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

Posted by

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

With summer almost gone and pumpkins poised, 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 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 in adland 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, 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 – facing a median ad/pr biz employee attrition rate of 90% between ages 40 and 50 – older Millennials will soon follow on the heels of the Gen Xers they shoved aside as they clawed their way to an early midlife crisis.

Not only did Millennials sideline their Gen X managers and mentors (thanks a bunch, kids) in the scramble for the corner office, but they also blacklisted 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 simply followed the well-worn safe path to advancement on Madison Avenue – 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 / 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 blacklisted from brand targeting since they started turning fifty in 2015. Of 383 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) only one, New York,  has more people.

It’s as if the populations of Los Angeles plus San Francisco disappeared 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, the enormous U.S. fifty-plus market is the world’s third largest economy after China and the US itself. It is also 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).

Here’s what we 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.

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 X 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.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows the Q1 2018 U.S. workforce aged 50 earned 10 times as much as the workforce aged 18 … more workers and higher wages.

  • 2.6 million workers aged 50 earned an average $986 per week… $130 billion annualized.
  • Only 500,000 workers aged 18 worked, 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.

Good luck, adland, telling your new Gen X bosses they’re too old and unadaptable to target in their own ad campaigns:

Sorry, ma’am, people like you are unable to change with the times or learn about new ideas.

Good luck too in the face of survey data showing over 80% of consumers 50+ actually enjoy learning about and trying new brands and  products.

Welcome, Gen X to a familiar new world

As Gen Xers turn 50, like the Boomers before them, they find it’s not the end of life – despite disappearing from mainstream advertising except as silly stereotypes.

Happily, however, the idea of targeting the 50+ space is quietly approaching a tipping point, helped along by 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 Big Data or mind-numbing stacks of statistics.

To understand Gen X brands must also understand the Boomers, their older siblings. Although born several years apart, the two generations experienced dynamic Boomer world in shared moments. They were imprinted with different perspectives, of course, but speak similar hidden socio-cultural languages of the latter half of the 20th century.

And Madison Avenue’s forerunners are smart enough to know marketing to Boomers/Xers requires authentic interpreters who speak those complex dialects – patois that cannot be imitated and which 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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space