The nonsense of generational marketing

As often stated here, ‘age is a poor proxy for behaviour’. We believe the major, if only real difference between younger people and old is their physiology.

This article argues the same point but from the perspective of a so called ‘Millennial’ and is well worth a full read.

Below are a few tasty out-takes, but the essence of this is the nonsense of trying to apply generational thinking to marketing.

People are people, not generations – regardless of age. They should be marketed to as such:

  • Generational thinking is seductive and confirms preconceived prejudices, but it’s a bogus way to understand the world.
  • But in real life, I find generational arguments infuriating. Overly schematised and ridiculously reductive, generation theory is a simplistic way of thinking about the relationship between individuals, society, and history. It encourages us to focus on vague ‘generational personalities’, rather than looking at the confusing diversity of social life.
  • Generational thinking doesn’t frustrate everyone. Indeed, there is a healthy market for pundits who can devise grand theories of generational difference.
  • Academics have been chewing over the concept of ‘generations’ for more than a century, and have by and large concluded that generational thinking is bogus. Distinctions between given age groups in a society can be an interesting lens for examination – but only if the person framing the questions is painfully cautious to qualify her terms, set careful parameters, and examine her assumptions.
  • To assume that a given group of people would be similar because of birthdate, Ryder thought, was to risk committing a fallacy. ‘The burden of proof is on those who insist that the cohort acquires the organised characteristics of some kind of temporal community,’ he wrote. ‘This may be a fruitful hypothesis in the study of small groups of coevals in artistic or political movements but it scarcely applies to more than a small minority of the cohort in a mass society.’
  • Ryder had harsh words for the theorists he called ‘generationists’. He argued that thinkers about generation on a large scale had made illogical leaps when theorising the relationship between generations and social change. ‘The fact that social change produces intercohort differentiation and thus contributes to inter-generational conflict,’ he argued, ‘cannot justify a theory that social change is produced by that conflict.’ There was no way to prove causality. The end result, he wrote, was that grand generational theories tended toward ‘arithmetical mysticism.’