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Advertisers, don’t forget the Gen X factor

Gen X is responsible for 27% of global spending and its earnings are growing

Gen X consumers can be more loyal – and therefore more valuable – than younger shoppers Shutterstock/Oneinchpunch
Gen X consumers can be more loyal – and therefore more valuable – than younger shoppers

When my siblings and I left home, my mother had more time on her hands. Rather than enjoy her freedom, she opened a shop. 

The Whistling Tortoise had the tagline, “Anything to make life easier”. It sold ingenious devices such as touchable watches for visually impaired people, card-shufflers for those with arthritis and non-slip mats for anyone who has tried to balance anything on their dashboard.

Most of the things my mum sold were aimed at elderly people. The Whistling Tortoise could source a commode, a self-raising chair or a walking frame faster than the NHS, but customers would often cancel special orders before they had time to arrive – because Grandma would no longer need them where she had gone.

That was the problem with the shop: there was plenty of demand for what it sold, but repeat customers disappeared too quickly.

Perhaps this is why so much money and effort are dedicated to marketing to young people in the GCC and around the world. 

For marketing managers and their ad agencies, the youth demographic seems a much better prospect. Generation Z is now in its teens and early 20s, so if you convert them for life, you can lock in 50 years of sales. Win over a baby boomer and you might lose them before next Tuesday.

Global media agency Wavemaker published a study last month about social media marketing strategies for Generation X – who are now in their mid-40s to late 50s.

Gen X is responsible for 27 percent of global spending and its earnings and savings are growing. It is brand loyal. It spans what the report calls “a rollercoaster of life stages, from children at secondary school to supporting young adult offspring in study or work, the menopause, rebuilding a new life in the ‘empty nest’ and the care of ageing parents”. All these are opportunities to discover brands.

However, only 24 per cent of TV ads feature characters over 50, compared with 76 percent that feature people aged 19 to 49. Although 92 percent of Gen X are on social media every day (they make up 28 percent of TikTok users), only 5 percent of spend on influencer campaigns is targeted at them.

A 2021 report in the Journal of Management Information and Decision Sciences found that although Gen X makes up the largest segment of Saudi Arabia’s population and online user base, it is not the largest segment of online shoppers.

Wavemaker found much the same globally; Gen X might discover a brand on social media, but they will then check with their friends and family, read reviews and look for the product in shops to “validate” it. Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to just click “Buy” on a whim.

The campaigns examined by Wavemaker were only half as effective at shifting purchase intent among Gen X than in younger generations. But the hard work is worth it, since those new customers can be more loyal and therefore more valuable in the long term.

There are a number of reasons why Gen X is overlooked in favour of targeting millennials and Gen Z – and many come down to appearances. We X-ers are the generation that is running agencies today and agencies tend to see consumers as The Other. 

Although advertising legend David Ogilvy once said, “The consumer is not a moron. She’s your wife,” not everyone in the industry takes that to heart.

Most marketing departments are sitting on a lot of PowerPoint presentations about how to understand people who just aren’t like them. New communication techniques for a new customer base is an easier sell than proposing familiar messaging for people like oneself.

On paper, at least, winning Gen Z’s loyalty looks like an insurance policy to guarantee customers for decades to come. Marketers will tend to conveniently overlook the notorious fickleness of youth (a McKinsey survey found that 50 percent of Gen Z would switch from their favourite brand if another were cheaper or of higher quality) and their awkward propensity to grow up and change, claiming that a customer won is a customer for life.

The GCC has a young population with high spending power, so it undoubtedly makes a lot of sense for brands to speak to youth through advertising – but other options are available. 

Cool kids are not the only shoppers looking to splash some cash. The more mature among us have money to spend as well. But be sure to get those campaigns out fast, as your audience won’t be around forever.

Austyn Allison is an editorial consultant and journalist who has covered Middle East advertising since 2007

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