Advertising to Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys.
Theory and Research Questions..
 

Attitude

The subject of the study of attitudes is vast and complex. Fishbein and Aizen (1975) define “attitude” as a learned predisposition to respond in a consistently favorable or unfavorable manner with respect to a given object. They go on to describe three basic features of attitudes: the notion that attitude is learned, that it predisposes action, and that such actions are consistently favorable or unfavorable toward the object. (Fishbein & Aizen, 1975)

The methods of quantifying and studying attitudes are many. Attitudes are not observable and therefore must be studied via a secondary indicator, such as a verbal or behavioral response, or through the use of physiological instruments such as those measuring galvanic skin response or pupil dilation. Quantitatively, one of the most common techniques is the use of Likert scales, where a subject is asked to rate their opinion of a given object or idea on a single-axis continuum from negative to positive, or an equivalent. Other techniques include positioning the subject in a hypothetical environment and eliciting behaviors that would indicate, substantively but not overtly, an attitude toward the environment or something in that environment. These behaviors can be checked against other behaviors or survey responses for consistency, and this process can give a measurable, valid insight into the subjects’ attitude toward that object.

The present study incorporates the notion that attitudes are shaped, or at the very least influenced, by the presence of media technologies, and familiarity and literacy with them. This presupposes a noncognitive process of attitude formation, rather than a conscious “belief-based” process (Miniard & Barone, 1997). While there is much evidence that the belief-based process still affects many attitudes held—and that many studies into the 1990s were inadequately conceived to successfully separate the processes (Fishbein & Middlestadt, 1995)—the noncognitive theory has emerged in the 80s and 90s as a viable alternative model. Studies show that noncognitive manipulation can affect attitudes about an object without changing beliefs about the object (Miniard, Bhatla, Lord, Dickson & Unnava, 1991; Mitchell, 1986). In this study, the relationship between media literacy and attitude toward advertising as a noncognitive process will be explored qualitatively rather than quantitatively.

This leads to the following research question:

Rq1: Do Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y have substantially different attitudes toward advertising?

Usefulness

“Usefulness” refers to how advertising is perceived as a useful source for making purchase information or entertainment. A 1999 study contrasting Japanese and American children found that teenagers who felt they had more direct influence on purchases had a more favorable view of advertising than those who did not. The finding lends support to the notion that teenagers who “need” advertising to help them make purchase decisions are more receptive to it (Sherry, Greenberg, & Tokinoya, 1999), whereas Boomers (in another study) consider advertising “offensive, useless, [offering] little benefit to society, and [leading] to higher prices, and that marketing practitioners were not socially responsible.” (Roberts & Manolis, 2000)

Rq2: Are there manifest differences in how Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y perceive advertising as a useful vehicle for purchasing information? If so, what are they?

Socialization

Due to the evolving media environments in which children of each generation were raised, it can be (and is being) postulated that each will have a different relationship with media based on their experiences. A paper published in 1994 by Aric Rindfleisch posits that Gen Xers are more likely to rely on their peers’ behaviors and attitudes (related to consumption and media use) to influence their own, rather than their parents’. In addition, Xers are more likely than Boomers to depend on TV advertising instead of print to inform purchase decisions, and will be more more predisposed to materialism and consumerism than Boomers. Socialization agents said to have an impact on children’s attitudes toward advertising include parental communication, peer communication, social utility of ads and television viewing (Bush et al, 1999). The 1999 Bush, Smith & Martin study found that “social utility of advertising and gender are predictors of attitude toward advertising. The results suggest that the more an individual looks to advertising for guidance, the more favorable that person’s attitude toward overall advertising becomes.” This indicates that not only does the presence of greater and more pervasive media influence advertising attitudes, but the opinions and behaviors of peers using it contributes significantly as well.

Rq3: How do social relationships of Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y contribute to their attitudes toward advertising? Are there differences between them?

Advertisers

The subject of generational differences has been extensively researched and written on, but it is unknown whether the knowledge accumulated so far is recognized or employed by advertisers who may not read academic journals or keep abreast of the current thinking on the topic. While it makes sense to assume that different strategies are employed to advertise to these age groups in the best, most receptive ways possible, the extent to which advertising professionals distinguish between the groups is unknown, or whether they are recognized as generations at all or just as transient members of a a fixed age group (such as “teenagers” or 18–35 year olds). The interview phase of the research therefore intends to investigate the following:

RQ4a: How do advertisers identify different age groups for the purposes of distinguishing them as market segments?

RQ4b: Are advertisers aware of Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y as market segments?

RQ5: How do advertisers tailor messages and methods to reach these market segments?

Research Questions

The research questions at issue in this investigation are:

RQ1: Do Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y have substantially different attitudes toward advertising?

RQ2: Are there manifest differences in how Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y perceive advertising as a useful vehicle for purchasing information? If so, what are they?

RQ3: How do social relationships of Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y contribute to their attitudes toward advertising? Are there differences between them?

RQ4a: How do advertisers identify different age groups for the purposes of distinguishing them as market segments?

RQ4b: Are advertisers aware of Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y as market segments?

RQ5: How do advertisers tailor messages and methods to reach these market segments?