My colleagues tell me that as a Gen Xer I belong to the forgotten generation. Which begs the question – who is it that is supposed to have forgotten about us? Not my fellow Gen Xers. Not the marketing departments of Hargreaves Lansdown and Boden, who regularly carpet my hall with unsolicited mail. Not Grammarly, who infest my youtube with no respect for the perfect grammatical composition of my google searches.
Nonetheless, based on the briefs we receive at Butterfly, it’s apparent that most of CPG is looking hard at building their relationship with the younger, millennial cohort. If this means that the finest brains in marketing are trying a bit less hard to identify our needs and make us feel needy about them, it’s perhaps not the end of the world. We may well be getting less attention from the brand managers of the major CPG companies, but still feature in their consumption data, buying ever more stuff for our growing families. With age, mortgages and larger households we get more cost sensitive, but we’ve got well practised loyalty to our favourite brands.
But are Gen X actually any different to the generation that went before? We grew up in a different age. We knew life before mobile telephony, let alone smartphones. It’s hard not to believe in progress when the device in your pocket is nearly as powerful as Dr Spock’s communicator was back in 1980, give or take teleportation. Personally I’ve been feeling nostalgic for a time when I didn’t have quite so much information available to me 24/7, and only last week bought a Nokia 150 as my weekend phone. I’m hoping it will make me contactable but not connected, and potentially a better parent as a result. It leaves me in a bit of a technological timewarp, but at least the Nokia shade of grey complements my new Macbook, and doesn’t clash with Butterfly Orange.
As Gen Xers, we’ve also seen that the more things change, the more things stay the same. I worked on a fascinating project researching the romantic lives of Millennials and Gen Z earlier this year. It was clear that while Tinder has created a new, transactional, ‘on demand’ approach to dating, the young people we spoke to still wanted fate to play a role in their lives, and in the words of one respondent they still wanted to “catch the eye of a stranger across the bookshelves of the university library”. So while younger generations are growing up with more options, those new options aren’t replacing fundamental human needs, and the new options presented aren’t always completely satisfying.
We grew up in a world that was far less tolerant of difference, and it seems that these changes have divided the Gen X community between those of us who celebrate greater equality and those who feel uncomfortable with it. Here in the UK you can see that difference pretty clearly in some interesting data on our Brexit votes – The majority of millennials voted to stay in, while the majority of Baby Boomers voted for us to leave Europe. This suggests a transition from an open minded, optimistic millennial cohort, through to an older, more cynical group of baby boomers, with Gen X somewhere in between.
So in summary, it feels like my generation is receiving a bit less focus from some marketers. Apart from the practical details of Gen X being older, having different family structures, and therefore appealing to different sorts of products, I think people are still basically similar. The biggest difference between us and the generation before is more to do with being older than any innate differences between the generations. We’re just a little further down the track, a bit more cynical, and sufficiently brand loyal to be no-one’s priority any more. And for me, that’s a great place to be.