not a door that closes but a portal that opens to the amazing, dynamic fifty-plus marketplace that, per the Video Advertising Board:

  • us-h-hold-net-worth_50-vs-youngerOwns 80% of U.S. household assets
  • Controls 70% of disposable income
  • Accounts for 58% of retail purchases
  • Buys 59% of new personal vehicles
  • Buys 65% of home improvement items
  • Adds 15 million new consumers by 2025

Always good for a pithy quote, Obi-Wan Kenobi calls it right:  “You can’t win … if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

Joel Kotkin, Professor of Urban Studies at Chapman University in California, is more scholarly: in a recent column for Forbes (Generation X’s Moment Of Power Is Almost Here, December 28, 2016) he described Gen X as “clearly the ascendant generation.”

This approaching “moment of power” has been a long time coming.

time_gen-x_1997TIME jumped the gun in 1997, suggesting that Boomers – then leaving the hip 18-49 demo – must now yield to the Xers. But there’s a big difference between turning 50 and losing social, political and economic power.

In reality, Gen Xers had to wait until the oldest of them reached the 50-year tombstone  milestone themselves before achieving belated recognition – just in time to be rejected by brands as too old to target.

On the upside, these Gen Exiles now qualify for membership in the Boomer-Plus Generation™, the socio-cultural generation made up of Baby Boomers, people born 1940-1945 the millions of Xers who turn 50 each year.

Although the latter tend not to identify as Boomers, they grew up in a transformational culture that was largely Boomer-driven. So at 50-plus, they’re surprised to find they feel more at home in Boomer world than on the dreary aging-in-place Ice Planet assigned to them by advertising strategists on the Dark Side of the Force.

Did Luke Skywalker presume to lecture Yoda? 

Let’s not forget the history of the 18-49 demo cult. It originated in the 1950s/60s, but it was then-young Boomer marketers who adopted it, set it in stone and handed it down to our successors.

karma-police-v2Today’s ad agency realpolitik pushes most employees out the door before they hit forty while survivors struggle to stay relevant by not bucking the system.

With the average client-agency tenure at less than 3 years, every account loss provides an opportunity to trim people. The most expensive – HR-speak for oldest – go first. Maybe it’s karma … dissing consumers over 50 doesn’t make a strong case for one’s own relevance after the AARP invitation package arrives.

Consequently, of 297 occupational categories tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, advertising and PR ranks second youngest (median age: 38). According to Brent Bouchez, partner with advertising agency five/0, less than 4% of all ad agency personnel industry-wide are over 50, and the average age of creative department staff is only 28.

age_ad-world-vs-consumer-worldThe fact that Boomers are harder to find on Madison Avenue than a breath mint at a Wookie club house on pizza night is nothing less than bizarre in view of U.S. consumer age statistics. Here are some key median ages …

  • Household head: 52
  • New car buyers: 52
  • Mac users: 54

Brilliant as they may be, no matter how many gigaflops of big data at their disposal, 28 year old creatives cannot possibly experience brands the same way as Gen Xers or Boomers in their fifties, sixties or seventies. C’mon, did Luke Skywalker presume to lecture Yoda?

But, again, don’t blame the rookies – they didn’t make the rules. If brand managers won’t disrupt the status quo, the charade can continue; business as usual.

Fortunately, ambitious Millennials looking to join the Rebel Alliance can learn to prosper among the 99 million U.S. Gen Xers and Boomers who make up the the world’s third largest economy. Just click and make the jump to hyperspace.


Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

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