Generation-UN: Marketing to the Unmarketables.

Marketers care about targeting: getting their product or message to the right group of people.

That’s why they care about demographics: specific ways to group and characterize the overall population, such as gender, age, race, income, education level, location, home ownership and more. Once a group is grouped, it can be targeted.

Related to the age demographic is the idea of the “generational cohort,” all the people within a certain age range that grew up experiencing the same important events in their formative years, such as the Great Depression or Woodstock.

Woodstock Music Festival Poster

Woodstock. A generational moment for many Boomers.


More commonly, we just refer to generations (dropping the cohort), such as the Boomers.

According to everyone’s favorite search result Wikipedia, the procession of named generations in the U.S. goes like this:

1. The Lost Generation
2. The Greatest Generation
3. The Silent Generation (maybe that’s why I never heard of them)
4. The (drumroll please) Baby Boom Generation
5. Generation X
6. Generation Y
7. Generation Z

(Clearly someone wasn’t planning well when we skipped all the way to X.)

Possible New Generation Names
So…where are we now?

Well, we may still be generating Gen-Zers, because Gen-Z is also called the Internet Generation and Generation@ and kids are likely being assigned @Twitter names at birth.

But this generation started in the early 1990s, so I think we may be ripe for a new one.

We could think about extending the Internet/Web reference and using Generation 2.0 or 3.0, but they’d probably split the vote.

Steve Jobs might argue for the magical Generation A (as in Apple), which would also give us the Amazing and Awesome opportunity to re-Alphabetize from the beginning.

But Apple’s influence on our culture is more characterized by the i, so “the iGeneration” makes more sense to define the post-PC, i-everything world kids are entering now.

Both these Apple-centric approaches are of course too narrow.

If we step away from technology for a moment, Generation-O would be interesting, in honor of the post-racial U.S., with our kids being able to look up to Oprah and Obama as leaders of culture and the nation.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about Generation-UN lately.

The Case for Generation-UN.

Home Foreclosure Sign - Bank Owned

Homes Underwater. People Unemployed.


A growing movement in interior design is to undecorate.
Tens of millions of Americans are unemployed.

Millions of home mortgages are underwater.

And smart marketers are finally realizing they need to UN-market.

The first couple of economic Uns are unfortunate and will hopefully pass soon.

I think that Un-Marketing is a big part of a large, serious generational shift—and not just because social media expert Scott Stratten has recently written an excellent book UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.

Marketing to the Unmarketables
Whether or not the next generation is named Generation-UN, marketers must pay attention to the conditions affecting people’s lives now and their reactions to them. If they do, they’ll find threats…and opportunities.

Over-hyped marketing and false promises around real estate (along with inadequate systemic safeguards) led to a catastrophic undoing of the economy.

This strengthened the already widespread distrust of hype and dislike of being marketed at.

It also led to a nationwide retreat to home, family, community, simplicity.

Men's Knitting Club in NYC

Men's knitting club. Simple, old-fashioned activities trending up.

Increased DIY. Knitting clubs. Scrapbooking. Home gardening. Chicken coops and backyard beehives. Home butchering. Co-ops and community gardens.

These things may be old-fashioned, but it’s not a fashion. They may be trends, but they are not fads. People are changing how they live in deep and meaningful ways.

People now expect – and demand – to be dealt with differently: openly and honestly.

They are looking for value and values.

The over-riding UN these days is a desire to strip away artifice and embrace authenticity in all its manifestations.

Brands must work first with an un-marketing mindset to be liked and trusted before they work on closing the sale as marketers.

Brands need to be part of the community and conversation before they become part of a transaction.

If they don’t, they won’t have much of a chance with Generation-UN. Or whatever they’re called.

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