Each Generation has different experiences. What does this mean for advertising?


Here at McCannBlue, we recently carried out a light-hearted experiment among the team, family and friends on generational differences. We asked three questions in regards to different generations and eagerly awaited everyone's replies.

These were:

  • 1.What major event defines your generation?
  • 2.What is the most recognisable reference point amongst your age group?
  • 3.Are you a 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90s, baby?

The replies were truly fascinating and provided an interesting look into generational differences. Firstly however, I want to talk about what brought this experiment around. While brainstorming a client brief in the office, the word “Voyage" was mentioned and interpreted differently by three generations. Firstly a 70's baby saw the word quite romantically as an expedition of discovery. The 80's baby saw it more as a reference to Star Trek Voyager and the 90's baby had no real known association to the word. This is important to note because we advertisers tend to think of our target audiences needs and behaviours today, but it's just as important to understand what they have experienced throughout the developmental years of their lives.

Our developmental years are between the ages of 5-18 year olds and are critical to how we read the world around us today. The experiences we have and share, the images we see and hear, the values we live by, in those years shape how we connect with the world today and in the future. And these developmental experiences impact how we read and connect (or not) with advertising. Each generation has developed in different times. Each has had their significant moments and events. Each has unique icons and reference points. This highlights the importance of how we as creative communicators, regardless of our own age, need to understand different generations and consider how their past experiences will impact on how they perceive today's advertising.

We hope our generational experiment will help with that. Here are the main events and reference points mentioned from roughly around 40 individuals.

40's & 50's Babies

Major Events:

- John F Kennedy's visit to Ireland in 1966

- Pope John Paul's II visit to Ireland in 1979

- Ronnie Delaney winning gold in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956

- “The girl in the picture" Phan Thi Kim Phuc, Vietnam War 1972

- Contraception being made legal in Ireland in 1980's

Reference Points:

- The Rolling Stones

- Elvis Presley on Vinyl

- The Beatles

It's interesting to note that the major events appear to be moments when hugely influential figures visited Ireland for the first time while also Ireland went on to not only compete but win gold abroad in the Olympic games. For the first time our little country was on a global stage. It's also fascinating to note that this generation defines itself by great moments of fear (The Cold war, Vietnam war, Fear of World War 3) and on the other hand great moments of liberation (Married Mothers Right Work, Contraceptive).

60's Babies

Major Events:

  • The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989
  • Live Aid 1985

Reference Point: David Bowie

Freedom and liberation appear to be dominant here with reference to the fall of the Berlin wall and David Bowie's unique sense of style.

70's Babies

Major Events:

  • Pope John Paul's II visit to Ireland in 1979
  • Eurovision Song Contest
  • Live Aid 1985

Reference Points:

  • U2
  • Fleetwood Mac

Defining moments of the 70's baby are a collective mix from Pope John Paul's Visit to the Eurovision to The Global Aids Epidemic and Live Aid. It's an interesting mix of local and global events and of old and new Ireland. It may suggest this generation was at a turning point and beginning to take a more European and global view of the world.

80's babies

Major Events:

  • Millennium Bug in 2000
  • The Celtic Tiger

Reference Point:

  • River dance
  • Michael Jackson's “Thriller"
  • Brian O'Driscoll

Here we see the major events and reference points to be much more light-hearted than previous generations. It seems that those who were born in the 80's and children and teens of the 90's experienced an Ireland of greater affluence and opportunities and so developed a more light-hearted view of the world.

90 Babies

Main Event:

  • 9/11
  • Leaving Certificate

Reference Point:

  • Pokémon
  • The Kardashians
  • Stephen Gately revealing he was gay.
  • Red Hot Chilli Peppers

The 90's seems to give way to a much more innocent view. With the exception of 9/11, the biggest event noted from this generation is the Leaving Certificate. Has this generation yet to experience major events or defining moments or is that they have so much information at their fingertips they have become desensitised to war, natural disasters or political and social events? One thing we see for sure is an unprecedented influence from celeb culture.

For each generation there is a clear opportunity here to leverage these major events and reference points to connect in a more meaningful way. After all;

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before, and wiser than the one that comes after" – George Orwell.

I hope you enjoyed our quick jaunt through the generations, if you would like to know more about using generational insights to connect with your consumer we'd love to chat. Feel free to me Susan Kelly, Strategic Director on email susan.kelly@mccannblue.ie or by calling 01- 2343900.