Divided generations: what can generational theory teach us about advertising to the young and old?

Youth Flowers is a 69 year old Baby Boomer DJ. Living it young like the new old should.

Most of us in advertising belong either to Generation Y (born between mid-seventies and mid-nineties, characterised by a sense of presumed self-importance) or Generation X (born between mid-seventies and sixties, those are the ones drinking to avoid going home), and we’re generally aware of our own generations’ needs and habits. However, as Baby Boomers (born before mid-sixties) approach retirement and Generation Z (born later than mid-nineties) start having disposable incomes of their own, it’s worth looking at what these groups are really like, as their views and lifestyles aren’t like ours – or how we’d expect them to be.

Baby Boomers

For the first time, the under 16s are outnumbered by pensioners, as the Baby Boom Generation are reaching retirement. These Baby Boomers are, despite their old age, maintaining their place as the dominant economic force in consumer UK, as argued by ‘two brains’ Willets in his book The Pinch. They hold more than 80 per cent of the nation’s £6.7trn in wealth, they have been the main beneficiaries of the property boom, and have comparatively decent pensions.

Despite youth culture dominating society, the old are the ones who can afford to live like youngsters, with young people paying for expensive mortgages, university fees, and their parents’ pensions. Our language is infused with terms that capture the enduring youth of older generations – kidulthood, menoporsche, grandboomer, middleyouth – and our technology uptake is now driven by older gadget lovers. In addition, Baby Boomers increasingly opt for partial retirement, slowing the transition from work to full time gardening. When retired, their main priorities are their hobbies, holiday homes, and their financial future – often achieved through “skiing” (an abbreviation for spending the kids’ inheritance). In recent years, we’ve increasingly seen the entertainment industry and popular culture responding to their needs, with the Dome full of bands from the Baby Boomers’ youth, and films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel getting mass audiences in cinemas

A constantly connected generation

Though outnumbered by Baby Boomers, there is a new generation – Generation Z – that is starting to experience the joys of disposable income for the first time. However, unlike Boomers, they appear to have a very conservative set of hopes for the future. A ‘Generations apart’ series for Radio 4 recently conducted interviews with older members of Generation Z and found that the main hopes of those interviewed were for decent work, stable housing, and a contented family life.

This generation has grown up during mass unemployment, economic uncertainty and fear of terrorism, and many argue that this experience has conditioned this generation into rejecting the radicalism of previous generations and focusing instead on working hard to get the basic things in life. As a result, they are becoming servants to convention – less liberal, less experimental and not creating rebellious niche sub-cultures that their parents used to belong to.  We might see advertising targeted at the youth moving to focus more on values such as safety, security, stability, and ‘normality’.

The way this messaging is delivered will undoubtedly change as well. Generation Z have grown with a multi-screen, digitally connected world being the norm. This will impact how advertisers try to reach this new group, with joined up digital messaging increasingly becoming commonplace.

In addition, towns are divided up by age (into old, middle-aged and young areas) more than ever before. For instance, town centres now have no bingo halls, but an abundance of wine bars. Consequently, outdoor advertising could soon be more effective at targeting youth (as well as other age groups).

Even though the generation is less radical, it will have some high expectations, having grown up during the democratisation of luxury; to them, a posh hand bag is a statement that should be afforded by anyone, not just the rich. They’ve also spent much of their youth receiving content and entertainment for free, adding to their heightened and hard-to-meet expectations.

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Farewell to the COI

                                                     

The government, among other advertisers, has been using insights from disciplines such as behavioural economics and social psychology to change the public’s behaviour for the better. Launching campaigns such as Change4Life, and with the NHS supporting educational TV programmes such as the Food Hospital, it has started to put the wealth of insight offered by these sciences to good use, and seen some impressive results.

These campaigns have been a great start towards trying to change lifestyles but the government has not fully followed through with their efforts. Amidst all the other budget cuts, the government froze the £540m-a-year COI ad budget (to focus only on ‘essential’ campaigns) until March 2011, followed by a reduction in ad spend by 50% thereafter.  Finally, by the end of the month, the COI will cease to exist as the government has decided to make different departments responsible for their own communications.

The Change4Life campaign initially showed the promise of success. However, since the cuts have been made, there has been a significant drop in the number of visits to the campaign website and to calls requesting information.

This could, as the government is probably aware, be a false economy, and the deterioration of public health can have wide-reaching and costly long-term effects. Ignoring the nation’s unhealthy habits could lead to more government spending on healthcare – potentially undoing the savings made by slashing the communications budget. In addition, an unhealthy society could lead to a less productive workforce – costing the government even more money. Given how effective the Change4Life campaign has been, it would be great to see the government reinvest its time, effort and money to engage with behavioural change communications.

We hope that even with the COI closed down, the government will be able to continue producing creative and effective behavioural change campaigns, like the one below – Kathy Can’t Sleep ad from the late 1980s, promoting safe driving under the slogan ‘drinking and driving wrecks lives’. It depicts a little girl Kathy whose dad got into a fatal accident, leaving the family to deal with the consequences of his actions.

Practical applications of mood-based advertising

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What we share on social media gives an insight into our moods - and advertisers are using this information to deliver targeted ads.

In a previous post, I looked into the growing body of research analysing how consumers’ moods affect their response to different types of advertising content. In this post, I will look at the ways in which this has been incorporated into advertising solutions in practice.

With the rise of social media, advertisers have a window into consumers’ moods and needs at any point in time – offered by their status updates, the sentiment of their tweets, social search or even the songs they’re listening to. Two comprehensive studies on Twitter data have provided an insight into people’s mood changes throughout the day. The studies suggest that there are universal patterns; people are grumpy when they wake up, brighten up during the morning, and their mood goes into decline again during the afternoon. Moods also improve very late in the evening to peak two hours before and two hours after midnight and at weekends during 8am to 11am.Unsurprisingly, the happiest time of the week is 5pm to 6pm on a Friday  (I personally find that to be the sweetest tasting drink).

In addition, Facebook has continually talked about its ability to build a “mood detector” which would enable advertisers to start targeting their ads by mood. This could possibly extend to all online ads, if Facebook becomes the dominant destination for online activity.

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Moodagent is a new Spotify app that allows users to generate mood-based playlists - and advertisers to place their ads in between suitable songs.

Moodagent, a recently launched Spotify app, is a tool that enables consumers to generate playlists suited to their mood, and allows advertisers to match their ads to the mood of the songs that a consumer is listening to. Peter Berg Steffensen, CEO at Moodagent said: “Our knowledge of emotional analytics, user behaviour and perception, combined with the ability to connect this data with specific products, provides us with the key to an unparalleled precision for targeting audio advertisement.”

Outside of digital, mood-based technology is also used in outdoor, with the development of ‘gladvertising’ (inventing a “clever” pun to name a new development always seems to make us in advertising happy). Using a face-tracking algorithm to match movements of the eyes and mouth to six expression patterns corresponding to happiness, anger, sadness, fear, surprise and disgust, digital outdoor will allow marketers to talk to consumers with tailored adverts.

Even though this area of research is still in its infancy, media owners are already developing the technology to match the potential of mood-based advertising. Essentially, this could give us new ways to fit creative and media strategies together, adding yet another layer to the communications planning process.

Pinterest: Three golden rules

There’s no two ways about it. Amongst the plethora of social media sites trying to enter the mainstream, Pinterest is the latest one to break through and the one sparking the most (p)interest (erg) amongst bloggers and marketers alike. A platform where users can find, bookmark and share content across a range of topics, brands are now looking to figure out how they can (and should) be using it for their business.

There are a number of blogs out there which have already done their round-up of important tips, including Mashable (a general guide for users) and Social Media Examiner (specifically for businesses) – both good reads. In my view, the three most important things to remember are:

1)      Use it yourself

This is the number one most important thing about any social medium, let alone Pinterest. As with all new things, there are a lot of people out there questioning the value of Pinterest. To those I say: remember how we all used to feel about Twitter. While the odd person continues to complain that Twitter is just for telling everyone what you had for breakfast, rarely have these people ever actually used it. Similarly with Pinterest, to someone who has only read about it/ had a cursory glance it may appear as nothing more than an accumulation of slightly whimsical wedding ideas with the odd internet meme thrown in. Dig a little deeper and you will find a space where people curate their own content across range of interests – be it feminism, food, charities or political causes (the current Kony 2012 campaign is everywhere). And just like with Twitter and Facebook, the more you use it, the more you get out of it. Even early adopters of Twitter took a while to get into it. These things take time and if you invest a bit into them I promise you it will be worth it (a bit like the Wire, or Mad Men). More importantly, using it will help you see how other people use it, which leads me to my next point…

2)      Inspire, don’t sell

This has been said on every post anywhere about Pinterest but it is so important that I must say it again. On realising the wish-list quality of users’ boards it is tempting to immediately see Pinterest as an opportunity to show off your brand’s products. But to do this is to misunderstand how people are using it. We should all know by now (but perhaps some of us need reminding now and then…) that the key to all social is content. The easiest way to understand this is to think how you personally use Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest as a consumer. You look for people who are posting awesome things about topics of interest to you – let’s face it, the only reasons other than content that any of us follow or like a brand is (1) for free stuff or (2) because we work on them. Why would you follow a brand that only pins their products, unless you are already an avid fan? Look at Bergdof Goodman or West Elm for great examples of brands that could easily have gone down the shop route but instead opted for a variety of style inspiration boards. You can follow the whole lot or just pick specific trends/ styles that interest/ inspire you. Similarly Whole Foods Market is inspirational to any foodie without being overtly sales-y. At the end of the day, we don’t use Facebook or Twitter as a shop, why the temptation with Pinterest? Especially when one of their rules is to ‘avoid self-promotion’.

Bergdof Goodman creates trend-specific boards for inspiration

3)      Use it for insight

Given a large part of what I do in my job revolves around audience insight, one of the most interesting potential benefits to me comes from Lauren Drell’s suggestion that once you have built a base of followers you use this as a way to gain qualitative insight into your audience. On one level you can easily learn about how they are repinning/ liking your own content, to find out whether you’re seen as inspirational, funny or a bit of a joke.  On the next level, it’s also relatively straightforward to have a look at who or what your followers also follow, as well as at their own boards to see what interests they have outside of your specific category. In this way you can gain a deeper understanding of who your audience is, in a way that is perhaps more ‘natural’ than a survey or group. You can widen this out to not just your followers but any followers of a particular category or topic, as suggested by  Grant McCracken who sees this is a method of understanding how people map things in a way which is ‘more telling than language’.

Pinterest is no longer just a place to plan a wedding or share a recipe. In the States the numbers are growing fast and the UK is catching on too. With Facebook’s new pages encouraging brands to go more visual, this is the way people are sharing content. Other manifestations of this trend – such as the rise of infographics and people tweeting pictures instead of written updates – demonstrate that the majority of people prefer a visual communications style – this is also why Pinterest is so captivating. If you haven’t been on yet, give it a look. But beware, it’s addictive. So much so that I am finding it difficult to finish writing this blog as I will no longer have an excuse to sit on it all day.