Finding Focus with Wes Brooks: What’s the big deal about gen X?

By WES BROOKS,

Choosing a song for my column this week was easy, and it’s apropos of the topic I’ve chosen.

There aren’t many synth-driven, anthemic songs from the 1980’s that don’t scream 1980’s Generation X pop culture much louder than “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds. You know, it’s the song that opens and closes the classic John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. And if you haven’t seen that movie or any other John Hughes movies (e.g. Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), I question your patriotism.

(Just kidding.)

The name “Generation X” or “Gen-X” (born 1965–1980) is quite appropriate. Unlike every other generation who were named as they are came to fruition, we weren’t given a name until 10 years after historians had established our generational boundaries.

In 1991, author Douglas Copeland popularized the term in his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Until then, we were called the “latchkey kids,” the “MTV Generation,” “Slacker Generation,” “Post Boomers,” and a couple I’ve grown to detest, the “In-between” and “Lost Generation.”

Grrrr.

 

Won't you come see about me?

I'll be alone, dancing you know it baby

Tell me your troubles and doubts

Giving me everything inside and out and Love's strange so real in the dark

Think of the tender things that we were working on

Slow change may pull us apart

When the light gets into your heart, baby

 

Why do I want to talk about it? Because it appears no one else wants to. Seriously, no one is talking about us or to us. I’m sure you’re thinking, “that’s preposterous and can’t be true, Wes.” Well, like you, I thought the same way until about a week ago.

Last Tuesday, my civic club hosted a well-known and respected public relations and marketing professional who is the director of an organization whose primary mission is promoting the Pine Belt as a tourist destination.

If you’ve read this column before, then it should come as no surprise that the content of her presentation was right up my alley—how best to reach a particular audience, best online practices, marketing strategy, and most interestingly (to me), who their target demographics are.

The latter was one of the last things she addressed.

My inner nerd giggled when she began describing algorithms designed to search out and take aim at two specific demographics.

I sat there completely expecting to hear something like “…and the two groups we really want to attract are 30–45 year-old married professionals with children, and emerging professionals looking for great place to begin their careers.”

Wrong.

I heard “…and the two groups we really want to attract are Baby Boomers and Millennials.”

Now, I don’t typically engage in the Q&A that normally happens at the conclusion of these presentations, but folks, you better believe I was the first hand up when she asked if there were any questions.

Side note: I think it’s important to mention here to keep in mind that generations aren’t named or classified by random years or their age, generations are created by the experiences they share.

“Umm, Yes, you say your target demo is Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and Millennials (born 1981-1996). Could you please explain why your aim has excluded Generation X?”

 

Will you stand above me?

Look my way, never love me

Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling

Down, down, down

Will you recognize me?

Call my name or walk on by

Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling

Down, down, down, down

 

She responded half-jokingly with, “Great question. They’ll be too busy at work.” However, she pivoted and responded with something I couldn’t refute—hard, cold statistics.

“We go where the numbers are, Wes.”

Pew Research Center approximates that there are 73 million Baby Boomers in the U.S., and in 2019, Millennials will overtake them in number. Generation X numbers 66 million and isn’t predicted to overtake the Boomers in number until 2028.

Aside from simply being outnumbered, research also appears to show that we are hard to nail down, i.e. we are in the middle on just about everything.

More specifically, Pew Research Center polled all three generations on topics that included, but were not limited to, LGBTQ in the military, immigration, same sex marriage, social media use, and whether or not they think their generation is unique.

They concluded that for almost ever topic Boomers would say “Yes,” the Millennials would say the opposite, and Gen X invariably answered “Maybe?”

Okay, research says we’re harder to reach because we’re not easily identifiable. Why do you suppose that is? Some would argue my generation earned the name slacker generation. I would argue that nothing could be further from the truth.

We’re not slack about anything. It’s my opinion that you can’t nail us down because we’ve dealt with more transition than any generation ever. (I give the generation who saw the Industrial Revolution a close second.)

 

Don't you try and pretend

It's my feeling we'll win in the end

I won't harm you or touch

your defenses

Vanity and security

Don't you forget about me

I'll be alone, dancing you know it baby

Going to take you apart

I'll put us back together at heart, baby

 

Generation X doesn’t have identity? Horse hockey. Check this out…

We ushered in modern technology as we know it. When Gen X was growing up and wanted to talk to Grandpa, they had to go grab the phone that was mounted to the wall in the kitchen. Then, they had to put their little fingers in the hole and spin that plastic wheel around to dial each number.

We were the last generation to have an “old fashioned” upbringing. I didn’t know what the heck a “playdate” was until I was in my late 30’s. Playdate? When my generation got home from school, dropped our book bags, ran out the door and play-dated all over the neighborhood until the street lights came on.

We witnessed the beginning and end of the Vietnam War, and saw the end of communism, the Cold War, and the Berlin Wall. I fondly remember the odd sound of the siren and the teacher’s call that we rapidly file into the hall, line up against the wall, and crouch down with our heads between our knees as if that would protect us from any impending nuclear attack.

We were the last generation to feel safe at school. If you grew up in a rural area, no one called in the police, ATF, or FBI if a rifle or gun was spotted in vehicle. Quite the opposite, because the high school parking lot was full of them! A gun rack full of rifles in the back window of a pickup just meant Jim Bob was hunting before he came to school.

We saw records, cassettes, CD’s, Walkman’s, and push-button landlocked phones with separate caller ID’s transition into intangible digital audio files played that were played on one singular portable communication device with virtual buttons, and we’re the last generation that can remember a time when it was just fine to leave the house without it.

But if you need hard statistical numbers on why we Gen-X’ers shouldn’t be overlooked, Barcelona Creative Group states that, unlike the majority of Baby Boomers, Generation X has embraced technology, i.e. we’re far more inclined to pay our bills, shop, and search for information on our iPhone/Android. Another plus for you marketers is that we are not as proficient as Millennials in our use of ad-blockers, i.e. we’re an easier target for you. In addition, although the Baby Boomers and Millennials each outnumber us, in the grand scheme of things, 6-7 million is really that much.

But here’s the big one: Generation X out earns and out spends Millennials and Baby Boomers per family household, and a whopping 20% of the 66 million Gen-X household incomes exceed $250K/year or have a net worth of over $1M, and 65% of them plan to travel for enjoyment in the next year. (“Generation X: Too Important to Neglect” barcelonacreativegroup.com)

 

As you walk on by

Will you call my name?

As you walk on by

Will you call my name?

When you walk away

Or will you walk away?

Will you walk on by?

Come on, call my name

Will you call my name?

 

In short, don’t look over or around us. Invite us to the party, I promise you won’t regret it. We don’t come empty handed, we’re loads of fun, and you know you want to. Because as John Bender says, “being bad feels pretty good, huh?

 

When he’s not rocking his socks off, Wes Brooks spends his days as the Development Coordinator at the DuBard School for Language Disorders at The University of Southern Mississippi.  Brooks is a husband, a father, and a guitarist for the local band, The 6550’s.

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