What do consumers want ads to do?

It’s a question as old as the field of advertising itself: what are consumers’ expectations for advertisements?


The answer, according to new findings from the GlobalWebIndex (GWI), is that…there is no one answer. Instead, it’s split along generational lines, a little bit like the debate on center parts vs. side parts and skinny jeans vs. mom jeans. Consumers’ expectations and wants for advertising depend on when the consumers in question were born.


GWI data considered four different generational demographics. At the youngest end of the spectrum is Gen Z, aged 16-24 in 2021. Next come Millennials, a generation still pegged as “young” but in reality pushing middle age: these consumers are 25-38. Gen X is next: the 80’s kids that are today 39-57. And the senior demographic: Baby Boomers comprise, for the purposes of the GWI study, those users aged 58-64.


We’ll examine what these consumers want according to their age brackets.


Here We Are Now, Entertain Us (Gen Z)


There are a few things that make Gen Z unique—besides their youth. This generation is more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation. They’re digital natives with no recollection of a world before smartphones. And, as of yet, they’re well-positioned to become the most well-educated generation


This level of education might be the reason that, if there’s one thing Gen Z wants from the advertising it encounters, it’s entertainment value. It’s possible that these school and university-aged individuals are in need of a study break: 42% of Gen Z consumers want ads to be entertaining, a higher percentage than Millennials (40%), Gen X (38%), or Baby Boomers (28%).


Potentially as a reflection of their demographics’ diversity, Gen Z is also more concerned about the representation of identity than other generations. For instance, 34% of Gen Z consumers want ads to be “relevant to me/my identity.” This is connected to two other areas where Gen Z exhibited stronger preference than other age groups: diversity and personalization.


While other generations shied away, 21% of Gen Zers embraced the idea of getting personalized recommendations. In addition, 21% also wanted ads to promote diversity and inclusiveness. And the idea of ads as exhibiting responsibility didn’t stop there: 21% of Gen Z consumers also wanted ads to raise awareness for a social or environmental cause.


Hungry For Knowledge (Millennials)


What makes Millennials unique, apart from the fact that the media is fascinated by their avocado toast-consuming habits, can be summarized by three things: size, finances, and patience. The Millennials are the biggest demographic on record. They’ve been burdened with financial woes due to higher levels of debt and coming of age during the Great Recession, and they have tended to meet expected milestones—marriage, having children, home ownership—at a more relaxed pace than their predecessors.


It could be because of this that Millennials stand out in their desires and expectations in education. A full third of Millennials wants ads to “teach (them) something new,” as opposed to 29% of Gen Z, and 32% of Gen X and Baby Boomers.


The struggles of Millennials have also made them sensitive to the problems facing the world: 19% of Millennials agree that ads should promote diversity and inclusivity and raise awareness about a social or environmental cause.


Laughter Is The Best Medicine (Gen X)


The smallest generation on record, Gen X also has the reputation of being the moodiest. This is the generation of grunge, Reality Bites, and Keanu’s brooding stare. But, maybe as a result of this, what Gen X’ers want from advertisements is hilarity.


30% of Gen X want advertisements to “make me laugh,” whereas only 28% of Millennials and Gen Z and a mere 20% of Baby Boomers feel the same way.


This is also a middle-aged generation, with the youngest members already pushing forty. Perhaps because they’re saddled with the usual heavy workload and financial strain of mid-life—children, home ownership, aging parents—they’re also enticed by ads that “provide discounts/special offers.”


Information, Please (Baby Boomers)


Baby Boomers are defined by a combination of their optimism and their affluence…as well as their sheer size. In many countries, Baby Boomers are still the largest generation. In the US they’re the richest, coming of age at a time when jobs were plentiful, education was inexpensive, and starter homes were easy to obtain.


But the fact of the matter is: this demographic is aging. This could be the reason that 57% of Baby Boomers want an advertisement to “give (them) product placement,” compared to only 52% of Gen Xers, 45% of Millennials and 40% of Gen Zers. It’s important to note that this 57% represents the highest percentage of affirmative answers, by any generation, across the GWI data. Baby Boomers really want info.


Baby Boomers are also interested in discounts and special offers (43%) but they exhibit little to no interest in personalized recommendations (11%), promoting diversity and inclusion (8%) and companies’ COVID responses (8%).


Each Generation Is Unique


Our takeaway from GWI’s treasure trove of data? That each generation, shaped in myriad and nuanced ways by a combination of history, culture, and technology, responds to ads differently. The aspects that attract a Gen Zer might repel a Gen Xer, and the things that a Boomer finds fascinating might prompt a Millennial to turn away.


But across the board, no matter when consumers were born, they’re attracted to various facets of advertising.

Find out what users think about ads in 2021 in this blog.

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