Marketing by Peter Diekmeyer

November 10, 1998

Redefining Generation X

Much of marketing's focus in the past two decades has been on the lucrative baby boom generation; those Canadians produced during the huge increase in births in the post World War II period from the mid-forties to the early-sixties. Almost all of the major consumer products companies from Levi Strauss to General Motors have tailored marketing and product development to appeal to this demographic.

In their new book Chips and Pop: Decoding the Nexus generation, three Toronto consultants argue that it's time to pay more attention to the post-boomers, those born between the early sixties to late seventies. Although smaller than the baby boom generation, they total almost 8 million people constituting 40% of the electorate.

The three consultants are Robert Barnard, Dave Cosgrove and Jennifer Welsh, partners in d~code, a strategy development company that focuses on what they call Nexus ­ or bridge generation between the baby boomers and their children. The generation previously known as "X", Nexus also stands for the bridge between the industrial age and the birth of the information revolution.

All in their mid-thirties, they bring to the table an impressive array of credentials combining between the three of them a collection of advanced-university degrees and consulting experience.

They define the generation by the formative experiences that are unique to it: the invention of the computer chip and the instant global media that has transformed pop culture. These characteristics are most often present in those born in the period between the early sixties and late seventies. This presents certain problems since the high-birth years of the early sixties are often counted as part of the baby boom. It has the effect of narrowing previous definitions of the breadth of the baby boom and widening those of Generation X to make them roughly equivalent in length.

This has its advantages, since by defining the baby boom so widely (mid-forties to mid sixties ­ a 20 year period) and Generation X so narrowly (often as a subsequent ten or twelve year period) marketers and public policy makers tend to vastly overstate the relative weights of these two groups. This has resulted in a disproportionate amount of product development and marketing effort targeting the older boomers.

One example is RRSPs. According to the authors the Nexus generation contributed $4.5 billion to RRSPs in 1995 compared to $9 Billion for the wealthier Boomers. Their research shows that "only ten per cent of Nexus are satisfied with their level of long-term savings, and that most are interested in planning for their long-term futures". This is a classic case of a market waiting to be targeted.

"A good example of a company that has grasped the spending potential of Nexus the consumer is American Express. Its new Amex Blue card, targeted at consumers between 25 and 35, is designed to make spending easy and to help out those who 'want more out of life'"

The book challenges many of the stereotypes made popular by the Douglas Coupland novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Far from being lost, confused and apathetic the Nexus generation is in fact realistic confident and optimistic."It is the only generation to straddle the Industrial and the Information ages and as such comes rigged with a potent and relevant set of skills to take into the future".

As a result of Nexus' procrastination's around family, children and home buying which the authors call an "extended freedom zone" they have fewer financial commitments beyond "me, myself, and I" resulting in far higher disposable income than you might expect. They calculate the generation's after tax disposable income at an astounding $104 billion. This purchasing power is particularly evident among younger women who are far less likely to have children than their Boomer counterparts and more likely to have higher salaries.

To get to that disposable income marketers have to deal with a highly sophisticated and fragmented group of consumers. Having grown up with cable television and having been exposed to commercials all their lives Nexus has developed a built in b-s- detector. It isn't advertising that they dislike its overkill and hype. The best way to deal with this skepticism is "to strive for what is known in business as 'authenticity'". In other words be real.

In addition to advice on how to market to Nexus are chapters dealing with Nexus the employee and Nexus the citizen. The book is an interesting sociological read, as well as providing useful advice for anyone who has to deal with this complex generation.

Chips and Pop: Decoding the Nexus Generation is 270 pages and published in Canada by Malcolm Lester books. It is listed at $28.95.


PubZone reports that Publicité Martin has won the $4 million Société des Alcools du Québec corporate store's account after pitching on a shortlist against incumbent Groupaction/JWT as well as three other agencies. Media buying is yet to be assigned.


The Société Québecoise de Marketing Direct is having a dinner conference on Wednesday November 11, noon, at the Delta Hotel. Cost is $40 for members and $60 for non-members. RSVP at 735-7201.

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