Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The Zen Gen who are tapping into digital

By Taru Inari Mäkinen, Senior Insights Manager at Good Rebels  

The ‘baby boomers’ or 55–75-year-olds, have been dubbed Zen Gen or Zenners due to living alongside digitalisation for a good 20 years. Aged between 40 and 50 years old at the dawn of the digital revolution, their experiences, halfway between digital and analogue, have made this generation mature and reflective – giving them distinct online behaviours.  

According to our recent research, this generation has adapted to digital in many ways, including being super present on social media – with 71% of participants Facebook users, 20% tapping away on Twitter, 19% posting snaps on Instagram and 14% even pinning on Pinterest. So why are they still feeling shut out of so much online advertising and marketing, when they are already adequately engaged with different channels?  

Even with a pioneering attitude to digital, Zenners feel invisible and forgotten by many online marketing and advertising campaigns as they mistakenly think of this generation as inactive. Despite this, our recent survey has highlighted that 76% of this generation said they have no difficulty making purchases online, while 86% consider surfing the internet very easy.   

Although the Zen Gen continue to adapt their online habits due to the current climate, brands need to ensure they adjust too.  

Zenners and ad hatred… 

Our research found that Zenners don’t always feel connected with a brand’s messaging. They also don’t actually tend to like advertising, which isn’t surprising considering there are very few ads that actually resonate with them. 

47% of this age group in the UK state that they don’t think ads influence their behaviour, and the same number said they don’t pay attention to advertisements online, with 36% agreeing that they find digital ads annoying. 

The research also highlighted that there is a huge opportunity for brands to create relevant advertisements that Zenners can connect and engage with, as only 4% declared that current digital advertising played a role in influencing their buying decisions.  

So, how can brands reconnect with Zenners? Even though most of this age group think marketing does not influence their behaviour, research begs to differ. Even without personalisation and targeted messaging, our research tells us that 33% chose a brand to purchase from because of an email offer. So, if brands concentrated on communicating with the Zen Gen in an engaging and relevant way, the opportunities would be huge.   

It comes as no surprise that Zenners are switched off to advertisements if they are only exposed to products associated with ageing. However, there is an opportunity for advertising to succeed if brands are willing to try. There are some impressive campaigns that diversify the age of people they feature, such as TFL, who last year led a campaign to be more representative of mature consumers, which just shows it is possible.  

Convenience is key 

People tend to stick to what they know, with almost three-quarters of our participants confirming they buy the same brands online that they also buy in store. This mostly comes down to trust, given it is a reason for this generation to buy a brand, as well as brands having often built a relationship with this generation in store first.

The majority of the Zen Gen in the UK (72%) agreed that they veered towards convenience when purchasing online, with 52% preferring laptops and 29% desktop computers, with the pandemic giving people the push to rely on online shopping instead of going into shops. Fifty-seven percent of our participants stated that price was also a key factor, followed by the ability to purchase from your home (52%). This highlights the Zenners’ move towards digital and should therefore encourage brands to include this age group by targeting them online.  

It’s important for brands to take notice of the platforms this age group favours – as the advertisements they view on social media are key to influencing their purchases.  Although they may not be swiping up on Instagram just yet, they are quite active on social media and advertisements do not go unseen. There has been a 66-point increase in this generation discovering new brands and products via social media over the past four years, and over a quarter of this demographic are spending even longer on social platforms as a result of the pandemic. 

The next step  

It is clear this generation should not be excluded from marketing, and brands need to realise that the Zen Gen are now tapping into digital – and any myths surrounding their assumed online behaviours should be disregarded. Brands need to place more emphasis on targeting them through relevant advertising and marketing campaigns. The Zen Gen are quickly adapting digitally, and their social media presence should be closely observed.  


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