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The Theory of Generations Is Becoming Obsolete: We Are All Micro Groups of Interests

People like to simplify things because they become anxious about the complexity of the world. Concepts outlined in broad strokes are used in work, communication with friends and relatives, and romantic relationship. It is easy and convenient for people to evaluate any phenomenon in three ways: "it is black", "it is white", and "I don't really care". Therefore, when the popular theory of generations took shape, everyone grasped at it – businesses, parents, teachers, marketers, psychologists, officials, and journalists. Why not? It makes everything simple and clear.
People grasped it, replicated it, and believed in it. However, in reality, the theory is more likely to provide people with psychological comfort during communications between generations (including about the economy) than to truly describe the diversity of modern society.
Zlata Verzhbitskaia
Feb 11, 2020
Relying on the generational construct is not effective but psychologically convenient. Let's say a marketer needs to figure out how to spur sales of branded sneakers with a retail price of 50–100% of the monthly salary of the average person. This specialist is a supporter of reach technique. He decides that he should target people by their age, so he needs to focus the sneakers ad on generations Y and Z only and report to the business about this decision. Everyone thinks it's okay because, well, it follows the theory of generations.

However, it's actually generation X who will buy the sneakers for generation Z. Besides, people in generation X could also be excited about the branded sneakers. For example, one "Sneakers on Discount" Facebook group with 200,000 followers has men born in 1981 (the formal border between generations X and Y), 1978, 1977, 1975, and even 1971. These are all generation Xers, friends.

The three generational groups do intersect, and in this case, we ignore a whole group of consumers in the advertising just because the theory said so.

People Are Much More Complicated Than They Appear to Be

Let's take a closer look at one of the representatives of generation X: a man born in 1975 who is interested in sneakers. Let's call him Mr. X. He's subscribed to a list of Facebook groups: a group dedicated to fashionable tattoos (not really a generation-X topic, right?); a group about Instagram businesses (remember that the man is 44 years old); the traffic arbitrage community; a computer group that talks about overclocking RAM in two clicks, Excel-based drum machines, and so on; the anime community. Is that enough?
If not, we'll also give you more info: Mr. X, who has a degree in finance and business, is also subscribed to a bunch of eyelash and hair extension groups (what?), a community dedicated to DJ equipment, and a fan group for Ursula Le Guin.

Based on this somewhat unexpected list of interests, can we make any convincing consumer portrait of this random Mr. X? It seems impossible to create a convincing one.

Let's have a look at one more, this time real, Mr. X. His interests include the music software used by 16-year-old rappers, popular scientific lectures by Russian biologist Alexander Panchin (whose main audience is generation Y and Z), Duran's comics, and much more that Mr. X not "supposed" to be interested in, considering his age. He's watched with great interest the "teenage" TV series Sex Education and The End of the F***ing World, and he looks forward to watching new episodes. How would you target ads for him?

Let's see the issue from the other side. What are tens of thousands of generation Z's doing in The Beatles fan communities? They don't even know how and why they once used to blow the minds of people all over the world. Where did such a crowd of very young people come from in groups dedicated to all kinds of vintage garbage? History? Literature?

Something doesn't add up in the theory of generation.

Generation Marketing Is Rapidly Becoming Obsolete

In November 2019, a well-known business coach and marketer named Arkady Zuker (a philosopher by first education) suddenly started talking about this issue. As a person who successfully conducted training on the topic of "Marketing of Generations", he suddenly began to wonder publicly if the theory of generations was bluffing. Speaking for the generation Xers, Zucker declares: "Perhaps the generations Y and Z are an improved version of us". He also points out that the appearance of the theory of generation may be followed by a banal fear of new generations. That means that the generation Xers were so frightened of generation Y and realized of being as far as the space from "Zs" at one time that they quickly blinded the theory, simplified everything, indicating "black" and "white" . Then, paradoxically, they asked, "How do we sell goods and services to those crazy generation Z's"?
The answer to this question probably lies in the field of targeting micro groups by interest. In recent years, generations Z and Y began to teach generation X (well, those who were behind the times) to use internet technologies, mobile apps, and so on. They are one family: the Z's and their parents.

Along the way, generation X began to learn the modern consumption model. Now, inhabitants of Russia own approximately 88 million smartphones, and 75% of the population uses the internet. Mobile taxi aggregator apps have shown incredibly rapid growth, millions of compatriots of all ages purchase from AliExpress, non-cash payments are rapidly going uphill, social networks have reached fantastic coverage, and so on. Where is the so-called gap between the generations?

How Facebook's Microtargeting Made Trump President

When you don't understand something, you need to ask science. Scientists are not too zealous about studying microtargeting. They want to make a cure for cancer and get to Mars. However, if you search, you will find that some of them still devote their work to this topic.

Federica Libernini from the Swiss Higher Technical School of Zurich and Ruben Cuevas from the Charles III University of Madrid, among others, conducted studies that showed that during the American presidential election of 2016, targeted advertising on Facebook grew Donald Trump's supporters by 10%. This was not an ordinary competition for goods and services. It was a real rumble in which Democrats and Republicans spent a fortune.

Trump's team spent $44 million on Facebook only; Clinton's democratic team spent $28 million on it. Thus, Trump managed to attract more people to his side than Clinton. Nobody understood how it happened, but Trump's team showed themselves to be good SMM managers.

donald trump
During the election, the Republicans promoted 175,000 ads on Facebook. Scientists noticed that if microtargeting was based on age or race, then the ads were ineffective. But, if microtargeting was set up based on the supposed ideological positions of the viewers and their educational level, they worked well.

The funny thing is that Trump was chosen by those who regularly use Facebook, those who use social networks as their main source of news, and those who had a low level of education (populism has always worked for "ordinary" people).

One of the authors of the study, associate professor of the Department of Economics at Warwick University Mikela Redoano, told the press, "Thanks to predictive analytics, social networks such as Facebook offer tools for targeting at an extremely detailed level. It is based on previous user behavior on the Internet."

It turns out that it is not about the age of the ad recipient but the level of education and interests (in this case, ideological position).

What can unite a sixty-year-old retired GRU colonel from Moscow, a forty-year-old programmer from Berlin and, an eighteen-year-old musician from London who plays indie-folk in the garage? Maybe they all love to play chess tasks, love to look into the night sky through expensive telescopes, are carried away by the so-called phenomenon of electronic voices.

People's interests are diverse. Their interpenetration among generations X, Y, and Z is striking, even if you don't dig very far. What does this tell us?

The Real Rivals Are Reach and Microtargeting

Both businesses and marketers stand up for the effectiveness of advertising investments. Maybe it's time for the theory of generations to retire? If you think about it, there's a large generational reach in the field of advertising, which collects all the fish in a net and competes with almost surgical targeting in terms of effectiveness.

An indirect sign that microtargeting is more effective may be the saturation and oversaturation of the markets for goods and services. Consumers are overwhelmed with mass-produced products – you won't surprise anyone with smartphones and electronics, banking services, clothes, toilet paper, food delivery, or anything else. At the same time, all sorts of craft products have begun to flourish: short-run board games, uniquely designed homes, Instagram bakers, niche mobile apps, and more.

The people in Russia are quite atomized. They have become isolated in their families, narrow social groups, and interest groups. In July 2019, the PEF and the Levada Center found out that Russians consider lonely seniors, single mothers, and families with disabilities to be the best neighbors – that is, they like neighbors who silent and invisible. In October 2019, a survey showed that 76% of Russian residents are willing to be late for work just to avoid seeing their neighbors in the elevator. And these data are quite true for many other countries of the world as well.

It's sad, but society is changing. However, because we are entering the era of micro groups, focusing on craft goods and services is worthwhile. In this regard, content marketing (including video) and microtargeting should be highlighted in integrated Internet promotion. It is worth bombing coverage for a big business that operates in the mass market. However, other businesses (usually specialized medium and small ones) do not need to push their budgets for coverage.

For example, if you want to sell 200 G & L electric guitars in, well, Athens, which each cost more than $1300, then you shouldn't market to generations but to look for micro groups of people crazy about guitars. Among them may be bankers, restaurateurs, journalists, students, programmers, and even security officials. Yes, they can be reached by coverage like a nuclear bomb in a metropolis, but it's expensive.

We stand for saving our money, like many generation Z's and Xers, and for specialization, like many generation Y's. We all belong to micro societies. We are surrounded by blooming complexity and ultra-detailed decay. Choose for yourself in accordance with your temperament.

By the way, can anyone recommend a VST 2.0 plugin like a typical volume shaper but for drawing a curve over, for example, a 16-bar interval? No? Oh, sorry – wrong micro group.
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