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 movies, 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,” forced to grow up at home, 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 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.