Brands amp up their Generation X appeal

Generation X is aging into a sweet spot for advertisers. The 35- to 50-year-old crowd is ready to buy cars, homes and other big-ticket items. How will established brands appeal to the notoriously cynical, frugal generation?

When Chris Freedman walks into a Honda dealership, he comes prepared. 

"I look on the car comparison websites to see what others say about them," he says. He posts reviews. He looks at the history of the cars. Then he moves from the product to the salesmen. 

"I look for dealerships that have fewer complaints lodged against them." Freedman's behavior is actually pretty normal for a Gen X-er. 

"Generation X is a very skeptical consumer. Their characteristic is they stalk products -- they don't buy, they stalk," says Cam Marston, who studies demographic trends for his company Generational Insights. Marston says, Gen X-ers are much more skeptical of brands and advertising than people in their twenties. 

"When the Millennials have been burned, they don't set the world on fire to make sure everyone else knows about it like the Generation X-ers do," he says.  
 
At the Honda dealership in Queens, an assertive customer like Chris Freedman doesn't put off the salesman. Honda has even incorporated the savvy skepticism of Gen X-ers into their commercials.
 
Michael Accavetti is a vice president at Honda. The car company has researched their customers as much their customers have researched them.

"I mean this is a generation that is really first to have worked to live rather live to work, and they don't take themselves so seriously all the time and they appreciate brands who recognize that and recognize their lifestyle and sensibilities and have that same type of attitude like Honda," he says.

Many Honda commercials make fun of the fact that they're commercials. They rely on '80s music and characters like Ferris Bueller. In fact, when the hotel chain Hyatt did research on this new generation of business travelers, they discovered that Gen X-ers want their hotels to be a casual, laid-back experience. So Hyatt created a sub-brand of boutique hotels called Andaz

"Andaz is the Hindi word for personal style," explains Rachel Harrison, the director of communications for the Andaz Hotel in Lower Manhattan. "If you go into your friend's home, you're going to open up your computer, and you're going to log on very easy. This is what customers were asking for," she says.
 
Checking into an Andaz Hotel feels like walking into an Apple Store. There is a front desk, but the concierge is usually not behind it. He's holding an iPad. He might check you in on the elevator, or in your room. You can text him with questions and follow him on Twitter. 

Cam Marston imagines a day when every company will have to rebrand itself for a Gen-X sensibility, "How about the cast of 'Friends' sitting around discussing the life insurances that they've got, where their kids are now and how important Viagra is to their relationships?"

About the author

Eric Molinsky is an independent radio reporter.

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