Advertising to Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys.

Like many of you in this room, I'm a digital immigrant. I wasn't weaned on the Web, nor coddled on a computer. Instead, I grew up in a highly centralized world where news and information were tightly controlled by a few editors, who deemed to tell us what we could and should know. My two young daughters, on the other hand, will be digital natives. They'll never know a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access. The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants ... to apply a digital mindset to a set of challenges that we unfortunately have limited to no first-hand experience dealing with. -- Rupert Murdoch, 2003

Back in 2001, I KNEW that keeping HBO simply to watch The Sopranos was a big mistake. So, I quit, and after seeing TWO 18-24 month breaks between seasons and reading about the pathetic ending last night, I'm so glad I quit in 2001, not June 11, 2007, like the majority of Soprano fans will likely do. What a kick in the crotch by HBO and The Sopranos. But, instead of paying the extra $20 a month for the HBO package, I've saved over $1500 since 2001 by not paying for Sopranos.

Get this HBO, you dumb f__kers, I'll be stealing each and every one of your Sopranos box sets off of Bitorrent in the coming months, and as soon as you release a new one at Blockbuster/Netflix, it's getting copied too. Do never test generation Y. We have more broadband than you do greed and we DO use it, troof. -- An anonymous internet poster, June 2007

Over the past thirty years, rapid advances in communications technology have sparked an eruption of heretofore unknown advertising opportunities. Cable television, video cassette recorders, satellite TV, the internet, CDs, DVDs, video-on-demand, cellular phones, MP3 players, personal video players, YouTube, personal computing and other contemporary forms of media have allowed marketers new and powerful means of disseminating advertising messages. One unintended consequence of this glut of commercializing content, however, has been the rise, in parallel, of consumers' level of discernment. This has been manifest chiefly by an increased skepticism of marketing messages, coupled with the ready recognition of various techniques and "gimmicks" advertisers use to make these messages more persuasive.

What I intended to investigate is the reasoning of art directors who produce today's advertising--their motives and logic behind the ways in which they try to reach these distinct generational audiences. To facilitate this I investigated differences between the ways the previous three generations (Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y) relate to advertising, how they respond to it, and to what level they accept and and incorporate it into their lives. The goal of this research is not only to shed light on how Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys react to advertising but, in doing so, to help advertisers better understand and reach out to these markets with more effective messages.

There has been a great deal of research in the field of advertising attitudes and response thereto. What is consistent across most of these studies has been an invariable skepticism reported from the test subjects. Advertising almost uniformly evokes distrust and suspicion among those whose opinions are solicited, even down to as young as fourth grade (Brucks, Armstrong & Goldberg, 1988). However where Boomers are highly critical of advertising which does not appeal to them (Roberts & Manolis, 2000), Gen Xers and Ys are merely dismissive--unless the advertising is perceived to be misleading or otherwise disingenuous, in which case Xers and Ys indicate a strong distaste for it (Beard, 2003). This and other studies lead me to formulate a hypothesis: that Gen Xers (and to a greater extent, Ys) have a different relationship to advertising than Boomers do, a relationship built on trust and utility.

Most Gen Xers' childhood was spent in the company of television. With divorce and single parenthood increasing significantly since the sixties, Gen Xers were often raised in stepfamilies and shared custody. This may be a contributing factor to their tendency toward personal independence (Herbig et al., 1993; Morton, 2003; Robertson, Ward, Gatignon & Klees, 1989) and materialism (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2003).

With the media having been such a strong presence in Gen Xers' lives growing up, the way they relate to it is therefore different from the previous generation. Furthermore, Gen Y's relationship also differs from their predecessors the Xers because Gen Y is not only growing up "on television" but growing up in a world of digital media, where they wield almost limitless control over the media they consume, even to the point of becoming producers themselves. This command over media makes Gen Y "...far more sophisticated in terms of their understanding of advertising than children born only a decade or two before... The older children in the present sample [11-12-year-olds] clearly understood the persuasive intent of advertising as evidenced by their high degree of skepticism and mistrust of ads." (Mallalieu, Palan, & Lacziak, 2005)

The thesis therefore begins with the questions of how these three generational groups relate to media--which includes advertising--and, if they relate to it differently, how art directors attempt to vary their methods and messages in order to reach them.