, , ,

Lo-res_ANG9E9-SAt its prime, in the 1990s, Generation X was a widely derided but proudly distinctive age cohort. Blamed for being less serious and industrious than their Baby Boomer parents, Gen Xers rejected conventional ideals by embracing individualism, grunge rock, tattoos, and thrift stores, and then committing themselves to staying authentic, no matter what happened.

But of course, life happens, and Gen X is now reaching its 50s, the threshold at which people can apply to become AARP members. The generational cohort faces the combined demands of active child rearing (because they waited longer to have children) and caring for aging parents (who themselves are living longer). Their needs thus are well within the wheelhouse of AARP, which exists mainly to advocate for members and consumers as they age. But Gen Xers also still insist on their individualism and independence, so targeting them with solicitations that worked for Baby Boomers would not be effective.

Instead, AARP developed a campaign focused on how it can help this cohort remain active, invested, and supported. Rather than schmaltzy nostalgia, a recent advertising campaign highlights youthful-looking people in their 50s practicing tai chi, killing various TikTok challenges, and performing skateboarding stunts. The voiceover promises that AARP is there to support them well into the future, because, it claims, even at age 50, these members still might have half their lives to live.

Such support represents an appeal that might be uniquely resonant with Gen X too, due to the upheaval they have experienced in their lifetimes. Their prime earning years were disrupted by the global recession in 2008–2009, and then the COVID-19 pandemic more recently. They became “hustlers,” with the realization that unlike their parents, they could not rely on remaining in a steady job for their entire career and retiring with a good pension. Thus, they continue to be entrepreneurial and willing to take risks. Furthermore, this is the generational consumer cohort that first enabled the Internet to find footing as a consumption channel, demanded greater sustainability and responsibility commitments by companies, and embraced irony as a way to look at every aspect of the world.

For them, nostalgia does not work, nor does any mention of being old, slow, or retired. They are determined to stay rebellious and different, independent and cool. To appeal to them, AARP might need to start sponsoring concerts and skate parks, rather than shuffleboard courts (unless ironically, of course). By the same token, they are not young anymore, which means that AARP has offerings of value to them. It’s a matter of convincing them that it is cool enough to accept those benefits.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is Gen X different from the Baby Boomers?
  2. Even if companies might need to shift their targeting to appeal to Gen X, what elements of their strategy should remain consistent?

Source: Alex Williams, “Generation X, Your AARP Card Awaits,” The New York Times, April 24, 2021