Understanding Generational DifferencesTags: Black boomers, Civil Rights, generations, GenX, millenials
SUBMITTED BY: Jacklynn Topping, Topping Associates
The shared connection of Black history, culture and experience forms a unifying bond that spans all age groups among African Americans, but major social, political, economic and technological changes have impacted the worldview of each generation of Blacks and an effective marketing message must reflect this.
The Pre- and Post-Civil Rights Mind-set
Some generational differences transcend race. For example, all Millennials grew up in a more technologically advanced society compared to their Baby Boomer parents. They were exposed to an ever-expanding variety of media at a much earlier age and to a significantly greater degree. Among African Americans, there is also a notable difference in viewpoint on race and on society at large between those born before the civil rights movement (prior to 1964) and those born after. Black Boomers are the last generation of African Americans to have personally experienced legal segregation. By the time Black Gen Xers reached school age, many of the gains of the civil rights movement were in place. School segregation was virtually over. There were Black mayors and members of Congress, and Black college enrollment was climbing. Post-civil rights Black women have also benefited from the gains made by the women’s movement such as increased access to managerial and executive-level positions in the corporate world.
Growing up in an era of freedom from the oppressive impact of Jim Crow laws of the South or the more subtle segregation and attitudes of the Northeast and Midwest granted both Black Gen Xers and Millennials a level of inclusion and access previously unheard of, and gave them a different view of their place in the world as a result.
Author and researcher Pepper Miller highlights significant differences in attitudes and beliefs between pre- and post-civil rights African Americans:
Generation and Race Provide Important Insights
Generational differences in attitudes and beliefs among African Americans can be as significant as the variations of acculturation in the Hispanic market. For example, while pre-civil rights era African Americans tend to be more race-focused in their interpretation of world and national events, the post-civil rights generation tends to be more inclusive and view race as being less significant. This trend toward inclusiveness is behind the increase in acknowledging all facets of their identity by many biracial Millennials.
At the same time, similarities exist among African Americans across generational lines as well—some values speak to race more powerfully than to age. Black adults 18 and older are more likely to view “aspiring to get ahead” and “having material possessions, a lot of money” as very important compared with non-Black adults regardless of age group. The generational distinctions here are the degree to which they hold these values.
According to research conducted by GfK MRI in 2011, although more Black Millennials than Black Boomers value “aspiring to get ahead,” Millennials’ values are actually more in line with non-Blacks in their own generation (a 3.7 percentage point difference). In contrast, Black Boomers believe that “aspiring to get ahead is very important” at a significantly higher rate than non-Black Boomers (14.4 percentage point difference and 13.3 for the Silent Generation).
Despite these differences, messages targeted to the African-American market that focus on aspirational themes will be successful across all generations. In general, however, it is important for programmers and marketers to put some thought into messages intended to appeal to the entire segment. While an all-Black cast may be important to Boomers, a Black cast alone probably won’t be enough to engage a Gen Xer or Millennial. A commercial or program that uses race-based humor may not raise the eyebrows of most Black Gen Xers but could infuriate Black Boomers. Of course, going too far will anger all Black generations.
Black attitudes and beliefs vary widely between the generations in many cases. Although Black audiences share cultural and historical insights, it is vital when targeting African Americans to determine if generational differences in attitude could impact the effectiveness of advertising messages or programming appeal.