Targeting Your Campaign Toward Specific Generations

12th Dec 2018

Targeting Your Campaign Toward Specific Generations

A blanket advertising campaign won't agree with everyone. That could be down to the generations that make up your audience and their associated differences. In order to grab attention from the widest possible group, you've got to cater to each generation and understand the best way to target each one. It's easier said than done though - how can someone two (or more) generations older than their audience create relatable adverts when they have vastly different ideals?

First then, a lesson.


  • Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980.

  • Generation Y (aka the 'millennials') were born between 1981 and 1996 (although there is a big debate about the cut off point).

  • The babies of the bunch, Generation Z ('Gen Z') are born from 1997 onwards.


'Tis the season, so let's have a look at the effect of Christmas advertising on these generations.


Christmas is a prime opportunity to target all generations at once, since it's one of the few things that everybody (at least in this author's humble opinion) loves.


The best Christmas ads resonate with every generation, with all of them able to find something which either appeals to, or represents them. John Lewis' 2010 advert was arguably the start of it all. It feels targeted and relatable, despite being pretty general. And a nice bit of emotive music helps too.


Said department store has reigned supreme over 'the Christmas advert' for years. You can't get through November without someone saying "It's not Christmas until the John Lewis advert is out". Pretty good for brand recognition when your advertising campaign becomes synonymous with the start of a two month period of a year.


You can't fail to agree that they're pretty good at using the classic marketing ploy of tugging at consumers' heartstrings. And you can't blame them. It does work - although research suggests this year some people are getting a little bored of Christmas adverts.


In 2017, retail spending at Christmas reached £5.92 billion, increasing steadily ever year - 37% since 2010, echoing the rise of Christmas ads through the years. They're a big deal in ad firms - competition and budgets grow year on year. A third of the UK's population genuinely look forward to watching Christmas adverts, me included. With numbers like this, how can a business miss out on the opportunity Christmas presents (pun not intended)?


But, reactions towards Christmas ads can dramatically affect brands and businesses, positively or negatively. Iceland's banned ad is a prime example. Iceland received great praise and worldwide recognition (and no doubt profited from it greatly), whilst Clearcast, the vetting agency, faced a storm of abuse and was forced to shut down their Facebook page.


As hard as it is to believe, advertising carries on in January and beyond. So what do companies need to do to carry their hard won Yuletide successes across the rest of the year, when they don't have the 'catch all' audience that Christmas offers? Understanding the generational nuances of their audience(s) is crucial.


Generation X

Generation X make up 28% of the UK's population alone. That's a big ol' chunk to advertise to. So what have you got to do to get them engaged?


Don't make the mistake of thinking Generation X are ignorant of technology and the internet - many companies led by younger generations have taken that viewpoint and consequently ignored them. That means you're cutting off an entire generation just because you believe they don't know the difference between Apple and Microsoft. They're not all technophobes you know. Generation X are on their phones as much as your average millennial or Gen Z, but are more wary of ads looking like spam - this can be a difficult one to get around. It can be pretty tricky to stop your ad looking like dodgy and being annoying, especially if you pay for it to pop up every 30 seconds on someone's Facebook feed. If you make it genuine and upfront (and not promising the world like some spam ads), you might just be onto something.


They're just as likely, if not more so, to be on Facebook than the younger generations (who are in fact slowly leaving this particular platform). So, your Facebook ads will no doubt be seen by this generation - you may want to keep this in mind, especially if your ad is looking a little more Gen Z than Gen X.


Nostalgia plays a massive part with this group, so anything reminiscent of the 1970s/1980s would be the way to go. Incorporate a throwback trend into the design of your campaign, and you'll be onto a winner. All you've got to do is make it relatable - they won't buy into your company if it doesn't resonate with them.




What traditional ad format do they respond to best?

Gen X

Gen Y

Gen Z





























Of our three generations, millennials are often the most vied for. An estimated 12 million people makes for a pretty key generation to advertise to.


While not necessarily used as an advertising channel per se, you should consider the importance of reviews. Millennials make sure your product or service is worthwhile by asking friends or looking at its reviews. As a millennial myself, I can vouch that this is true - everytime I go to try something new, I always check to see what everyone else says first. What's the point of getting it if everyone tells you it's rubbish?! Make sure your reviews are the best they can be, so just keep offering that quality service and/or products if you want to draw in those millennials.


While Generation X want nostalgic advertising, millennials want the artsy type. Just look at any of the big design trends for this year; they're all up millennials' street. Innovation is key - come up with something fresh, and you'll get the millennials interested. And add a bit of humour too.


If your company is renowned for its charity work, millennials will be after you. Famed for being dedicated to making the world that bit better, millennials will fight for a good societal and public welfare justice issue. If you start going public (whether that be overtly or covertly if you don't want to be seen as PR-greedy), this type of advertising will help draw the attention of the millennials. It's also a good incentive to start giving back.


Millennials are more in tune with the wider/modern world, and so will not react kindly to content which might be seen as offensive. Just look at Protein World's 'Beach Body Ready' campaign a few years back. Understandably, there was massive uproar and the ad was promptly removed and banned, due to campaigning of some millennials. Protein World's response to some critics didn't exactly help their case either.


Many companies piggybacked on the backlash, either making a statement (Navabi's 'We're Beach Body Ready') or taking the mick (Carlsberg's 'Are You Beer Body Ready?') - just reinforces the power of a controversy. Of course, the cynic says no publicity is bad publicity. Protein World made £1 million in the first few days off the back of the backlash, with a cool 400% ROI. Despite all this, Protein World returned with their tails between their legs, with the new slogan 'Every Body Works'. Goes to show that annoying a large majority of your target audience is not the way to go.




What online ad format do they respond to best?

Gen X

Gen Y

Gen Z

Desktop display




Online search




Mobile display




Desktop video




Mobile video







Gen Z

Now onto the youngest of the three - Gen Z. Image is key to them, as they'll only take an interest in a brand they feel aligns with their personal identity. This can be pretty exclusive, but once a company's cracked it, those from Gen Z will stick with them.


It's estimated that by 2020, this generation will take up 40% of all consumers, so it's probably best to get in there now and dominate the field while you can, in order to stay prominent with Gen Z in the future.


You've probably guessed that Gen Z have the shortest attention span of the bunch (just eight seconds to be precise) due to all the technology that surrounds them, so you've got to make an impact right off the bat. A video will probably be your best bet with them, since you can present your brand with minimum effort from their side; all they've got to do is watch. Although you've got to be wary of the dreaded five second window before 'Skip Ad'. It's easier said than done, but you've got to make it interesting enough for Gen Z to stick around to watch it, even if that means continuous trial and error and seeing what works best.


You've got to be clever about it though, as Gen Z don't pay much attention to overt advertising. As strange as it sounds, you've got to figure out a way to advertise without advertising - producing something viral or having a witty account will get you the attention you need.


If your company and its products are suitable for social media advertising, then run wild. Just a heads up - Gen Z spend most of their social media time on Snapchat or Instagram, so create an interesting enough account to get the youngest generation following you.


However, looking at the tables, the more traditional means of advertising generate higher percentages than online formats with Gen Z. A possible explanation could be that the sudden push for online advertising created such an influx that brands get missed.


As a general consensus, everyone responds well to video content; however, you've got to be prepared for your video to be watched without sound. On Facebook alone, 85% are watched silently, so if you want to go down the video route, provide subtitles.


Ultimately, we are not all the stereotypes of our generation - what might appeal to one person may not appeal to the next. Look at millennials and Gen Z. Just because they're the youngest of all the generations and their 'traits' are pretty indistinguishable, don't group them together.


So keep that in mind and you'll be just fine.

Back to Blogs

Let's get started!

Get in touch