Talking about the generations

I’m Generation X, uncomfortably tucked between the two generations currently embroiled in meme warfare; the Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1965) and Millennials (born 1981 – 1999), The ‘OK Boomer’ catchphrase used to dismiss or insult the older Baby Boomer generation’s stereotyped attitudes, opinions and behaviours gained popularity in 2019 as a result of a TikTok video. The video is of an unidentified older man saying that Millennials have the ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’, never want to grow up and have an unsustainable view of a utopian world. The response, thousands of Millennials posting ‘OK Boomer’ memes targeting the older generation for being old-fashioned and out of touch.

The irony of the catalyst for this movement is not lost on me. This all started with a video posted on one of the newest and fastest-growing social media platforms, TikTok, an environment that a stereotypical Baby Boomer would not be found in or even know how to use!

Generationally-based jokes, comments, disses and memes are nothing new, but there seems to be a nasty edge to the ‘OK Boomer’ trend, with some even calling it ageism. Perhaps the sensitivity is because some of the content touches on uncomfortable truths in an uncomfortable time.

While some see the ‘OK Boomer’ social dialogue as a humorous backlash to criticism long wielded at the younger generation, such as being called lazy, politically-apathetic internet-junkies who win trophies for participation, there is a more serious aspect to it. Millennials are of the opinion that Baby Boomers should be held accountable and take responsibility for some of the inherited political, socioeconomic and environmental problems. The most notable example of this is when New Zealand politician, Chloë Swarbrick used the phrase as a response to a heckler in parliament during her speech on climate change.

Whatever the reasons, ‘OK Boomer’ and the follow-on hashtags such as ‘boomeradvice’ have highlighted significant differences between the two generations and reminded brands that communicate and engage with both to take note.

  • While most Baby Boomers are susceptible to traditional marketing, 84% of Millennials don’t trust advertising.
  • While 90% of Millennials own smartphones, 40% have made purchases on them, and 60% research products on their phones, Baby Boomers are the least like to use smartphones to make purchases and only 14% use them to research product.
  • While 62% of Baby Boomers say advertising and advice from a sales rep will more than like influence their decision to buy, 82% of Millennials say word-of-mouth will influence theirs.
  • While Millennials are quick to trust and master new technology, Baby Boomers are slow to adopt.
  • While only 21% of Baby Boomers have an Instagram account, 40% of Millennials do.
  • While Millennials are comfortable engaging with brands online, Baby Boomers prefer to speak to a real person.

However, perhaps in keeping with my Generation X status i.e. the hybrid generation aka ‘The Bridge’, we should pay more attention to building bridges by finding the similarities between these two generations, of which there are surprisingly many:

  • Both generations are brand loyal, although for different reasons, once they commit to a brand, they stick with it. In some cases, this loyalty is multi-generational with sons and daughters staying loyal to the brands their grandparents and parents trust.
  • Both generations want to make a difference in the world. Baby Boomers were the instigators in landmark political and social changes such as the civil rights movement, the end of apartheid, and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. 61% of Millennials are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference, hence the climate-change activists, support for campaigns such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.
  • Both generations are rebels at heart. Millennials are global citizens and refuse to accept without questioning, they challenge the status quo and aren’t scared to expose untruths and ‘fake news’, enter Edward Snowden. Baby Boomers were the original hippies, a generation that challenged government and ‘gave peace a chance’.

When we realise that the Millennial’s ‘OK Boomer’ backlash has become exactly what they are protesting against i.e. the stereotypical criticism of one generation by another; the utter hypocrisy is laughable!

What brands really need to take note of is that each generation is made up of individuals and it is the human truths shared amongst these individuals that give us insight into how our branding and communications can unite instead of divide, and speak to all generations in the same voice.