Brands Are Failing Gen X on Social Media, Says Wavemaker

Dan Meier 20 September, 2023 

As advertisers pivot towards influencer-led social media strategies, brands may be missing an untapped Gen X audience, according to new research released today by GroupM’s Wavemaker.

The report, ‘Finding the Gen X Factor’, surveyed consumers aged 45-60, in order to better understand how to successfully serve the demographic through social media advertising.

The audiences for influencer campaigns are generally assumed to be Gen Z (ages 10-25), who closely follow influencers on short-form social platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. But the study showed that Gen X is the fastest-growing generation on TikTok, now making up 28 percent of the user base.

Furthermore, the research challenges the misconception that Gen X is less engaged with social media. The results suggested that 92 percent of Gen X consumers use social media every day.

Generation gaps

Despite these high levels of engagement, just 5 percent of brand spend on influencer campaigns is targeted at Gen X, according to Wavemaker. The research suggests this leaves the 45-60 age group feeling largely ignored by advertising. Only 13 percent felt represented in ads; far lower than younger generations, albeit higher than Boomers (60-75) at 9 percent.

As a result of this disengagement, typical influencer campaigns performed worse with Gen X than Gen Z and Millennials (25-45). Wavemaker tested a range of influencer campaigns against the different demographics. Compared with the younger age groups, Gen X had 30 percent lower retention rates, 20 percent fewer interactions with the content, and 47 percent lower brand opinion.

But when the users felt better represented in influencer content, their preference doubled, the study showed. As well as identifying more with the personality on screen, the length and tone of the content is better suited to how Gen X consumers engage with social media. They are more likely to stay longer on a video, according to Wavemaker, though they scroll past content they consider irrelevant.

The study found that posts from Gen X creators are, on average, 75 percent longer than content from Gen Z or Millennials. And given that longer-form, the posts tend to be “more in depth and informative”, with a “softer, self-improvement language” than younger-skewed content. Wavemaker noted the contrast with the “direct, salesy tone employed by Gen Z.”

The survey also revealed that trust is 30 percent more important to Gen X’s buying decisions than it is for younger generations, with a smaller pool of brands they tend to choose from; they consider 27 percent fewer brands in their buying decisions, according to the research. And their purchases tend to be more driven by need, compared with the more impulsive shopping habits of younger consumers.

Money on the table

These findings could be significant because Gen X accounts for 31 percent of the global population, and is responsible for almost 27 percent of global spending, according to Wavemaker – meaning their exclusion from social media campaigns could be a missed opportunity. “Gen X is on track to be the most affluent generation of all time,” said the report, “as $70 trillion of wealth is passed to them from Boomers.”

And it’s not just social media; the research found that 24 percent of TV ads feature people over 50, compared to 76 percent with characters aged 19-49. Meanwhile research into generational habits has largely discounted the demographic, according to Wavemaker, with only 4 percent of the ad industry’s research into different generations including Gen X.

“Gen X presents a huge opportunity for brands – they’re highly engaged, loyal and wealthy consumers – and shouldn’t be overlooked by advertisers,” said Zoe Bowen-Jones, Senior Insight Director at Wavemaker. “Our research indicates that Gen X are more brand loyal, have longer attention spans and are more engaged on social media, ultimately proving to be more valuable consumers than their younger counterparts. When it comes to engaging Gen X audiences, brands need to think long-term, long-form and community-based content to gain their trust, loyalty and ensure they feel represented.”

“This research lays bare that GenX have their own distinct needs and wants and behaviours on social platforms,” added Stuart Bowden, Global Chief Strategy Officer at Wavemaker. “This report shows us not only the differences that the ‘wealthiest generation the world has ever known’ have in social media usage but much more importantly how we can recognise and respond. It’s a great reminder to give our attention to the places and the people that can best help our clients grow.”

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