All about ... IPC's GenerationYNot! research

What can adland learn from the latest study by IPC, Alasdair Reid asks.

IPC Media CEO Sylvia Auton
IPC Media CEO Sylvia Auton

If we're being picky, IPC Media's latest piece of readership research doesn't entirely recommend itself to armchair demographers. The study outlines the attitudes, lifestyles and economic power of women between 40 and 60 years of age. Which is fair enough. In fact, you could argue, it's long overdue.

But the report then goes and risks upsetting all sorts of pedants by calling this audience (and, indeed, the report itself) GenerationYNot!. The unsure-of-itself, yet keen-to-please, exclamation mark is instructive.

Because, in some research circles, "GenerationYNot" refers to reasonably well-educated, twenty-something women (in other words, recent graduates) with a penchant for binge-drinking and casual sex. And that's not entirely what this research is all about.

It's actually about a far more interesting tribe. It is, in reality, about what female baby-boomers did next - and, from a cultural and economic perspective, this continues to be a fascinating group. Attitudinally, for instance, the extravert and optimistic boomers continue to outshine the gloomy, cynical and victimised generational tribes that have tried to follow in their liberated footsteps.

The advertising industry has evolved at the behest of the boomer generation, which was born in the Eisenhower era in the US and the "never-had-it-so-good" Macmillan era in the UK - and the culture of prosperity created for (and by) boomers continues to be our consumer economy gold standard.

Boomers were followed by Generation X (born around 1975 and of the right age to be profoundly affected by the death of Kurt Cobain); and then by Generation Y (an even vaguer one, but they're primarily the people who feel they missed out on the good times had by Generation X). Nothing is yet known about Generation Z, apart from its members suffering terrible narcolepsy.

In other words, in referencing Generation Y, the survey may be guilty of exactly the sort of contaminated thinking that it sets out to combat. Unless, of course, you believe that it's all nonsense and that there are no eras, decades, generations or conveniently packaged demographic tribes, only people.

But, by any measure, these middle-aged women are shamefully neglected by the advertising industry - almost entirely, you could argue, because they're seen as unfashionable or unsexy. This is slightly perverse because they have large disposable incomes and (to perpetuate a hoary old cliche) they quite like shopping.

You have to have some sympathy for agencies, though. This is a difficult audience - and it is sometimes possible to suspect that the industry is not currently in a mood to take on ticklish challenges.

Arguably, this population grouping is the least susceptible to lazy sales pitches. Even if they count themselves among the upper economic strata, they will (especially if they've had children) almost certainly have known times when money was tight. They know about value and the trade-off between cost and quality, and they will be adept at spotting flannel from kids of all ages, including, sadly, your average ad agency creative team.

Sylvia Auton, the chief executive of IPC Media, says: "GenerationYNot! women are more open, optimistic and alive to the possibilities ahead of them - more so than ever before. And, crucially, while so many other sectors are finding the demands of today's world more challenging than they did a few years ago, these women are ensuring that they have the means to explore these possibilities."

The survey, which elicited the opinions of 7,500 women gathered by the IPC Insights Panel, found that 40- to 60-year-old women are:

- Four times happier than those under 40.

- Feeling healthier - more likely to feel healthy than those in the under-40s group.

- Responsible, with 98 per cent of them making the household buying decisions.

- Technophiles - 31 per cent more likely than the average woman to own a tablet.

- Facebook-friendly, with 75 per cent using the site to connect with friends and family.

- Open-minded, with 64 per cent saying they love to try new products and brands; and 59 per cent confessing they're not afraid to try new experiences.

- Rather influential - 74 per cent provide family and friends with advice on brands and new products.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

ADVERTISERS AND AGENCIES

- We've known about the so-called demographic time bomb for decades now. After all, it informs political debate about taxation, pensions and the welfare state. The advertising industry, however, has been particularly slow to catch on.

- It's not entirely the industry's fault. There's economic disequilibrium just about everywhere you look these days - and the more volatile parts of the consumer economy are still currently geared to selling big-ticket, low-quality items to precisely the people who have almost no realistic chance (outside of the summer rioting season) of acquiring them, while the people with real disposable income struggle to spend it all.

- So you could argue that this research tells us nothing startlingly new; nor will it, of itself, address any deeply ingrained market imbalance. But Sue Unerman, the chief strategy officer at MediaCom, argues that the study could be immensely valuable in changing attitudes. She explains: "I think it's clever in that it talks about a more precise 40- to 60-year-old grouping - because there's sometimes a tendency for people to talk about the 50-plus (demographic), which is just too broad to be of use."

THE MORE MATURE MAN

- The race must surely be on to define an equivalent male group, possibly to be called (both suggestions courtesy of Unerman) "Generation Put The Kettle On Love" or "Generation Now What Did I Come In Here For?".

PATSY FROM AB FAB

- Absolutely nothing. Patsy is, we are sorry to report, an almost entirely fictional creation.

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