The ABC’s of marketing to Generation X

They are squeezed by multiple responsibilities and pulled in many directions.

In many ways, members of Generation X have been glossed over, as aging baby boomers and up-and-coming millennials grab most of the attention.

For marketers, however, the 35- to 50-year-old demographic is a powerful, affluent consumer group that remains largely untapped, according to research from Yahoo Canada.

“They are the forgotten generation. They’re influential but overlooked,” said Shannon Kelley, senior research analyst at Yahoo Canada.

During a presentation in Toronto on Wednesday, Kelley unveiled Yahoo data on Gen X consumers in Canada. The numbers are based on in-depth interviews with Gen Xers and online surveys of 1,000 Canadians aged 18 to 64. (Other age groups were included so comparative analysis could be done).

Gen X Canadians are the “forgotten” faces in the crowd when marketers are busy targeting millennials and baby boomers, according to Yahoo Canada data. (Photo: Yahoo)

Here’s a breakdown of Yahoo’s findings on Gen Xers in Canada.

They’re a bit jaded

As Kelley pointed out, these people grew up during the AIDS crisis and mass layoffs of the 1980s. It made them resilient but also a bit jaded and skeptical. As the original latchkey kids, they learned to be more independent, resourceful and imaginative than previous generations.

They’re squeezed

It’s not called the sandwich generation for nothing. Yahoo figures show Gen X is more likely than any other generation to be parents; nearly half (47 per cent) of them have kids under the age of 18. In addition, 64 per cent agree that caring for their own parents is their current or future responsibility.

“They feel the dual pressure of caring for their children but also caring for their aging parents,” Kelley said.

They have money

“They’re 7.2 million Canadians and make up the bucket with the highest household incomes,” Kelly added. Gen Xers have higher average incomes than boomers or millennials and one in three Gen Xers have investments worth more than $100,000 (excluding their primary residence). Eighty-three per cent are employed and 70 per cent are homeowners.

They’re influential

Ninety per cent of Gen Xers research products online and 36 per cent consume content posted by brands on social media, “so they’re informed and influential consumers,” Kelley said. Since 42 per cent share or repost social content, “if (your brand) resonates with them, there’s an echo effect,” she said.

They’re distracted

Yahoo’s research shows that among Gen Xers, “the middle-aged brain is highly distractible,” Kelley said. In testing, millennials were able to maintain a higher level of emotional engagement with prime time TV content while they were multitasking than Gen Xers did. “They’re driven to multitask but they’re not generally as good at it as millennials,” Kelley said.

Kelley: Gen Xers are "influential but overlooked."
Kelley: Gen Xers are “influential but overlooked.”

Health trumps looks

Yahoo’s data suggest Gen Xers are focused more on health and wellbeing than just looking good: 33 per cent say they’re “obsessed” with preventing ill health in the future and 80 per cent say work-life balance is important.

Now that you’re armed with this data about Canada’s Gen Xers, here are some of Kelley’s tips for marketing to this demographic of Canadian consumers .

Be memorable but clear

Gen Xers are distracted and squeezed by various tasks and responsibilities so make your messaging clear, Kelley suggested. “Provide experiences that are ‘clean’ and make it easy for them to know what the takeaway is.”

Wax nostalgic

Campaigns that leverage nostalgia in fun, yet meaningful ways can really hit home with Gen X, Kelley said. She cited United Healthcare’s commercial about a Dirty Dancing tribute gone awry and a Campbell’s soup spot that portrays two gay dads making Star Wars references. Nostalgic shout outs stir emotional memories of Gen Xers’ childhoods while showing that advertisers ‘get’ the modern concerns those Gen X viewers now have today.

Own the diss

Jon Stewart dissed Arby’s on The Daily Show – a lot. During Stewart’s final episode as host, the fast food chain boldly aired a commercial highlighting 16 years’ worth of his most biting jabs at its brand. This type of self-deprecating wit “taps into Gen X’s sarcastic and cynical nature,” Kelley said. “It’s also just owning the diss and being cool with it.”

Help out

Yahoo’s research shows Gen Xers are worried about being good parents, taking care of their own parents, managing their money and staying healthy. Create campaigns or branded content pieces that not only acknowledge those pressures but offer practical advice on dealing with them, Kelley recommended.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Christine Wong
Christine Wong
Christine Wong has been an on-air reporter for a national daily show on Rogers TV and at High Tech TV, a weekly news magazine on CTV's Ottawa affiliate. She was also an associate producer at Report On Business Television (now called BNN) and CBC's The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos. As an associate producer at Slice TV, she helped launch two national daily talk shows, The Mom Show and Three Takes. Recently, she was a Staff Writer at and is now a freelance contributor.

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