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« Why Lemmings Drown Themselves and Companies Go Bankrupt | Main | The The Hobgoblin of Lazy Marketing and Research Minds »

August 14, 2008


Ronni Bennett

This is a topic that irritates me at the other end of the generational divide. Elders - by which I mean anyone older than Boomers - have been erased from existence by the media which have been using "boomer" as a synonym for "old" for several years.

But elders' needs and interests differ dramatically from all but the very oldest boomers as you have pointed out here in the past in your posts on Carl Jung's seven tasks of aging, among others.

And boomers too can hardly be lumped together. The youngest are still raising families, saving for their kids' college educations and beginning to hit the peaks of the their careers - a very different life-outlook from the oldest boomers just now reaching the age of eligibility for early Social Security.

Generational naming and references seem to me to be the hobgoblin of lazy marketing - and research - minds.

Brent Green

Generalizing about a group is nevertheless generalizing, whether you’re attaching generationally motivated values or life-stage / age influenced values to the group.

Otherwise, all marketing would ideally aim at the individual, but we can never know a stranger’s personal value set, even if we can target them one-to-one. Since we must generalize about underlying values, needs, and motivations to construct mass media messages, the only remaining questions are which values, constructed how?

Targeted recipients may or may not embrace values associated with a generation, life stage, or personal level of psychological development (tied with age). As with all marketing communications, some consumers will resonate with a message informed by insights about the larger group; some will not.

However, attaching a product or brand to a message constructed around generational or life-stage assumptions (shared historical culture/experiences or current age-related worldview, etc.) can be equally effective. Some marketers do it better than others, but both approaches (generational values or life-stage and age values) work effectively for those who have mastered the craft.

I just attended a Jethro Tull 40th anniversary concert this week, and I was struck by the extreme homogeneity of the 9,000+ concert audience: significantly dominated by leading-edge Boomers, mostly Caucasian, with lots of Boomer culture expressed in concert clothing and concert behavior. (See my blog for a telltale photo.)

So, would this same audience react to a product message using Jethro Tull music and evoking some of the life experiences / values associated with this group's dominance – back in the early 70’s? Yes, I believe a profitable number would if it's the right product presented with the right level of message sophistication.

What holds true for the Boomers also holds true for Millennials. Some of their shared life experiences, and attendant values, will survive throughout adulthood, and tapping these values can and will be effective.(But I agree with David that the defining Millennial Generation bookend years are wildly inconclusive. I also agree that ascribing maturity to immature mating behavior is specious.)

People share metavalues: these values can be associated with the coming-of-age period of a generation; they can be the values associated with a particular life stage or age.

All approaches work equally well — and equally not as well — depending on the message creators; and there are plenty of successful marketing case studies to support this contention.

By the way, those successes don't shout, "Hey Boomer, buy this." The best generational advertisements don't market to labels but rather values and shared culture / experiences. Yet, the messages still address a generational cohort with known motivational characteristics. "Gen" is the root of generation and generalization.

David Wolfe


Your comments are well reasoned, conform to my experience and beliefs, and are well expressed. I do recognize that there is value in categorizing people by the time frame encompassing their "coming of age" years. My complaint is that the practice of labeling age cohorts as it has been done in marketing is as reader Ronni Bennett says, "The hobgoblin of lazy marketing - and research - minds." The emphasis should be on "lazy" because there are people like yourself that while using an age cohort to benchmark their work don't become so enslaved by the practice that they exercise no critical thinking at all and end up governed by trite generalizations that simply have no defensible standing.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.


Brent Green


I very much appreciate what I have learned and am learning from Ronni and you. Every time I read what you have to say about ageless marketing and related topics, I recognize my need for more study, critical thinking and mentorship. Thanks so much for challenging all of us to "think differently." Way too much money gets wasted on marketing without message or meaning. That's why we applaud the real breakthrough campaigns that increase "share of heart" as well as share of market. Mostly the sponsors are called "Firms of Endearment."


Atare E. Agbamu

David --

Who will research the Web-enabled researchers? Thank you for a mind-opening critique of sloppy marketing research.

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