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Generation-X: Youth Never Gets Old


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Right now, Gen-Xers are doing something utterly revolutionary that is going unnoticed: They aren’t getting “old” and they’ve flipped the entire aging paradigm on its head.

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Generation-X: Youth Never Gets Old

  1. 1. YOU T H NEV ER GE TS OL D The Sound
  2. 2. The Sound2 They are rapidly replacing Boomers in the C-suite. They make up the majority of Silicon Valley start-up founders. They are the art world’s most valued (and overvalued) artists. They are still, amazingly, the most popular and top grossing DJs. They have more disposable income than anyone else, and gradually, they are beginning to take political power. So why don’t people ever seem to talk about Gen-X? It might be because they are perceived to be a small cohort. Or maybe it’s because brands didn’t notice them at first, then were perplexed by them, and found it easier just move on to a more receptive Millennial audience. And to be fair, they are sandwiched in between two bigger generations. Because of this, they required more work to understand, so they were easy to dismiss. But right now, Gen-X is peaking. Big time. Which means their attention and interest has never been more valuable to brands. Yet they remain as they always have been: an afterthought and a bit of an enigma. The Gen-X Enigma 54%FEEL IG NORED BY BRANDS THEY CONTROL 31%OF A L L SP EN DI N G DOL L A R S I N T H E U. S. #1IN DISPOSABLE INCOME IN U.K. & CANADA The Sound
  3. 3. The Sound3 The prevailing commentary that surrounds generations and generational differences is often, to put it lightly, flawed. To put it bluntly: it’s mostly shit. When it comes to generations, the media frequently trades in baseless stereotypes. Hyping up a particular generation as either humanity’s saviour or demise is an easy and time-proven method to get clicks. Unfortunately, marketers are also guilty of the same crimes. Generations are not monoliths. They contain multitudes. Be it class differences, geographical location, ethnicity, or political affiliation – each generation always contains an infinitely diverse range of people. But within a generation, you also find shared experiences, values, historical and cultural touch points and expressions of identity that are wholly unique to that cohort. Good marketing should never assume, but instead always seek to discover. It should search out those rare qualities that truly distinguish a group of people, and identify the flash points that come together to form a collective persona. Bad marketing churns. It recycles. It focuses on the broad strokes and the big numbers. It forgoes details and fails to understand the individual experience. And never has a generation been so consistently misunderstood than Generation-X. The snubbed generation The Sound Even before Gen-X had a name, they were being branded by the media with a vague notion of impending failure.
  4. 4. The Sound4 In the mid ‘80s, there began to be murmurs about an entirely new group of people that formed an undiscovered cohort. Birth trends indicated a baby bust after the baby boom, but there wasn’t a word for this generation that had stuck yet. There wasn’t anything that “captured their zeitgeist” or described how they felt or who they were. In 1988, Douglas Coupland had just gotten out of art school and was paying the bills as a freelance writer. One day he wrote an article titled Generation- X. It was about the experiences of overeducated young people in his native Vancouver who felt they were being ignored by society. It caused a bit of a stir, and he followed it up with some more articles and a short-lived comic strip about a Gen-Xer stuck in a dead-end corporate job. And that was that. That is, until Coupland’s industrious agent packaged up the material and scored him a lucrative book deal on the premise that he would write a “field guide to a post-boomer sensibility”. It was supposed to be like an updated version of The Yuppie Handbook, but for the ‘90s. Coupland moved to Palo Alto to research and write the book. But it wasn’t the field guide as promised. Instead, it was a collection of short stories about a group of twentysomethings living on the fringes of consumer society, working McJobs and marinating in ennui. It was an instant, colossal hit. A brief history of Gen-X The Sound
  5. 5. The Sound5 Overnight, Coupland became the reluctant voice of his generation. He was offered lucrative deals from brands and marketers to help them understand this new and therefore exciting generation. Automakers wanted him to teach them how to sell cars to Gen-Xers. The Gap wanted him to appear in an ad as the definitive Gen-Xer. But in proper Gen-X fashion, he refused to sell out. The book was a hit because Coupland was able to speak to universal experiences that resonated amongst his generation: feelings of social fragmentation, a certain television-inspired world weariness, and a general disappointment with the beginning of their adult lives. For brands, it looked to be marketing gold. Only … it wasn’t. The brands that approached Gen-X head on, often failed. Brands that tried to capitalize on Gen-X disillusionment were met with yawns. And brands that attempted to wink at their distrust of advertising were largely ignored. The Gap, mind you, ended up doing quite well. In 1995, Coupland declared that Generation-X was dead. But as we know, the idea of Generation-X didn’t die. It grew exponentially, transforming from a niche descriptor to include everyone born roughly between 1964 - 1979. And in the interim, they became a truly distinctive generation. But somehow, the clichés persisted. To this day, when most people are pressed to describe Gen-Xers, they quickly gravitate towards the familiar description of an underachieving and cynical slacker. The Sound The Generation-X comic was, ironically, a satire about a Gen-Xer who worked in marketing. The classic Gen-X dilemma.
  6. 6. The Sound6 Everyone is shaped by their formative years, and Gen-X was shaped by the ‘80s. We’re not just talking about big hair, Dynasty, or Jane Fonda workout videos, but the macro trends that had real impact on their developing worldview. The ‘80s were a rupture point between old and new. Between stability and fragility. Economies exploded and contracted. Analog mutated into digital and institutions that were once seen as dependable … all of a sudden weren’t. Gen-X was the first generation in modern history to have less prospects than their parents. So they grew up having their illusions shattered. Their experience was a mix of stagnation, fragmentation and acceleration, which pushed them towards embracing autonomy, self- reliance and authenticity. Generational context The Sound Gen-X Economic bust, mass unemployment & recession Economic boom, greed and consumer excess Thatcher, Reagan and dominant conservative politics The first wave of Silicon Valley Introduction of videogame consoles and gaming culture The End of the Cold War and the rise of terrorism The AIDS Crisis The Fall of the Berlin Wall Skyrocketing divorce rates and the fragmentation of the family unit A rapidly diversifying media landscape
  7. 7. The Sound7 Marketers still don’t get Gen-X. We’ve worked with Gen-X a lot. We’ve travelled with them. Shared beers with them. Cooked with them. Partied with them. We’ve spent time in their homes, watching how they live, how they shop, how they eat. We know how they get their news and how they take their coffee and tea. Spoiler alert: many of us are them. One critical point we’ve come to understand is this: Just like in the ‘90s, brands are still missing what’s truly unique about Gen- Xers. Right now, they are doing something utterly revolutionary that is going unnoticed: They aren’t getting “old” and they’ve flipped the entire aging paradigm on its head. In order to understand how Gen-X has changed the concept of age, we need to understand their unique place in the history of youth… The Sound Understanding the unique cultural DNA of Gen-X “I still go to [club] nights where DJs who were around in the 1980s and 1990s play – so many people who were part of the scene haven’t lost the love. They just don’t stay out all night anymore and they make sure they’re not too exhausted when their children wake up in the morning. But they still live for the music and the spirit of the scene.” JO, 44, CORNWALL , UK
  8. 8. The Sound8 The invention of the teenager 1944 The concept of the teenager is a new one. The mindset began to emerge in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 40s that it became a broadly recognized life phase. The beginning of youth culture 1960 A few years before the first Gen-Xer is born, the teenager begins to rapidly evolve, setting the stage for the emergence of another demographic phenomenon that was set to change the world forever more: youth culture. Boomers have 
 a mid-life crisis 1975 In the ’70s, Boomers grew up and adult rules kicked in. So they got a job, worked hard, got married, had kids, bought homes and replaced the Jimi Hendrix experience with the Huey Lewis experience. Meaning, they gave up on being young. The spread 
 of youthfulness 1979 Exercise and health consciousness go mainstream and brands and media become obsessed with their youth demographic. Everyone is being told to never stop growing or learning – to Just Do It. The youthification of all culture 1985 Beginning with the dawn of MTV, the notion of youth expands further, moving beyond an age category and into a marketable way of life. Gen-X takes control 1989 In NYC, London, Seattle, Toronto and eventually everywhere else, young people start coming together in unique ways, making new music, throwing new parties and doing new drugs. Out of this halcyon wave comes an entirely new approach to youth. The Sound
  9. 9. The Sound9 The Boomers may have invented youth culture. But Gen-X perfected it. Between the release of the first Beatles record and the premier of The Empire Strikes Back, Gen-X was born. Which means they were the first generation to grow up in a fully youthified world. Throughout the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, Gen-X created a massive wave of subcultures that shared a common ethos and followed a common trajectory. They valued doing it yourself, how you wanted, the way you wanted. It was raw creativity mixed with fresh entrepreneurialism They realized that while they may not get the jobs or politics they wanted, they could absolutely get the culture they wanted – and that culture could be transformative. For the first time ever, young people seized the means of cultural production. And after that, there was no looking back. Gen-X had gotten screwed in a lot of ways, but they also quietly kept the world from sucking. The Gen-X youth culture explosion The Sound Grunge redefines rock and takes indie style and the DIY aesthetic to the masses The New Romantics bring androgyny to the mainstream Punk fractures into hundreds of scenes and sub genres, going pop in the process Acid House takes rave culture global Young nerds flock to the young Internet, learn to code, invent blogging and turn hacking into a sport Skateboarding and action sports become a billion dollar industry Hip Hop revolutionizes music, fashion, and advertising
  10. 10. The Sound10 The concept of youth grew from a brief life stage into a constantly attainable mood – a feeling that could be tapped into at any age, and something of a philosophy of being. Unlike the Boomers, Gen-X never transitioned into a traditional adulthood. They had kids, gained weight, lost weight, gained it again and got mortgages but society no longer places the same pressures on them to live a certain way. It’s now OK to still be interested in contemporary culture past the age of 25. In fact, it’s totally cool to still be experimenting and having adventures in your 40s, 50s and beyond. They are the first generation that didn’t have to let go of what they loved, give up on having fun, or abandon the things that made them who they are. But the generation that redefined youth… The Sound10
  11. 11. The Sound11 Yet most brands treat Gen-Xers the same as they treated the fortysomethings and fiftysomethings of yesteryear. And they continue to feel that they are targeted by a predetermined and false understanding of life stage rather than their mindset or values. So is it any wonder this is a generation that feels underserved despite having the most disposable income of any cohort? You should be asking yourselves, what are Gen-X values and how do I target a generation that doesn’t feel the need to grow up? …is still being ignored The Sound
  12. 12. The Sound12 Sound Advice
  13. 13. The Sound13 Take a look at any brand that is highly coveted by Millennials and odds are you’ll find a Gen-Xer in charge: Vice. Tesla. Google. Supreme. Uniqlo. GoPro. Adidas … the list goes on. The Gen-X affinity for independence and authenticity has led them to become stealth agents of change. Even when it comes to social media, while Millennials and Gen Edgers may get the press, it’s Gen- Xers who are the most active on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Understand that when you speak to Gen-X, you’re speaking to everyone they influence, which is, well, everyone. Gen-Xers are the original influencers The Sound
  14. 14. The Sound14 Just as they have an unappreciated level of influence, Gen-Xers also have an outsized responsibility. Ever the middle child, Gen- Xers are now simultaneously raising children and taking care of their aging parents. The role of multi-generational caretaker is a major stress point for Gen-Xers. So while they are more hedonistic than Boomers, their decisions still come with a sense of pragmatic compromise. Gen-Xers are more affluent than ever, but increasingly under pressure
  15. 15. The Sound15 They still view themselves as outsiders; more savvy than Millennials, less optimistic than their parents. This trait has manifested in their approach to how they are bringing up their kids: Generation Edge. Where Boomers taught Millennials to be conscious of their self-esteem, Gen-Xers are teaching their kids to be resilient. They have a strong sense of nostalgia for the autonomy of their own upbringing, and want to re-wild their children so that they can grow up with the ability to invent their own activities and build their own communities, just like they did. Because many of them were latchkey kids or had parents who were divorced, independence was thrust on Gen-X from an early age. But what was once seen as a challenge growing up is now embraced as a positive. Gen-Xers are perceptive parents
  16. 16. The Sound16 Being the generation that bridges our species between an analog past and digital future, Gen-X occupies a remarkably specific space in terms of their consumer preferences. Unlike Millennials, they grew up in relative media scarcity. If you wanted cool things – you couldn’t rely on algorithms and had to discover them yourself. These days, they might not be as driven to be as unique as they used to, but they still want to feel like the things they buy are crafted just for them. They still love the underground. They still love what makes them feel special. They love the underground The Sound16
  17. 17. The Sound17 Gen-X doesn’t have the tension associated with a loss of youthfulness that Boomers had. Rather, they see tensions with how brands and media treat them as a group, targeting their allegedly mature life stage rather than their youthful values. They feel young but also have the wisdom and confidence that comes with age. This means they are adventurous, but discerning. They’ve ditched the mid-life crisis
  18. 18. The Sound18 • Gen-Xers were the first generation to mature in a world where youth is a constant. No one laughs at old DJs or mocks aspiring artists who are in their 50s anymore. Everyone is welcome in the broad progressive church of youth. • They feel that brands only speak to their life stage and ignore their youthful state of mind. So stop treating them like square dads or mums or bored fortysomethings. • Gen-X has the largest disposable income of any generation. They are ready to spend, but are consistently overlooked. • Stop thinking in age brackets and develop an approach to Gen-X that is as dynamic as they are. An approach that acknowledges that they are the most experienced and discerning “young people” alive and they do not want to slow down. Rethink Generation-X The Sound18 Justin Trudeau, pictured here wearing a “Canadian tuxedo”, is the world’s first observably Gen-X leader.
  19. 19. V A N C O U V E R | N E W Y O R K | L O N D O N | T O R O N T O | C H I C A G O | M U M B A I W W W . T H E S O U N D H Q . C O M
  20. 20. The Sound20 The Sound Image references SLIDE SITE 7 10 12 13 16 15 18 11 13 13 14