Talk about unintended consequences – today's “Best of JacoBLOG” post was grossly misunderstood by its target audiences: Gen Xers.
As a Baby Boomer writing the post, I might not have been the best representative to write about Generation X reaching a new milestone. And I believe this post found its way to a social group for Xers, many of whom let me have it in the many comments that poured in. In fact, once every few weeks, another Xer happens across the post and gives me their two cents.
The post was meant to highlight the shortsightedness of generational stereotyping, especially by the advertising community who is famous for missing a great opportunity even when it meets them head on. But at least to the Xers who read it, that wasn't their takeaway.
OK, boomer. – FJ
Every generation in America is celebrated for its uniqueness, as well as its impact on our society and culture.
Except Gen X, that is.
Baby Boomers had The Graduate, Star Wars, and The Big Chill. Millennials had Harry Potter books and cool animated movies like Shrek, and Toy Story. And Gen Z has Frozen and The Hunger Games franchise.
Hands down, it would have to be The Breakfast Club, a film that very much sums up a generational mindset. That famous John Hughes film starred several members of the so-called Brat Pack, a misunderstood group of Xers. It was a story of alienation, of being misunderstood – the perfect tone for a generation that has struggled to define itself.
Well, now they're turning 50, truly a milestone, right? And sad to say, things are about to get worse.
Generation X has long had its challenges. Relatively speaking, it’s a small generation, drowned out by two mega-groups credited with changing our culture – Boomers and Millennials. These two larger generations have dominated headlines since they were identified by sociologists, demographers, and marketers.
It has always been about them. And now here comes Gen Z, the teenage up-and-comers and their younger sibs – Gen C – who may end up earning their own brand: “The COVID Generation.”
Xers were defined as the “latch key kids,” often forced to grow up at home alone, make their own dinner, and clean the house after school while both parents worked. And they were perennially disrespected, resentful that Baby Boomers were vacuuming up all of the attention.
And then Millennials came along to steal the next chapter of generational thunder.
A recent article in the New York Times defines Gen X this way:
“A relatively small cohort sandwiched between baby boomer and millennials, this demographic consisting of Americans born between 1965 and 1980 seemed to dominate the cultural conversation for only a brief stretch of the 1990s, when Seattle seemed like the music capital of the universe and ‘Gen X' served as shorthand for all things edgy and cool.”
There you have it. Grunge, RAV4s, and iPhones – all products that debuted during the formative years of Xers. That's it. Visual Capitalist breaks their brand affinities down this way:
Gen Xers, if you think these gross generalizations are unfair, inaccurate, or just plain superficial, welcome to the BIG 5-0.
While we Boomers have had a lot of things going for us, we have become largely irrelevant in the eyes of the advertising world since turning 50. That's because the “gray market” apparently isn’t worth targeting. For as long as I’ve been in the business, consumers north of 54 have been stereotyped as being stuck in their ways, tech-phobic, unwilling to try new brands, and living off the government teat of Social Security. In other words, old and out of it. Irrelevant.
The truth, of course, is very different. The 50+ market is the largest, wealthiest generation in history. According to eMarketer, Baby Boomers have twice the household wealth of Gen Xers, and 10 times that of Millennials in the U.S. And all of these multiples likely grew even higher as we come out of the other side of the pandemic.
But somehow advertisers consistently ignore this reality. They continue to overlook all those dependable Boomers who have been their loyal customers for decades, and who have more disposable income and wealth than any other generation. Many aging former flower children are buying second homes and furnishing them, going on vacations (post-pandemic, these will ramp up again), remodeling their homes, and frankly, continuing to serve as the economic engine of the country, a position they've held for decades.
Holy cognitive dissonance!
How can you ignore the red line on the chart below? But advertisers and marketers have done just that – for years. If you program or sell for a Classic Rock or News/Talk station, and you're hacked off when you stare at this eMarketer chart, you have my sympathies. I have not only been in this movie – I've starred in it.
And rest assured, Xers, the older you get, the less desirable you'll be in the eyes of Madison avenue, too – in spite of the fact your household income is 5x that of the average Millennial family.
The challenge of turning 50 is hard enough as it is – sore muscles, hair loss, weight challenges, and the futile pursuit of trying to retain your youth. Prepare for what we Boomers have had to face – watching and listening to a never-ending barrage of ads from pharmaceutical companies, assisted living communities, and insurance companies eager to sell us a reverse mortgage.
Take it from us – 50 is the new 40 (but of course, it's not).
Maybe there's a shred of good news here for Xers. After feeling strangely invisible most of your lives, you will start getting attention and a lot of it…from AARP.
Get ready for a deluge of invitations in the mail exhorting you to join the ranks of the retired in exchange for senior discounts.
And before long, you'll enter the Medicare years where healthcare will confuse the crap out of you. And you'll become very familiar with those great senior spokes-dinosaurs, Tom Selleck, Joe Namath, Joan Lunden, and the Fonz, all of whom will be more than happy to take your money.
Turning 50 is truly the gateway to irrelevance. But you already know how that feels.
Trust us – you’ll fit right in.
- The Eyes Have It - March 20, 2023
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- How Radio Can Best Deal With A Global Pandemic: Live And Local, Of Course - March 16, 2023
Steve King says
As a Gen-X’er, you aren’t too far off on how the Boomer Generation has made my generation feel irrelevant.
When I was in 7th grade, a classmate misspelled the worc “business”. My teacher told our class that because he couldn’t spell the word that it was an indication that our generation was doomed to “be the first generation in the history of the USA to not be as successful as their parents”. This wasn’t the only time I heard things like this. My parents told my sister and me, throughout our teenage years, that their generation would leave nothing for Gen-X, as they would “take it with them on the way out” and we would be “paying for their waning years.
They weren’t wrong.
We were given tidbits of what would satisfy us. Radio was a great example. Growing up hearing “Islands in the Stream” right next to Duran Duran “Hungry Like The Wolf”; pushing “That’s What Friends are For”, featuring 4 Boomer artists to #1; releasing songs like “Twist and Shout” and “Unchained Melody” (from a Boomer movie) while keeping CHR Boomer-friendly format. Or as a Program Director told me, the format was specifically designed as Mom-Rock, as a f-you to Gen X, because our generation was too small for advertisers to care about. He also said we would be skipped.
Because of a thought process like this, we ran to stations that were boutique formats like Rock of the 80’s, early Alt stations like KROQ and stations that dared to play Hairband, CHUrban (early Hip-Hop and R&B). because they were NOT something we were forced to share with our parents…as a matter of fact, it scared them. Prince and Iron Maiden were not welcome in most homes. Hence the Boomer-lead PMRC, who tried to squash our music, which was our rebellion music which, in context, was really no different than the messaging of “Brown Sugar” or “One Toke Over the Line”
You bring up the iPhone, which has been an amazing advancement, but you forgot about the iPod. This when we found that we could make many playlists of our music, this replaced the cassette (which was something our parents loved and understood). iPods were something our parents didn’t understand any better than setting the time on the VCR.
Sure we were graciously allowed to enjoy a segment of music and some technology, but Gen-X has been ignored by advertisers, employers (which were and in most cases are run by Boomers) and political considerations.
Personally, as Gen-X programmer, I refuse to do the same thing to the next generations. I look for young energetic Millennials and Gen-Z’ers to come in, take take charge and move them up. Young people who can work hand in hand with Boomers and Gen-Xer’s, so the industry I love survives and thrives.
To steal a line from a Whitney Houston song, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” (Interesting how that Mom-rock song had a message that too many Boomers didn’t heed.)
I don’t dislike the Boomer generation, as a whole. A Boomer got me into this business and gave me a chance and many have mentored me. What I don’t like is the mentality of too many Boomers that was thrust upon Gen-X that it is a footnote in history, or throwaway. With too many, that thought process still exists.
Eric Jon Magnuson says
Perhaps radio in Melbourne during the early ’90s was going through a similar phase…
Fred Jacobs says
Eric, this is a great story! It’s inspiring and it begs the question: even with all the mobile phones, social media, etc. could a passion play like HITZ FM resonate with US teens?
Fred Jacobs says
Steve, thanks so much for your perspective and candor in this statement. I’ve been around long enough to learn that every generations minimizes (or shits on) younger generations(s). It is defensive, narrow-minded, and so non-productive. Your real life experiences (and the fact you remember these moments that occurred decades) confirms how demeaning Boomers could be. Believe me when I tell you that Boomers received similar treatment from their parents (and grandparents).
Sadly, IMO it’s human nature and it’s sews the seeds of distrust and resentment. Thanks for the enlightening thoughts.
Another worthless GenX says
Gen X time is still to come 😀 We got boomers hating millennials, Gen Z who the F knows? We only have one mission, Let the Mother F@#$% burn!
It’s awesome watching millennials and gen-z writing articles as if we actually have ideals. I think they need them in order for their mind to process. Boomers gave up long ago 😀
Burn everything, burn it all, burn us too! Blame us for the failure, seriously we want the credit for brining humanity to it’s knees. Blame us for all the failures, we are going to burn it all. Have a nice day!