Xers Bored By Today’s Boomers

June 17, 2004 | By Penny Haw

Tomorrow, 28 years ago, high school students in Soweto gathered to appeal for better education, with tragic yet significant results.

This reminded me of the weight and acumen of the voice of our youth as I read a comment on the forum of advertising and marketing news website www.biz-community.com recently.

The author, who called himself Lucky Doobee , wrote: “As a consumer, everything I come across nowadays is a rehashed American or European idea that has been altered just enough so as to be sold locally. Magazines on the market such as Time Out, Glamour and Men’s Health are overseas magazines with just enough local content to be called local magazines.

“As Africans, we should have started our own advertising industry aimed at Africans.”

According to Neil Howe and William Strauss’s generational theory, it would appear that South African Generation X’ers (those born in the 1970s and 1980s) and even “millennials” (born in the 1990s) are bored by the “boomer” (born between 1945 and the sixties) penchant for nostalgia and products endorsed only by people of their own generation.

The youth are looking for relevance and creativity that is unique to their generation and country.

It is not a new sentiment and neither is it restricted to industry insiders. My nine-year-old son, in fact, frequently asks me why so much of what he sees on television and in other media is from, or at least based on, foreign material. Somehow my explanations of globalisation, international approval and mass market do not satisfy him.

“It is a difficult one,” says Craig Murley, Generation X’er and senior art director at Y&R Gitam.

“Many South African trends, particularly those followed by the urban youth, are still largely influenced by what is happening in America and Europe.

“Kwaito, for example, is influenced by hip-hop, which comes from the US but which Americans say originates in Africa. Does that mean that concepts based on kwaito or hip-hop culture such as the current Bronx Shoes campaign with kwaito group Indiflo are African or American?”

Alistair King of KingJames agrees: “I attended the MTN Music Awards recently and it is obvious that trends followed by South African youths are influenced by international energy. The numerous beautiful young Beyoncé-styled women at the event, for example, attest to this.”

Kevin Bloom, editor of The Media magazine, however, appreciates Doobee’s gripe: “On the whole, local media does not accurately reflect what is happening among the country’s youth.

“Yfm is getting close. Seventeen seems to be doing a good job and certain niche publications such as Blunt and Saltwater Girl are also getting it right. The problem could be that most publishers and advertisers come from a different generation and are not necessarily as in touch with their target market as they might be.”

This speculation is supported by Keith Coats, director of Durbanbased marketing and management consultancy TomorrowToday.biz.

“Boomers are today’s marketers and decision makers. They are not necessarily the consumers and they do not always understand what inspires younger generations.”

Generation X is characterised by a propensity for technology, scepticism to advertising claims, and attraction to personal style rather than designer price tags.

They are easily bored, like to be surprised by the unexpected and are comfortable with e-commerce and communication. Unlike boomers, they are not image conscious.

“That is why Sprite’s Image is nothing. Obey your thirst’ campaign is so effective. While the message may appear oblique to boomers, it speaks directly to its target market,” says Coats. “Internet bank 20twenty, with its risky line The Impossible Possible,’ is also spot on for Generation X.”

King James is responsible for the 20 twenty account: “The bank is a challenger brand and as such the advertising is different, even disruptive. After all, banking is one of the most conservative sectors of business and here, with a 21st centurystyled e-bank, we are appealing to web-savvy risk-takers who are prepared to try something different and enjoy the benefits.

“The advertising reflects this and is created to touch a chord with the younger set which has better things to do than give lengthy consideration to things like banking.”

The universal approach of the generational theory, however, does not satisfy the call for improved local content and creativity. Publishers and the entertainment industry, though, seem to be addressing this demand.

“We have 100% syndication rights to international material but, because we recognise that our readers are not American or European girls and because we want the content to be truly meaningful, the South African edition of Seventeen comprises 70% local content,” says Nina Furno, marketing manager for Seventeen.

Hype is a new, South African originated hip-hop magazine due out this month. Produced by SL publisher Intelligence Publishing, it targets readers between 18 and 30 years old who are “increasingly subscribing to this alternative form of youth culture.”

“While the genre is an international phenomenon, our focus will be primarily South African music and trends,” says publisher Martin Samuels.