Slacker; also known as deadbeat, quitter or shirker. Due in part to the 1990 film Slacker by Richard Linklater, it has also been associated with Generation X: those born between the mid-1960s and the early 80s.
Who is Gen X?
Sandwiched between Millennials and Baby Boomers, Gen Xers are considered the forgotten generation. With a populace smaller than that of their predecessor, and having missed the digital age in their youth, this lost generation was mostly latchkey children who grew up watching MTV and films like Reality Bites, The Breakfast Club, and Dazed and Confused. When these flannel-lovers weren’t glued to their CRT television sets, they were rocking out to Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Green Day on their Sony Walkmans. Their rebellious attitude towards labels and need for independence won them as much rancor in the media as Millennials receive today. So how did this band of nonconformists become the most powerful overlooked consumer group and why should brands be pursuing them?
The Future Leaders
Despite the adverse labeling in their youth, Gen Xers have become lucrative entrepreneurs and leaders. Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Michael Dell and Elon Musk are just a few of the Gen X trailblazers that have shaped our world. A 2015 study by Sage Group reported that 55% of all new businesses across the United States and Canada were founded by Gen Xers. As Boomers retire, Gen Xers will soon occupy the majority of executive corporate and political roles. Their decision-making authority over other generations is not exclusive to the office. Gen X is caring for aging parents and kids within the home, making it a gatekeeper generation and ideal target for brands to reach multiple consumer groups.
Wealth & Spending
Though they make up only 25% of the population, Gen Xers are responsible for generating 31% of the total US income. They don’t just make more money than any other generation, they spend it too. According to a 2016 Generational Spending Habits report produced by the Department of Labor, Gen X outspends Millennials and Boomers across the board in categories such as housing, clothing, eating out and entertainment. On grocery shopping alone, Gen Xers spend an average of $380 per month, as reported in the 14th edition of Acosta’s research study, The Why? Behind the Buy, a sizeable difference compared to all other generations. Over the next decade, Deloitte predicts Gen Xers will double their share of the national wealth, increasing from less than 14% in 2015, to nearly 31% in 2030. With more spending power than any other generation, brands should be vying for Gen Xers’ attention and wallets.
Marketing to Gen X
To ensure its products are making it into the Gen X shopping cart each month, brands should re-evaluate whether its packaging—the primary marketing vehicle in-store—is working as hard as it can. Does it tell the consumer what it is? What it does? How to use it? Most importantly, is it attractive and engaging enough to garner Gen Xers’ attention? With 60% of Gen X shoppers reportedly checking out new items in a grocery store according to Acosta’s research study, brands that invest in strategically optimizing its packaging will be poised to grow.
In-store purchases aren’t the only method to capture Gen X. As digital adopters, Gen Xers became tech-savvy through trial and error. Their autonomy led them to a unique relationship with the Internet. According to a 2016 Nielsen Social Media Report, Gen Xers reported spending almost 7 hours per week on social media versus Millennials’ 6 hours. Not only did they catch up, but they surpassed the digital natives that came after them. If brands aren’t leveraging digital communication in their marketing strategy to capture Gen X, they are missing a huge opportunity to drive growth and e-commerce sales.
Even though they are captivated with social media, traditional marketing is not out of the question. Growing up without the Internet gave Gen X an appreciation for strategies such as print and television. Utilizing both digital and traditional marketing will broaden the reach and provide brands the best-case scenario of communicating with Gen X to get them to online and brick-and-mortar stores. However, one-size-fits-all communication tactics won’t work. Gen Xers built a reputation for valuing individuality and expect brands to acknowledge their unique needs. In a 2014 Futures Company report, 54% of Gen Xers reported being frustrated by brands ignoring them. Brands should be focused on identifying Gen X needs and providing solutions. The cost involved will be well worth the hassle. Gen Xers are very brand loyal, with 70% responding that when they find a product they like, they purchase it again and again as reported in a 2018 Morning Consult study.
Brands Shifting Focus
In October, Welch’s launched a gritty ad campaign titled “Tough as Grapes,” focused on how Welch’s Grape Juice is made with the world’s toughest antioxidants. Welch’s discovered through extensive research that 59% of Gen X men reported they were the primary grocery shopper and that 73% drink juice with breakfast. "The juice category and shopping behaviors are changing, and we knew it was time to disrupt the category by making a bold move to reinvigorate the juice aisle," said Lesya Lysyj, Welch's president, U.S. in a press release about the campaign. "After comprehensive research, we discovered that the market potential is with Gen X men, a demographic that loves juice and has emerged as [our] primary grocery shopper.”
As part of a strategic overhaul, Campbell’s announced this year it was shifting focus from Millennials to concentrate on Gen X consumers for its namesake label. This follows IRI data that reported Campbell’s share in the wet soup category declined 2.4 percentage points to 59% in the 52-week period ending July 29, while other brands saw growth. Will this new strategic shift reverse the decline? Very possibly. In a 2017 report by Morning Consult, Campbell’s was the 5thfavorite brand among Gen Xers, versus 27thfavorite among Millennials—an encouraging sign that Campbell’s has re-discovered its most lucrative target.
It’s not only Welch’s and Campbell’s that are jumping on the Gen X bandwagon. Pepsi, Kia, Tide and Jeep are also tailoring their messaging for Gen X using throwback references such as Cindy Crawford, Jeff Goldblum circa 1993’s Jurassic Park, and Stranger Things. With spending power, decision-making, marketing receptiveness and brand loyalty on its side, Gen X is a gold mine there for the tapping. While many consumer-packaged goods companies will devote their marketing and research budgets to attract Millennials and Gen Z over the next decade, keen marketers will recognize the sales potential of Gen X.
If all else fails, just remember: target the slackers. They could be your best consumers yet.
About the Author
Courtney Hickey is account manager of Hughes BrandMix (www.hugheslink.com), a strategic branding and package design agency with over 30 years of experience building brands.
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