A One-Size-Fits-All Approach
The real issue, then, is how to appeal to both the younger Gen Y demographic and aging boomers who, despite being outnumbered by the millenial “echo boom,” still hold the lion’s share of this country’s purchasing power.
Thornhill says he thinks marketers should adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to campaigns that makes products feel “ageless” by focusing on their functionality, or what they can offer in practical terms, over the lifestyle they can help one aspire to.
“The companies being successful across all generations are looking at desires across all needs,” Thornhill says.
The idea has certainly taken hold this year, as evidenced by Weber Grills’ “Have Fun With It” campaign
, which features 20-something hipsters, along with a female boomer, a young father and his son, and a heavyset Gen Xer dancing next to their grills.
Likewise, the 2011 commercial
for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis, “which features light type and some statements about the fact that it’s peanut butter and chocolate,” says Thornhill, is even more effective because it eschews actors, focusing instead on what Thornhill calls its “rational product attributes,” namely tasty, well-packaged candy. Ultimately, the ad sends the message that “if this product is what you’re looking for, this is for you,” Thornhill says.
A Fragmented Era
But while the ads pack a punch, balancing the lifestyle aspirations and day-to-day needs of two distinct age groups may be a tall order, says Ravi Dhar, professor of marketing and psychology at Yale University. Both generations are widely segmented, especially millenials, which Nielsen
predicts will be the most diverse of all. And as any boomer will tell you, no two million of them are alike.
“It’s very difficult to have a campaign that would cut across generations,” Dhar tells MainStreet, adding that “for packaged goods, the product is mundane, but for products embedded with emotional stuff, whether it’s luxury or packaged, marketers will need to take into account different appeal that will matter to different age and ethnic groups.”
Another problem with trying to target both age groups using a one-size-fits-all campaign is the medium in which the ad is presented itself. Our media consumption varies across age groups, and Dhar notes that marketers are troubled by millenials’ notorious multitasking habits, whether it’s watching TV with a Mac on their lap or going to sleep (or school, or a party) with their smartphone by their side, as the Associated Press recently reported
. Our technology use is fragmented, and marketers fear that it’s getting much worse, Dhar says. Still, there may be room to experiment with “segmented” ads, or campaigns that target a specific kind of viewer and media consumer.
McDonough points out that for the past two or three years marketers have been tinkering with two sets of campaigns: one for multi-tasking, Web-hungry millenials, and another for boomers glued to the TV.
“For years Subway was running two complementary but different campaigns: the Jared commercials and the $5 foot-long ads,” she says. “Those ran concurrently, and that was expensive to make, but they were hitting two important segments that both wanted a big-value, affordable meal.”
But Dhar isn’t so sure marketers are ready to segment their audiences in this way. After all, this is the industry that for more than half a decade almost solely relied on TV for most of its revenue.
“If you talk to many managers, they say very little consumption of their media is on TV,” Dhar says. “If you look at the time and money spent on these mediums, it’s a complete mismatch. There’s a lot of realignment happening within that context itself. When I talk to chief marketing officers, more and more are grappling with this idea of multitasking, and if something is getting through, then what is getting through. ‘How should we be creating their engagement?’ they ask.”
Segmented ad campaigns could certainly become a trend, as Dhar notes that "Axe has a version of an ad that's much more edgier on new media,” and another men's brand, Gillette shaving razors, "came up with a campaign about how guys are shaving that they would have never put on TV."