Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Modern family: how should brands handle multi-generational households?

By Sarah Dear, CEO & Co-founder, Born Ugly

As summer draws to a close and another season of festivals has been and gone, it prompts some thoughts around brands and generational differences. Why? Well, festivals shine a spotlight on musical performances spanning the present day, yesteryears and everything in between – appealing to a multitude of generations. Like this year, 80s pop star Rick Astley joined a performance with contemporary indie band Blossoms. Or Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, and Arctic Monkeys all headlining the same stage. We watched a load of festival highlights together on TV in my house, and it got us talking…

Irrespective of individual music tastes and preferences, festival season provides a shared conversation point for multiple generations. And it doesn’t stop there. We’re seeing generational crossovers in all aspects of life – Baby Boomers on TikTok and Gen Z already thinking about their pensions.  Whilst that’s great and the cut-and-dry generational divides are a thing of the past, it crystallises the difficult job brands now face in targeting homes that house multiple age groups and challenges a lot of established beliefs in customer segmentation.  

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Parents, children, stepchildren and in some cases grandparents are more likely to be found under the same roof than at any time during the modern era. If you work in the marketing industry, you’ll doubtless have come across these types of households: possibly having Gen X and Millennial parents; Gen Z and Gen Alpha children; and maybe even a Baby Boomer nan or grandad.

As a result, the lines between different age groups are blurring. Consider this: if, like me, you’re Gen X, would you have dreamt of wearing your parents clothes? I definitely wouldn’t have but my daughter regularly borrows jackets in particular from me and my husband (and we don’t always get whatever she borrows back).

The world as it was not so long ago feels like a very different place, huge change has happened, there were once huge gaps between generations in terms of outlook, ambitions and consumption habits. But these days, we are always saying to our now grown up kids ‘how do you know that track?’

Today, we all share so much more than we used to in days gone by. Aspects of fashion, film and music in particular can unite rather than divide family members.

Digital is narrowing the generational divisions. If you were born in the Seventies, for example, easily accessing movies enjoyed by the previous generation would have been extremely difficult. Cultural references were more likely to cause a shrug than a shared moment.

Fast forward to today, and technology allows us to delve into and share our past, present and even future between different generations with the push of a few buttons. Technology helps us better understand each other’s choices, stories and beliefs and this gives us a shared cultural foundation that was missing between me and my parents and even more so between them and their parents. 

We aren’t limited to living in the current moment anymore; we can dwell in any time we choose, especially when we’re seeking a shared experience with our children or parents, not just our generational contemporaries.

It’s this breakdown of traditional demographic differences that brands need to navigate. But how should they go about changing?

Time to demolish accepted demographics?

Maybe it’s time to think post-segmentation. As this research shows, with 58% of consumers saying their brand choices have become more complicated, there’s too much complexity for a blanket household approach to be as successful as it was.

Generational divides are being eroded over time. We’re living longer, diversifying our careers and we’re more connected than ever. Older generations are fitter and more ambitious than ever, while younger generations have adopted new levels of wisdom and maturity thanks to higher levels of access to information. It’s an inconvenient truth for an industry that likes to bucket people by seemingly meaningful demographics.

In that sense, it feels like brands need to go back to basics. Back to a time when we weren’t all aware whether we were Gen X or Baby Boomers, unlike today’s consumers who all seem to know which bucket they’re in; then, we were just people. A brands’ job is to understand what divides us and what unites us across a whole wealth of different attitudes and beliefs and create stories that connect in that way. It’s harder and more challenging but definitely more rewarding than just sticking doggedly to the outdated year of birth divide. 

And as humans, it’s important to remember that we need a lot of the same basic things from brands as we do from each other – acceptance, belonging, love – regardless of our generation. Emotional bonds sell much more than functional ideas. Strategy and creative must therefore reflect this, pushing the right buttons to connect with groups that share similar emotions and attitudes rather than trying to square the circle by pitching to different generations at once – and falling down the gaps of them all.

That also means ditching our obsession with technology. It doesn’t matter if youngsters like TikTok but Boomers use Facebook. Platforms change; humans don’t. It all ties back to the strength of the idea behind a brand. And of course, it also comes down to the organisation being open minded to change. To look up and see that there is a better way. To reconsider and be more creative in how you think about understanding and connecting with your customers.