Undertow asks ‘Is social media (or all media) ageist?’

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Undertow asks ‘Is social media (or all media) ageist?’

Auckland PR, influencer relations and social media agency Undertow Media often sees so many briefs targeting solely Gen Z and Millennials, but swiping left on Gen X, those between 41-56 years old, as well as Boomers. Undertow Media managing director Greer Bland (pictured above) got thinking on why ignoring this cashed up demographic is a costly mistake.


Are these groups ignored because these campaigns are largely charged to less experienced staff who (naturally) focus on what they know and are not looking at the right data to make the right calls? Are the briefs from the clients missing a trick on their target market, and those implementing (us) are in turn kow-towing to them rather than challenging them? Or is it because there is an age problem in agencies themselves?

We think it’s a combo of all three, plus a penchant for the glossy and new, to the detriment of a large commercial opportunity.

Many marketers have long believed that social media is a young person’s game. In a world where influencer marketing, user-generated content, and viral memes rule the digital roost and are solely algorithm based, the echo chamber is real.

For those not looking at the right data points, it’s easy to forget about a large, powerful and very wealthy audience sitting right in front of you who also live largely online these days.

Data from Sprout Social shows Gen X is the second leading generation on social after Gen Z. Ninety percent of Gen X use social, with nearly 40% using it daily. While Facebook is still preferred, they also love InstagramPinterest, and over a quarter of them say they use TikTok on a regular basis.

The rules are the rules and the facts are the facts, Gen X represents almost a third of TikTok’s base…yet only accounts for 5 per cent of brand spend on the platform, according to a new study by global agency Wavemaker.

Why is that?

Compared to Millennials, and running rings around Gen Z, Gen X have a higher disposable income, more free time, and deeper social media engagements online. This generation is often portrayed as being technologically challenged, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Likewise the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are not only a significant portion of social media users but also the most financially powerful one. They’re not wearing adult diapers just yet and they’re not solely obsessed with cruising either.

We’re confident many briefs (and most certainly new business pitches we see) have missed the mark on their bullseye target. Often our first task is to go about trying to re-educate that business using research and rationale.

It’s not all about glossy youth who spend their money on the façade only. Peeking behind the curtain can be eye-opening, and for so many brands they’d be best zeroing in efforts on older aunts and uncles who can put their money where their mouth is.

On social specifically, where marketers are assessing success based on likes, impressions and reach on a surface level at least, this is especially where Gen X and Boomers operating in the space will be sidelined for their younger counterparts.

The issue is not that Xers and Boomers aren’t on social, it’s simply that the same rules and standards do not apply around their use of it. They’re not out there liking every post that pops up, they’re not spending every waking hour online, they’re not resharing (on purpose, anyway) your shitty competition to Story. But they are digesting, saving, commenting and screenshotting to add to their intention bank.

They have totally different needs to what we have been conditioned are the motivators of Gen Z and Millennials, and thus Gen X and Boomers are largely forgotten and grossly misrepresented.

Talent agency Liquorice, which represents ‘all sorts’ of influencers has eye-opening conversations with talent and sees legitimate back-end data from those in the Gen X bracket who are having daily, in-depth and very specific one to ones with followers on everything from shapewear to steam cleaners that in turn create life-long customers for those brands.

Creators in this space catering to Gen X and Boomers have a large amount of power, influence, and relevance across all sorts of industries, and marketers should not sleep on it.

Those over 40 have massive spending power — Gen Xers have been reported to spend as much as one-third more each year than their millennial counterparts — and both them and Boomers don’t find purchasing luxury products to be a serious stretch. They have money to spend, and they’re looking for stuff that does what it says on the tin, with a bit of sparkle for good measure.

The problem is there are less creators operating in their spaces. This creates an opportunity for influencers operating for these markets as there are fewer to compete with, but again exacerbates the problem with misrepresentation (most, unsurprisingly, are female and white) given Gen X especially respond significantly better to content that features talent their own age.

Crucially too, creators in this space will need to work harder than their younger counterparts, as the two-way relationship demanded by Gen X and Boomers which extends beyond the para-social takes more time and effort to care for and grow. Educational, informative, and nostalgic hits with this audience, provided in a more honest, intimate and less sale-sy manner than the more brazen and performative that is permissible to younger gens. The maligned, cynical Gen X generation is quick to spot and see through gimmicky slogans and inauthentic messages.

So, if you’re in charge of the company credit card and are keen to capitalise on this lucrative market, but need some proof points to convince your bosses (strange, given the industry is so heavily managed by those in these very age brackets!), here’s a few reasons you can copy and paste into your next deck on why ignoring them is bad for business.

  1. 1. They are loyal

A study on Gen X released last month shows that Gen X is less promiscuous than other generations. Their purchases are driven by need, and once they’ve aligned to a brand they are more sticky.

This means that longer term relationships with creators would work better for this crowd, rather than flash in the pan projects. Think ambassadors given the freedom to work in refreshing and unexpected ways whether it’s convincing on a new serum or an SUV.

The same flies for Boomers. Think about your own parents, they’re largely stuck in their ways and that means big money for the brands they spend their bank with.

  1. 2. They have higher disposable incomes

Boomers are the wealthiest generation of all time, and are set to transfer their wealth (all $70 trillion of it) to Gen X too.

Both have reached their peak earning potential more recently compared to other generations. As a result, they have significant buying power and while not as brazen as the TikTok generation, a propensity to splash cash at whim.

  1. 3. Empty nests leads to more free time

Not content on just buying stuff, they’re after and have the time for rich experiences too.

Gen X is a “sandwich generation” because they’re looking after both their aging parents and often kids. However, as their children leave the house and their wealth increases, they now have extra disposable income and more free time to spend. They are looking for experiences that can fill this new-found space. Brands must highlight this moment and offer experiences and lifestyle that are relevant to their current stage of life.

  1. 4. They are active on social media but engage differently – opening up an opportunity for brands who know how to make social work for them

Knowledge is power. I mentioned the data on usage earlier, with 30 per cent of even TikToks traffic coming from older cohorts.

The difference is that they don’t consume or engage in content in the same way as Millennials or Gen Z. Unlike other generations, Gen Xers are low-key and aren’t obsessed with Likes or Shares. They use social media to keep up with other people, search for information and services, read reviews, solicit advice and do away with the fake and forced.

They use platforms to support the different IRL roles – friend, parent, colleague, mentor and many more. The information, content, advice and support on offer in social media acts as a kind of facilitator for these roles. Brands will need to operate in this environment. Again think ambassadors rather than aspiration and use platforms to educate on the values that are important to this audience.

Briefs from brands that lean into the self-improvement style that matches the need set of Gen Xers and Boomers with softer, more in depth content will connect, in stark contrast to the snackable, direct, salesy tone favoured by Gen Z.

  1. 5. Your competitors may be short-sighted, focussing limited marketing funds on expanding customer base and increasing the sales funnel. There is strength in the Undertow…

Going against the grain is the best strategy for cutting through.