The phrase ‘Ok boomer’ has been causing intergenerational rifts the last couple of weeks: Inc.com called it an ‘all-out generational war’, a New Zealand lawmaker leveraged the insult in parliament and Fox are trademarking the phrase. So it’s time to take the viral TikTok sentiment seriously and think about what our industry can do to mediate this conflict.
What does Ok Boomer really mean?
Intergenerational conflict is nothing new. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it’s psychologically motivated by the way memory works; we remember our past far more fondly than present-day iterations of youth culture.
Let’s not forget that millennials and generation z are also segmented by age; the oldest millennial might be 38 years old, the youngest gen z around 13. Not only that, it’s important to acknowledge that not all boomers are home-owning ballers. However, as Vox note, it’s not about ageism but rather one dangerous similarity – both ‘gen z’ and ‘millennial’ feel left behind from the majority of what the ‘boomer’ generation represents. Society is changing… so how are brands reflecting this in their advertising?
Youth marketing – can it intervene?
Youth marketing agencies respect the opinions of their core audience – but what else can we do? Drawing on youth culture is inspiring and exhilarating. Just look at Google Arts and Cultures digital archive. But we also have to give back and really listen to what is coming out of meme culture, trends and fashions.
If we listen to the younger generation beyond the apparently dismissive ‘Ok boomer’ catchphrase, we can see that there are real, systemic problems facing young people today. Faced with a lack of political capital, they’re falling back on sarcastic sentiments that sum up a sense of powerlessness.
Youth marketing agencies should be driving brands to authentically engage with youth culture and to support them.
Brands want to connect with gen z – but they have to support them too.
– Support them systemically: Don’t just take from youth subcultures – give back! Whether that’s through charity, job creation or messaging, there has to be a meaningful way that brands draw on youth culture. For example, Nando’s Yard filled a gap where youth centres once were. But there is more to be done.
– Support long term causes: Want to speak long-term to younger generations? Your ‘woke’ purpose for connecting with a youth audience has to extend beyond one campaign. The turn towards political messaging culturally connects to younger people because their values are often not reflected in mainstream politics.
– Generational connections: Create conversations. As NBC News suggests, generational difference is a type of cultural diversity. From Buzzfeed’s popular format, where kids ask their parents advice, to the Extinction Rebellion Grandparents to even Lloyds’ more opaque attempt to see a horse and its foal connect, there is HUGE space for brands to use intergenerational connectivity in their messaging. Listening to the problems each generation is facing is imperative.
So instead of clicking away from the meme, let’s look a bit deeper at the implications of these intergenerational disputes and the ways both agencies and brands can reflect on their roles in youth culture.
Jade French is brand editor at Amplify