silent generation


This panel, moderated by Scott McDonald, led a discussion in response to the presentations on the generational implications in marketing and advertising. Topics of discussion included the notion of labels and challenges that can be associated with them, using generational attributes as a starting point or a “lens,” and the idea that while generations may be an indicator, values and certain behaviors can “transcend age.”

Generations are Messy but Meaningful

J. Walker thanked Bobby Duffy for his insights and perspectives and offered a somewhat different take: He stressed that generations are an important way to study social change. They are a useful construct, but they are not perfect. According to J. Walker, generations are best understood as an aggregation of life trajectories, shared circumstances and events as generational members come of age. Graduating during a recession or growing up in a pandemic will shape those generations. Cohorts who grow up at the same time and share common experiences, expectations and values matter for brands and culture. The shared starting point is the critical factor. Comparing Boomers at 20 years old with Millennials at 20 is the relevant point. A general comparison of Boomers vs. Millennials is not relevant.

The Generation Myth

Highlighting key points from his book, The Generation Myth: Why When You’re Born Matters Less Than You Think, Bobby Duffy presented his research on generational thinking as a powerful idea corrupted by stereotypes, myths, and cliches. As he tracked today’s generations over time (Pre-War, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z) to see what is truly generational, Bobby looked for gaps between young and old on attitudes to everything from drinking, smoking, and loneliness to race, gender equality and climate change. He found that many analyses and forecasts about consumer behavior ignore the complexity of change, that is, they only look at one of the three mechanisms that cause changes: Cohort Effects—Behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that are more common among members of a generation; Period Effects—Changes resulting from events and circumstances that affect everybody, all generations, from war and disasters to periods of economic boom; Life-Cycle Effects—Members of all generations change as they grow older and experience getting married, having children, etc.  The key to using generational analyses in consumer behavior forecasts, therefore, is to untangle these three mechanisms and recognize the importance of period and life-cycle effects to avoid overstating cohort effects.

A Different Perspective on “Diversity”

While most marketers’ attention is focused on Gen Z and increasing diversity in ad creative, depictions of older adults are rarely part of that diversity. A new study concludes that bias in advertising prevents many brands from motivating a large, affluent consumer group.

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The Demographics of Covid Deaths

This chart from the CDC is based on one million deaths announced this week. The median age of those who died from Covid is 75. Almost three in four who passed away were age 65+. Read more »

A Fresh Look at Generations

Two presentations discussed generational differences and change. We have previously reported on one of them, Bobby Duffy, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, who questions widely held assumptions of generational differences. The other was from J. Walker Smith, Knowledge Lead, Consulting Division, Kantar, who focused on generational change.

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