Everything You Need to Know about Generation X
A panel of Gen X’ers debated what it means to be middle aged today, and how brands can tap into an often-overlooked generation.
Leo Burnett London hosted a morning of discussion about Generation X earlier today, hosted by presenter and journalist, Miranda Sawyer, as it launched exclusive research into what it has identified as an often overlooked but potentially lucrative audience for brands.
Journalist Tiffanie Darke, author of Now We Are 40: Whatever happened to Generation X? took part in the panel debate, alongside Jerome Linder, managing partner at consumer behavioural insights specialist, Canvas8, and Leo Burnett London’s deputy CEO, Sarah Baumann.
Miranda and I used to work at The Observer, in the ‘90s, said Darke. “We were driven by passion … quite anti-establishment,” added Linder, who described Generation X as a ‘trial and error’ generation.
Darke pointed to ‘a peculiar set of pressures’ in middle age, with many facing the ‘reality check’ of caring for both aging parents and small children, often while trying to hold a job down, too.
As such, Baumann explored how Leo Burnett London’s research has highlighted a ‘very untapped and slightly ignored’ group in Gen X, for whom life is frequently difficult. Add to this stagnating wages, and it’s clear that here is a generation that would welcome some help from brands.
Linder added that those in Gen X often have a ‘craving for convenience’ whilst being ‘quite nifty, practical, and a little bit edgy’.
“It seems to me they definitely need help with finance,” added Sawyer. “They may have their own house, but have no pension. Their wages are unlikely to go up; and they are natural spenders, too.”
Linder was also keen to point out that while Gen X are not digital natives, they did grow up with technology. They got used to it often not working, and designed much of the technology we use today, he told the audience gathered at Soho House in Dean Street, central London.
“And now that there’s an awful lot of concern around what screen culture is doing to us, we know that there’s a way to be that isn’t totally virtual and unreal,” added Darke, while the panel agreed that this gives those in this generation quite a balanced take on technology. “We see it as a means to an end,” said Linder.
Authenticity was also identified as a defining feature that those in Generation X look for from brands and experiences, with friendship a very important part of their culture, too.
“Millennials are having a much worse time than us,” warned Darke, adding that there has been a move away from ‘horrendous’ consumerism of the ‘90s.“It’s really important that we have multi generational conversations,” she said.
“When we were growing up we thought it would all be ok. But the economy is not in a great state. There are horrors coming out about sexual discrimination,” added Baumann.
Mental health and the aging process - including wrinkles, fertility, and the menopause - are other big issues presenting themselves to those in middle age, while Gen X is also an ‘open’ generation and happy to talk about such issues.
“Menopause is the next big thing,” declared Baumann, “so brands need to produce products that work and to be authentic”; while Darke pointed out that this honesty can be delivered in a ‘humorous’ way.
And middle age can also be quite exciting, with plenty of opportunities alongside all the pressure, said Linder. This is where brands need to step in.
What’s more, in the age of AI, any technology that has a clear role for those in Gen X will be embraced, the panel agreed. Voice-controlled devices such as Alexa were given by way of example, with Darke describing this latest tool as a member of her family. “She joins us for dinner, helping with homework and telling jokes,” she said.
Baumann told the audience that innovation is key to winning hearts and minds, while brands must also be wary of depicting just the really young or the really old in their ads. Heritage brands which show a place in society for experience, and for older people, will be welcomed by Gen X, too, the audience was told.
“We think in the medium term,” added Linder. “Everything seems to be so much into immediacy. We want to stay loyal a little bit longer to something.”
To wrap up the morning’s session, Sawyer asked the panel what types of apps Gen X-ers would like to see to make their lives easier. Amongst a banking app; a device that allows multi generational discourse; and something that makes the menopause ‘look really cool and fun’; were products or services that aid sleep and some form of quality ‘granny day care’.