From their money to their media, Boomers and Millennials exhibit vastly different behaviors and habits. Yet, despite being born 30 years apart, these two mega-generations have something in common: they’re in demand by advertisers wishing to attract their attention and their dollars. Understanding how to reach these consumers and capture their hearts with appropriate creative is crucial.
Who Are They?
In the U.S., Millennials and Boomers represent roughly the same number of consumers—but that might be where the similarities end.
Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 and 1964, the result of a post-World War II baby boom, Boomers are the wealthiest generation, controlling 70 percent of disposable income in the U.S. They account for nearly 50 percent of all consumer packaged goods (CPG) sales, 77 percent of prescription drug sales, 80 percent of leisure travel spending and 41 percent of all new car purchases.
Millennials: Millennials are most broadly defined as ages 19-36. Coming of age during the Great Recession, Millennials spend 82 percent of their income and are facing hefty student loans. The average student loan for the graduating class of 2011 was $26,600.
In many developing economies, Millennials dominate. In India, Millennials comprise almost 30 percent of the population, while Boomers comprise 14 percent.
How Are They Connected?
Boomers and Millennials have high rates of technology adoption; however, it’s not what they use, but how they use it that’s of interest.
Boomers are still largely plugged in: They are more likely to use a desktop computer, have a landline and watch traditional TV. They spend 174 hours per month watching TV (significantly more than Millennials’ 107 hours per month) and are the dominant audience in 16 of the top 25 shows.
Millennials are also driving technology: Three-quarters (76%) of Millennials own a smartphone, 73 percent own a laptop and 68 percent own a game console. However, unlike their Boomer parents, Millennials are untethered—they are less likely to have ever had a land line, are more likely to have a laptop and they watch all types of content on their phones, laptops and tablets. Interestingly, the No. 1 TV show for Boomers isn’t even in the top 30 for Millennials.
But Boomers are catching up. Boomers’ adoption of tablets doubled between 2011 and 2012.
How Are They Hardwired to be Different?
Nielsen NeuroFocus research shows that neurological changes that come with age result in certain types of communication being more effective.
Real changes to the brain begin in the mid-50s when distraction suppression mechanisms are weakened. But as early as the mid-40s there are severe and dramatic drops in neurotransmitter levels—dopamine and serotonin in particular. Dopamine drops lead to thrill-seeking behaviors to compensate. Serotonin drops lead to the feeling that something is missing—typical for midlife crises of career and relationship.
The aging brain likes repetitions—and will believe information that is familiar to be true. Younger brains are most stimulated (better attention capture, engagement, and memorability) with elements of dynamism such as rich media, lighting or rotations, to cut through their perception threshold.
The aging brain is more easily distracted—as the brain ages it slowly loses the ability to suppress distraction. Millennials can equally deal with the bleeding-over communication we see in most dynamic banner ads on Web portals, while older generations need a clear-framed separated communication to be able to engage.
However, the aging brain has a broader attention span and is open to more information. Younger brains have high multi-sensory processing capacity—which makes them very amenable to (and almost seek) multi-sensory communications, especially with interaction—such as search tasks, interactive sites.
Contrast is the preference vs. color for online ads. Millennials responded better to an intense color palette for online ads.
Can You Crack the Code to Resonate with Millennials and Boomers?
Boomers: Nielsen research finds that Boomers prefer clever, light-hearted humor (rather than mean-spirited) and relatable characters who are Boomers themselves or not much younger. The tone should be positive—avoiding words like “don’t.” For Boomer males, clever wit and calm dialogue-driven storylines work. For Boomer females, family-friendly humor and sentimental themes resonate best.
Millennials: Millennials prefer off-beat, sarcastic and slapstick humor. Like Boomers, they respond to characters that are relatable to them and their life stage. Highly arresting visuals (special effects, unexpected visual elements) will best capture their attention. For Millennial males, extreme, off-beat and sports-related situations really resonate. For Millennial females, aspirational themes (female celebs, having fun) resonate strongly. From how to reach them to how to resonate with them, Millennials and Boomers represent two very different consumer segments. For advertisers, understanding their differences—and similarities—is essential.
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