The Future of Generations

Last week, we launched The Future of Generations to our clients at a packed Soho Hotel.  Generations is the next phase of our ground-breaking Future of Britain research initiative and a study that smashes generational myths that are deeply ingrained in British society.

So, why generations?  I think that the first thing that piqued our interest was the research conducted by Harvard University that showed that stereotypes about age are stronger and more resistant to change than those about race or gender. And, in an industry where we plan, buy and sell billions of pounds of media every year using age to target, we wanted to understand if our assumptions about age might be fundamentally flawed.

With that in mind, we’ve spent the last six months living and breathing age and generations at OMD Insight. We’ve conducted 3,000 online interviews, spoken to over 100 people in our online community, Your Voice, about their perceptions of and relationships with other generations, conducted inter-generational focus groups to explore our themes face to face and immersed ourselves into the category attitudes of different generations in deep-dive mini communities.

Are we all terrible ageists?

I wouldn’t go that far, but we do all have pre-conceptions that are quite deeply ingrained as to what each generation is like.  For example, we tend to associate younger generations with words like ‘adventurous’ and ‘creative’, whereas older generations are likely to be associated with words like ‘polite’, ‘generous’ and ‘fair’.    However, when we rate ourselves on each of these words, we see ourselves quite differently to how we see others, and often in a more positive light (see charts below).  For example, only 4 in 10 of us rate teens as ‘polite’ but a massive 97% of teens rate themselves as polite.  We often have preconceptions about different age groups that don’t resonate with our own self-view.

Rating others within our generation compared to our self-rating for 16-19 year olds and 65+

Compounding this, we are also extremely unlikely to argue that we feel our actual age and often identify with age groups that often have little relationship with the number of years we have lived on this planet.

So, if we accept that we all have preconceptions that don’t resonate with members of different age groups and we often use age as a core anchor to plan and buy media, how can we avoid producing work that, at best, doesn’t resonate and, at worst, alienates people?

We believe that, at a fundamental level, we should be working to understand our preconceptions better, using insight and data from our target audiences to understand the truth about how they act, feel and behave, rather than relying on our assumptions.  To this end, over the next few weeks, our blogs will be busting some commonly held beliefs about different generations, from teenagers through to older age groups, helping us to see beyond stereotypes to real people.

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About Author

Sarah Gale

Sarah has worked in research and insight for nearly 20 years and it really shows. She likes nothing more than trying to come up with new and interesting ways to provide insight into how we live our lives today. Sarah loves a challenge, is hugely tenacious and once won the MRS ‘Talent Magnet’ for young researchers. She hopes to now win the same award for old researchers.

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