`Generation X' a New Breed of Consumer

By Roxanne Patel 1993, Seattle Times | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 2, 1993 | Go to article overview

`Generation X' a New Breed of Consumer


Roxanne Patel 1993, Seattle Times, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


SOMEWHAT belatedly, advertisers are beginning to wonder what makes the so-called Generation X tick, and how to sell to this amorphous group of 18- to 29-year-olds.

They're finding part of the answer in MTV, a defining embodiment of the "twentysomething" consumer.

"MTV is the medium to communicate with this age group," said Rod Leung, advertising manager for the clothing manufacturer Unionbay. "Everything is influenced by music, and it's all visual-oriented . . . it's the new signature of the generation."

Even print ads, such as those that Unionbay produces, are influenced by music videos, Leung said, and the key to marketing the clothes is to show how they fit into this generation's search for identity.

Like Unionbay, many marketers have begun stepping up their search for ways to understand and talk to "Generation X," which includes 45 million people with $125 billion in annual spending power, Newsday reported recently.

The previously invisible group has grabbed the attention of the media and advertisers in recent months, and researchers said they expect ads targeting this group to flood the market by the end of the year.

Marketers and researchers say "Generation X" is a different breed of consumers from the generation before. Having grown up on television and computers, they are more media-savvy and visually oriented, and they have often experienced more of life - sexually, socially, politically - than their parents at that age.

Lon LaFlamme, president and chief executive officer of EvansGroup, said targeting people in their 20s involves two things: rapid-fire, graphically intensive images, combined with words that get right to the point.

"These people are the driving force behind the decency of the '90s, the return to ethics," LaFlamme said. "They know enough that they can cut through the baloney real quick . . . and they're quicker on the uptake than previous generations."

The EvansGroup used these philosophies in developing a "Fashion Forward" campaign for Jay Jacobs' 50th anniversary in 1990. The ads ran on MTV and were styled after that station's format.

To most advertising executives, MTV is the easiest and most comprehensive source for uncovering what appeals to twentysomethings. They look to the station's high-tech video and animation and its hip-hop style and attitude to create ads that look and sound like what they think the generation wants.

But Karen Ritchie, McCann-Erickson senior vice president who is writing a book about marketing to people under 30, said too many ads rely on the same techniques, mainly quick cuts and "loud, annoying music." Young consumers can also relate to low-keyed messages and straight-forward images, she said.

"I don't think it's true that `Generation X' has a shorter attention span than anyone else," Ritchie said, adding that manufacturers mistakenly think all ads aimed at this group have to be like Nike, which is considered a leader in under-30 marketing.

Today's 18- to 29-year-olds grew up in a different world from their parents, often in single-parent or two-income families, and had to form attachments outside the family, said Dan Petek, a Washington State University professor.

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