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.

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.

The Centre of the Internet: How advertisers are tapping into our digital narcissism

Millennials, the most narcissistic generation ever, are keen to share branded content about themselves.

In the early days of Facebook, I once fell for a fake app that promised to reveal who the most common visitor to view my profile had been. I was very thrilled that someone had managed to hack into Facebook’s databases and would finally let me know who had been checking my profile out – only to be disappointed by landing on a page with my own face on it. The joke was on me. And worse still, the app was probably right – out of all my possible online stalkers, I am definitely the worst.

I’m not alone, as my generation, the Millennials, is supposed to be the most narcissistic ever – the authors of The Narcissism Epidemic found that there’s an accelerating upswing in narcissism among young people, and that no generation preceding us has been as self-obsessed as we are. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Internet – we not only stare at and update our own profiles but we measure our own online influence via Klout, untag all the photos in which we don’t look great, Google our own names – a habit so common that a budding ad creative decided to take advantage of it by buying ad space for search words that were Creative Directors’ names. We get told we’re not the centre of the universe, but  our grandmothers forgot to tell us that the Internet doesn’t revolve around us either.

Marketers have discovered that we’re quite likely to share something if we’re in it ourselves. Intel’s digital Museum of Me campaign was a hit, as it allowed Facebook users to create a virtual museum for their profiles to commemorate the last four or five years of the the lives, showing popular photos, comments, events and friends that had been important in those years. Similarly, the Virgin First Times campaign created collages you could share with your friends to reminisce on the early days of your friendship: you could see the first time you and a friend were tagged in the same photo, as well as the first time you were at an event together. Most recently, Kit Kat has hired artists to make sketches of Facebook users’ profile pictures as part of their Break Time Friday campaign.  In addition to being creative, all of these campaigns got a of lot shares due to the narcissism factor – they created content about a topic we never cease to be interested in, ourselves.

Kit Kat's, Virgin's and Intel's social media campaigns all tapped into the narcissism of the digital generation.

 In addition to brands, budding artists have found inventive ways to tap into the youth’s digital self-obsession. A Brooklyn-based band, Riot in Paris, are creating buzz in the blogsphere by making and recording songs about Twitter users who have asked to be tracked by the brand through using the hashtag RiotTrackMe. The lucky few get their own songs created and recorded by the band. Here’s a song for one social media user, Ali P, talking about how hard Ali finds it to drive in high heels, and wishing her the best for her chem exam:

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.

Priming the brain: making consumers enjoy the brand more

Branded painkillers have been shown to be more effective than non-branded painkillers.

 

The extent to which we will enjoy/benefit from a product or service is dictated not just by the inherent utility of the product or service, but by the extent to which we expect to enjoy/benefit from a product or service.  Depending upon what we expect, and how we have been primed, the frontal lobes either inhibit or amplify the activity of the emotional brain.

This plays an important role for brands, and is most famously captured by the fact that Coca Cola tastes better than unnamed cola only in non-blind taste tests (when consumers can’t see the brand they can’t tell the difference). What neuroscientific research has shown us is that not only do consumers think they enjoy branded Coke more, they actually enjoy it more.

This effect has been captured in products (by psychology professors such as Dan Ariely) the utility of which is not enjoyment but other benefits, such as branded pain killers reducing pain to a greater degree and branded energy drinks improving mental performance more. The effect of branding makes the experience of the product objectively better, and therefore improves brand metrics post consumption, word of mouth and re-purchasing rates. These are long term benefits that current short term ROI analysis fails to capture, and immediate brand metrics often fail to pick up. This is important as there are numerous sectors of the economy where this could account for the vast majority of the effect that an ad campaign has (and thus needs an effective form of measurement), or the vast majority of effect that an ad campaign should aim for (rather than a misleading and inaccurate set of brand metrics – ad awareness – that pushes the planning and creative teams away from key goals).

In terms of measurement it suggests that, where possible, groups who have and haven’t seen the ad should be tested for their actual experience of the product. This can be utilised on a small level for pre-testing and on a larger level for effectiveness measurement.

It can also affect the placing of ads, as the focus shifts to increasing the enjoyment of consumption as well as increasing the initial trial or purchasing of a product. For instance FMCG ads often target ‘housewives with kids’ before they go shopping for a product, but could also target the family before they consume the product, so that their enjoyment is increased and they tell ‘mother’ to buy more. In this way branded ads could, for instance, support price promotions, and help accrue a long-term benefit out of a short term price reduction cost.

Another example, beyond FMCG, is car ads, where the campaign could not only incrementally increase the number of people who test drive a branded car, but also improve the purchase rate of everyone who tests drives the branded car, by priming them, and thus improving the subjective experience.

Finally it is interesting to note that in an environmentally conscious world, advertising could be an efficient means by which we improve an individual’s experiences without expending greater resources. If we can objectively and subjectively improve an individual’s experience of a product or service without having to incur any extra production cost for that product or service (by priming a consumer’s experience), then we have a cheap and effective means by which consumers’ utility can be increased, without the need for them to actually consume more.