They're parents, homeowners and at the peak of their careers. So why have so many brands ignored Gen X? Here's five reasons why.
A few weeks ago, Lincoln Financial began running a 60-second spot about fiscal planning for your family’s future. Financial services ads aren’t typically attention grabbers, but there was something stark and penetrating about this one. Created by FCB and shot in black and white with a backing track of “Love Me Tender,” the spot showed people in their 40s, dealing with the joys and challenges of middle age—raising children, caring for elderly parents, trying to carve out time for themselves. Love, the ad said, means having responsibility—your responsibility.
If you happened to notice this spot, and if it happened to speak to you, it also may have shaken you from a kind of cultural torpor. The ad was targeted squarely at Generation X, consumers who fall between their mid-30s and mid-50s. And that’s an age group that’s not used to being marketed to very much.
These days, nearly any brand you can think of is tripping over itself to reach millennials—and leapfrogged the generation before them. It’s a situation that frustrates FCB’s chief strategy officer Deb Freeman. “I’m a proud, card-carrying Gen Xer,” she says. “We were the crossroads generation, and we had to absorb so much change—everything from growing up with technology to having no job security. We’ve been at the forefront of all that, and we’re stronger. Millennials haven’t had to fight the fight that we had. I’m so tired of hearing about the millennial spirit.”
Her pique is well founded. Demographers consider Gen X to be a “middle child”— bookended and lost between the bigger and louder cohorts of boomers and millennials. And just as middle children often feel neglected by their parents, Generation X has been disproportionately overlooked by brands and marketers, it would appear. A piece last year by the consulting firm Centro noted that “few marketers seem to be focusing on the demands and needs of this generation.” Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at the consulting firm Future Workplace, has written that Generation X is “typically forgotten by the media.” And a recent white paper from NAS Recruitment concluded that Gen Xers “have been overlooked and underestimated for a long time.”
The numbers tell the story. Last year, CNBC analyzed a large sample of companies’ earnings calls with Wall Street analysts. In 17,776 transcripts reviewed, companies mentioned Generation X just 16 times. While executives gave millennials plenty of love, the network noted, “companies do not seem to pay much attention to Gen X at all.”
The question is, why don’t brands seem to care about Gen X? As it turns out, there are several reasons.
1. They have a terrible reputation.
Gen Xers came into the world between 1965 and 1982—and by all accounts, got a pretty raw deal in their youth. They were more likely than any preceding generation to grow up with divorced parents. (The national divorce rate peaked in 1980, when most Xers were barely into their teens.) Xers also came of age in an analog world, then had to scramble to catch up at the dawn of the digital age. Perhaps most notable, Xers started their careers at a time when pensions were disappearing, jobs were heading offshore, and the stock market crash of 1987 ushered in a recession. The result was a generation that grew up cynical, angry and profoundly insecure—or so goes the common perception.
“When Gen X first started making noise, they were labeled as slackers, and that stuck in the minds of companies,” says author and marketing consultant Rieva Lesonsky, who runs the content company GrowBiz Media. Inaccurate and unfair as that stereotype may be, she adds, it was the one that stuck. “Even when Gen Xers proved they weren’t slackers, nobody ever gave them another label, and nobody’s paid them any respect at all,” she points out.
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