Who Are The Zenners? Discovering The Generation Missing Out On The Advertising Action

By Taru Inari Mäkinen, Senior Insights Manager at Good Rebels

The ‘Zen Gen’ has always been a pioneer generation. These 55–75-year-olds (also known as baby boomers) were first to the world of PCs, email and mobile phones, and that pioneering spirit hasn’t gone away.

But thanks to their slower, more relaxed approach to digital (which gave them the Zen Gen name), some brands mistakenly think of this generation as inactive, putting them to the bottom of their marketing priorities. This can leave Zenners feeling invisible and forgotten by marketing and advertising campaigns… but what a mistake!

In fact, in our recent survey of this generation, 86% of UK participants said they have no difficulty surfing online, and 76% consider online purchases easy or very easy. So, given that the older generation is shopping for a variety of products online, just like the younger generation, why don’t we see both in digital advertising?

There is still only a very limited number of brands that use older people in their content for products and services that aren’t age-related. Brands are often too quick to assume that younger demographics are the only ones engaging with digital. However, as the Zen Gen continues to adapt to digital advancements, brands must adapt too, especially since our research highlights how the current climate has led to consumer habits of this generation changing for good.

The catch 22 of ad hatred…

Before we make anything seem too straightforward… our research found that in addition to feeling invisible, the Zen Gen doesn’t actually like advertising. This makes sense if they aren’t feeling seen by a brand or aren’t connecting with their messaging – of course, they don’t like seeing ads that don’t resonate with them.

In parallel to this, Zenners don’t think adverts impact their behaviour, with 47% of ‘Zenners’ in the UK stating they don’t pay attention to digital ads and some 36% finding them annoying – again not shocking if they only see irrelevant messaging.

A mere 4% stated digital advertising helped them discover new brands or influenced their buying decisions. This again highlights the opportunity for brands to create something that is relevant and engaging for this age group to help them reconnect with advertising.

So, what can brands actually do? Even though a vast majority think marketing doesn’t impact their behaviour… in reality it does. A third (33%) of UK participants picked a brand to purchase from as a result of an email offer, and that’s without personalisation and targeted messaging. Just imagine what brands could do if they prioritised communicating with the Zen Gen in the way that they want. The opportunity for a brand is huge if it gets its approach right.

These results are also telling in terms of the attitude towards digital marketing, and advertising in general. If the Zen Gen is only deemed relevant to products associated with aging, it’s not surprising they switch off to it – it’s one-dimensional and boring. There are some best practice examples though, campaigns such as Nike Unlimited youth diversify the age of people they feature in an impressive way. There is an opportunity for it to work if brands are willing.

Creatures of habit

Most people buy the same brands online that they buy in shops and almost three-quarters (72%) of our respondents confirmed this. This largely comes down to trust. So, brands need to get on the radar of this generation in-store to build up a relationship and be in with a chance of being purchased online.

Most Zenners in the UK prefer laptops (35%) or desktop computers (29%) for shopping and, given the effects of the pandemic – including pushing people to rely on online shopping more, it’s not surprising that 72% of our respondents felt convenience was key. This was followed by price at 57% and the fact that they can do it from home at 52% – again proving that they’re very much online, and highlighting how brands are missing a trick by not targeting this generation online.

Brands should also not ignore the fact that this generation is present on social media, as when it comes to finding their online location, it’s important for brands to meet them on their favourite platforms. Whilst they might not be swiping up on Instagram yet, it doesn’t mean the ads will go unnoticed. Some 71% are Facebook users, 20% are on Twitter, 19% are on Instagram and 14% have a Pinterest account. According to GWI, the use of Instagram has increased the most (+98%) among the baby boomer generation, when compared to other age groups which demonstrates the velocity of digital acceleration for the Zen Gen to date, and indicates just how underestimated their digital presence could be.

As they begin to tap into more social media channels, we are starting to see this generation moving away from the ‘one platform, one purpose’ mindset. Instead, they are more able to navigate each channel for a range of digital activities, such as reading news, shopping and connecting with loved ones.

Where to go next

Their experiences, halfway between digital and analogue, have made this generation mature and reflective, with distinct online behaviours. There’s no longer an excuse for brands to exclude this demographic from marketing. The Zen Gen is tapping into digital, so brands need to help acknowledge and bust the myths associated with the Zenners’ assumed online behaviours. This can be achieved by spending the time to really focus advertising and marketing campaigns to include this ‘forgotten’ generation. Our research proves the power of Zenners when it comes to digital – and it’s something that can no longer be ignored.

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