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Talkin’ ’bout My Generation

Generational marketing has a long history in the US, but is not so prevalent in the UK, or indeed many other markets around the world. Instead, over here people tend to talk about age bands and socio-economic groups, with phrases such as “25-34 year old ABC1s” being bandied around by media sellers and marketers.

The reason for this is that Britain is still a class-obsessed society. As a Russian colleague once said to me when discussing social classifications, “in Russia we do not have anything like your Cockneys.” Another might be that, on the whole, Brits tend not to think about themselves as part of a cohort group born around the same time. I myself might occasionally muse that I am a ‘child of the Eighties’, or one of ‘Thatcher’s children’, but even that is only to excuse my penchant for the Human League and Eurythmics.

All that changed the other week, however, when I picked up a Sunday supplement and was confronted by a contemporary of mine claiming that he (and by inference me) was part of ‘The Lost Generation’.

He argued that it is today’s twentysomethings who are paying the price for the excesses of the baby boom generation, with its free higher education, affordable housing and abundance of cheap credit. We, by contrast, have to contend with thousands of pounds of student debt, saving for deposits on extortionately priced housing and the mess that ensued when the credit bubble burst.

I have to say this is a view that resonated with me. At a time in my life when I should be thinking about going forth and multiplying, I’m worrying about student loan repayments, how to get on the housing ladder and how best to care for elderly relatives. These are of course all concerns that are shared with many consumers around the globe. But is it just a case of sour grapes on the part of a generation that is in fact not that badly off but likes a good moan?

Well interestingly, it’s not just people in their late twenties who are coming to recognise this issue. A leading light in the UK Conservative Party, which is widely tipped to win the country’s imminent elections, has just written a book entitled The Pinch, which explains how, “the baby boomers stole their children’s future.” As well as being a baby boomer himself, the author, David Willetts, is viewed as being such a great thinker that he has earned the soubriquet, “Two Brains”.

At GfK, we examine closely how evolving consumer concerns and needs manifest themselves in changing attitudes and behaviors, and generational and cohort breakdowns by market are key filters for our analyses. A major client study on global baby boomers we carried out last year shed new light on how this generation will differ from today’s over 65s as they enter retirement. I for one will be examining this year’s data carefully to see how my contemporaries around the world are feeling about the challenges we face. If only my question on attitudes to Eighties synth pop had made the final questionnaire…

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