FEATURE: Generation X bites back

Baby Boomers might own and control the media, but attempts to reach Generation X will continue to be ignored until, Jack Rosevear says, their media preferences are acknowledged

Baby Boomers might own and control the media, but attempts to reach

Generation X will continue to be ignored until, Jack Rosevear says,

their media preferences are acknowledged

Every young generation believes that it is misunderstood by its parents’

generation. For my generation, Generation X, this has become a self-

evident truth. Think about it: how many brands really know how to talk

to a young audience?

Why is this? Because advertising and the media are owned and controlled

by the Baby Boomers. And aimed at Baby Boomers. They are currently

around 35 to 52 years in age, whereas my generation are between 16 and

34 years old. While the two generations are inextricably linked, their

views of the world are very different.

The Pill liberated the Baby Boom generation; we grew up with Aids. They

grew up with Harold Macmillan’s expansion economy; we face ‘downsizing’,

‘restructuring’ and ‘streamlining’ after the excesses of the 80s. This

has made Generation X live a great deal of its life in fear. We’re also

very cynical. And this is the fault of Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers saw the first man walk on the moon; Generation X saw Pepsi

advertise in space. Why did the same generation who vehemently opposed

the Vietnam war suddenly approve of war in the Gulf? Think about

Thunderbirds. In the 60s, they were just a cute and clunky puppet show

aimed at entertaining kids for half of Children’s Hour. In the 90s,

Thunderbirds has become a multi-media marketing phenomenon.

The generation that grew up innocently enjoying Thunderbirds then

merchandised it to their own children. It seems as if Baby Boomers can

and will market anything to anyone, and change their principles

accordingly. Is it any wonder we are cynical?

Star Trek illustrates the mood of the 60s: it is a programme about hope,

looking forward and new discoveries. No-one in Star Trek needed money,

there was sexual and racial equality: evidently, there was a bright and

better future. Contrast this with the X Files - surely the most

influential series of the 90s - which is dark and brooding. The X Files

is all about fear of the unknown and cynicism for the past. The X Files

begins with the messages: ‘Trust no-one’, ‘deny everything’ or ‘the

truth is out there’; quite a difference from ‘to boldly go where no man

has gone before’.

Baby Boomers created commercial television and they own and control the

media, but they have abused their power and Generation X has become

hardened to their messages.

The Beatles received medals from the Queen, had singles in the top-five

places in the charts, and the media happily reported their huge success

without seeking scandal or bias. Michael Jackson is the biggest selling

artist of all time, and Thriller the biggest selling album. Yet he’s

made of plastic, lives with a chimpanzee called Bubbles, is obsessed by

Elizabeth Taylor and has a very unhealthy regard for children. Funny how

so much can change in a generation.

After all this, why should Generation X trust the media? We understand

the biases that are at work, why should we believe what Baby Boomers

tell us? Since we have been surrounded by media all our lives, very

little of it becomes part of lives. Media is just a commodity, and

advertising something to be avoided. We have grown up with remote-

conrols, we have grown up with video recorders and we have grown up

learning to ignore ads.

This has not been a problem up to now, Baby Boomers have learned to

accept the trade-off between editorial and advertising. They know that

if you want to see programmes or read articles, then you have to

tolerate the ads. Generation X doesn’t want to trade-off, and we don’t

have to tolerate it.

There are solutions. Instead of intruding on your audience, of forcing

it into the trade-off, you can be invited into our lives. Remember that

we have seen hundreds of thousands of ads in our lives, so we know great

creative when we see it. Tango, Levi’s and Nike have found the perfect

formula for advertising to Generation X: these brands don’t try to

appear young or cool, they define what is cool. They don’t attempt to

hold a mirror up to the young - to show that they understand; rather,

they hold up a window on to the world of the brand.

The other way round the trade-off is to editorialise your advertising

and be just as creative with your media as your execution. Miller

Pilsner created Miller Time, which is the perfect mix of creative idea

and media idea. Creating an ad that people would deliberately tune in to

watch? Ridiculous! It did and it worked.

Apple Tango’s ‘seduction’ proposition made it a natural candidate for

page 3 of the Daily Star. Apple Tango appears chained to a bed in the

current Loaded pin-up poster. Orange Tango was the basis for an April

Fool spoof story in the Daily Mirror. These were not examples of

sponsored editorial or advertorials, they were marriages between youth

brand and media brand. Creative idea and media idea.

None of these ideas would have worked without some Baby Boomers

realising how different Generation X is. As the Animals sang in the 60s:

‘Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.’

Jack Rosevear, 22, is a media strategist at Michaelides and Bednash.

This extract is taken from his winning paper presented at the 1996 IPA

Media awards