The Generation Factor, calls on brands to unite the age gap
Coinciding with the launch of the newsbrand’s new deep dive insights piece, The Generation Factor, Mail Metro Media’s head of insights Luke Hand lent his expertise to Mediatel’s Future of Media event, on a panel called: ‘Understanding the cross-generational divide in media representation’.
Hosted by Christopher Kenna, CEO and founder of Brand Advance, Luke was joined by a generationally diverse panel of experts, including: Belinda Beeftink, research director at the IPA; Elliott Millard, head of planning at Wavemaker UK; Dorcas Matomby, Brixton Finishing School graduate and nanny at Mother.
Against a backdrop of the recent social backlash from Sainsbury’s Christmas TV advert (and the backlash against that backlash), the panellists each gave their unique take on representation in our industry.
Setting out what exactly “cross-generational” means, Luke offered that generational analysis is simply a way of looking at formative experiences like technology developments, global events and social shifts to understand how that shapes people’s perceptions of the world. For example, Millennials’ formative experiences would be 9/11, Obama and the adaption of tech into their lives vs. Gen Z having had iPhones since the age of 10 and being catapulted into a world of economic uncertainty, thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But why is it important to understand the different generations?
Elliott highlighted that it’s key to media targeting. There are different drivers and reasons why people buy things; different requirements from the brands that are immediately in front of them.
He said: “The challenge is if you just think about age, it’s quite blunt. A blend of demographic and attitudinal targeting makes more sense in terms of having a really rich target audience that you can pull insights from and make decisions about.”
Dorcas challenged that it’s about how brands are being perceived. It’s wiser to acknowledge that Gen Z are much more political, driven by the huge amount of political access they have.
She said: “When someone gets it wrong, it’s not just going to be a backlash, Gen Z will actively boycott those brands. They now view those brands as brands that don’t see them or represent them, or see their views and that’s inevitably going to affect the business. Your backlashes and your boycotts won’t just end there; they’re not just a blip on your reputation, they’re going to affect your sales. Those are your future consumers.”
Echoing her sentiments, Elliott pointed out: “You can’t just put diverse people in your ads, you have to make sure they’re being seen by a diverse group of people. The reality is, there’s a commercial upside to this. Be better because you need to be better but also because you will sell more stuff!”
Up for debate next was “Britishness” and what it means for brands.
Luke’s suggestion, drawn from his analysis of Mail Metro Media’s data, was that the difference in definition of Britishness is stark depending on the age group, but that we should take 2020 to redefine the word.
He said: “Baby Boomers were born post-war, when the country saw a sense of collectiveness and national pride. Their notion of Britishness is a lot different to the younger generations who’ve had to deal with Brexit – where the votes were at polar ends generationally. 18-24 year olds haven’t had a great deal of good things to shout about Britain since the Olympics. We’ve got to think about how different generations view Britishness through their lenses and we’ve got to meet in the middle. I do think it can be a powerful concept.”
For Dorcas’ peers, the code of Britishness is about being used to the different cultures around them. “The younger generation has a more cynical view towards Britishness now. Some of the complaints about the Sainsbury’s advert were that it was “un-British” but what’s un-British about a black family? British values have almost been tainted but naturally that word should be something we’re proud of.”
All agreed that if brands can tap into what Britishness means for each generation and get it right; it’s really powerful (again, think the 2012 Olympics) but if you get it wrong, the danger is high.
Chris offered that if a brand could work with Gen Z on what Britishness means to them, it could be very inclusive and powerful, but Belinda argued: “It’s okay if it’s authentic. If a brand is playing lip service to Gen Z… they’re smarter than that and they will see through it.”
Luke suggested the key is to get out and talk to people, especially in the wake of COVID-19 to take stock and realise what is important to them. Are key workers the new British heroes? Is there a chance to get together as a nation again through COVID-19?
The final piece of advice for brands from each of the panel?
Luke: “Let’s go out and talk to people. Get older generations talking to younger generations and end this polarised conversation because it’s not productive.”
Belinda: “Look at people’s behaviour, not just their age.”
Elliott: “Make your delivery diverse and inclusive (in terms of ethnicity and age) as well as the creative you’re putting in those spaces.”
Dorcas: “It’s important to look at the layers of identity and shared experiences. Don’t be lazy and go with stereotypes, understand those generations and explore the sub-cultures of them.”