Are your parents using social media the same way you do? What about Grammy? The answer is likely “no.”

generational targeting

If you’re a millennial you may be posting Instagram stories of your sublime dinner at that pop-up in the Seaport. Meanwhile your mom is probably scrolling through Instagram and is just a little bit jealous you went to that pop-up without her. She is active on Facebook, since that is where her various friends and community groups connect.

As for Grammy, you may have helped her set up a Facebook account a few years ago. All your friends thought that was awesome, friended her, and still love seeing her posts but can’t understand why she writes exclusively in ALL CAPS (even though she’s not yelling).

generational targeting

Broadly speaking, we have unique generational priorities, and our media usage patterns are no different. By following these patterns, we can reach a broad section of a given generation based on when they were born and the law of averages.

  1. Silent generation (born 1928-1945) – This generation grew up during World War II and the Great Depression. They tend to be conservative, loyal, and value hard work and discipline. They tend to stick with traditional media, which is where advertisers will find them. Broadcast television, cable, talk radio and print can all be effective reach drivers.
  2. Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) – Baby boomers are known for their work ethic, loyalty, and love for traditional advertising. They are typically conservative in their spending habits, but they do appreciate high-quality products. They tend to favor traditional media outlets, but have not shied away from embracing digital versions of the content they’re already loyal to.
  3. Generation X (born 1965-1980) – Gen Xers are independent and self-reliant. They value diversity and are often skeptical of traditional advertising methods. However, as the in-between generation, they remain active using offline and online media alike. Reaching them is easy…convincing them is not.
  4. Millennials (born 1981-1996) – Millennials are tech-savvy and environmentally conscious individuals. They value experiences over possessions and are more likely to make purchases based on social and environmental causes. As the audio generation, millennials are easily reached on streaming platforms offering music, podcasts and audiobooks.
  5. Generation Z (born 1997-2012) – This cohort is known for being highly connected, diverse, and open-minded. They tend to be tech-savvy and value individuality. Hit ‘em up on all of their devices, where they’re multi-tasking…talking to friends, streaming content, gaming, all of it.
  6. Generation Alpha (born 2013…) – This generation comprises the first fully-digital-from-birth generation, and it has yet to define itself in earnest, but as today’s 10-year old’s begin to establish their voices, there is no doubt we will hear them in new ways we’ve yet visualized.

Do you fall cleanly into the definition of your generation? I’m guessing no…nor do I. That is where the house of cards begins to fall. Way too many campaigns start and end there, assuming that there are clear cut lines between each generation, rather than assuming the law-of-averages that dictates a summary of beliefs, desires and media usage patterns, among many other things.

Using my own focus group of one, I am on the younger end of Generation X and many of my characteristics follow those of my fellow Gen-Xers; however, more of my habits align with my Millennial friends. I’m a hybrid. By age and some attributes, I’m Gen-X, but in mindset, general life outlook, media use and other attributes, I’m more millennial. A geriatric millennial, if you will.

Beyond the reality of blurred generations (especially for those on the cusps), pitfalls include overgeneralization (stereotyping), evolving habits (Grammy didn’t own a computer until she was 75, and GOT HER FACEBOOK ACCOUNT AT 80), and ethical considerations (discrimination and ageism).

For this reason, we look at generational targeting only as a starting point when we’re in the early stages of planning to identify the broader cohorts we want to reach. From there, we narrow down our audience universe from everyone to a couple of key cohorts, with a focus on the vast other considerations that further define who it is our clients need to reach. We do this through:

  • Behavioral targeting: focus on targeting consumers based on their online behavior and interests, rather than on their age or generation.
  • Contextual targeting: targeting ads to consumers based on the context of the website or app they are using. For example, an ad for a fitness product could be targeted to users of health and wellness websites and apps.
  • Psychographic targeting: reaching consumers based on their personality traits, values, and interests. We use surveys, social media activity, and online behavior to create targeted campaigns that resonate with consumers on a deeper level.
  • Geo-targeting: Location, location, location! We take advantage of data such as IP addresses, GPS coordinates, and ZIP codes to create targeted campaigns that are relevant to consumers in specific geographic locations.
  • Influencer marketing: Involves partnering with social media influencers to promote products or services – but you better keep it authentic.

Although a good place to start, there are several more approaches and alternatives to generational targeting in advertising that can help advertisers connect with their best prospects. Be it by behavior, interests, values, etc., or by using data and insights to create targeted campaigns that resonate with consumers on a deeper level, advertisers can increase the effectiveness of their advertising and reach a more engaged audience.

Full disclosure: I sent this blog post to my Grammy and asked for her feedback. She wrote back, “IT’S NICE FOR YOU. WILL YOU SEND ME THE MAGAZINE SO I CAN READ IT?” So, yes, generational preferences exist (Grammy’s request for a magazine), but stopping there limits us as marketers (she sent me that message via Facebook).

Contact us to discuss how we can support your organization, and email us at to share your experiences.