Warning: Contains spoiler about SantaJoke’s On My Generation

The Ellen Show has a segment “Boomers vs. Millennials” where a young audience member and an old one must cross generations to identify objects like “earbuds” (which the Boomer calls “earbugs”) and “floppy disk” (for which the millennial answers “old CD”). They test on phrases, like “clapping back.” When asked, “what is a boomerang?” the Baby Boomer guesses it means “what goes around, comes around” instead of a snippet of video that repeatedly runs forward and reverse. 

The topic of generational differences comes up at work because we have a lot of millennials on the team, so our meetings can sound like this:

?‍♀️ ME (Gen X): So that brings us to the end of the instructions on writing a white paper for our new client.

?‍♂️ JARED (Gen Y): I’m curious. What’s a white paper?

?‍♀️ ME: Seriously?! Ok. Well, a white paper is like a one-pager or marketing slick, but it’s antiseptic and clinical with lots of white space and research, not colorful and salesy.

?‍♂️ JARED: Mmmhmm. What is “antiseptic?”

?‍♀️ ME: Seriously?! Ok. Well, does anyone know what “antiseptic” means in this context?

?‍? HOPE (Gen Y): Like surgical, right?

Gen Xers (1965-1980) or “digital immigrants” like me are caught in the middle—not old enough to be appreciated by the Boomers (1946-1964), who “tuned-in, turned-on, and dropped out,” yet antiquated compared to the millennials (1981-1995), “the Peter Pan generation that won’t grow up.” I have parents who are in the pre-boomer Silent Generation, who “work hard and keep quiet,” and children who extend through Gen Z (1996-2010), “the technoholics.” [Fun fact: born after 2010 is Gen Alpha.] 

For instance, my parents won’t know what to do with that black and white box in the upper corner of this page. My children will know what to do, roll their eyes, and wonder why this letter is still on paper.

Our kitchen has three wall clocks, and my daughter Sophia must grab her cell phone each morning to find out if she’s late for school (because she never learned to tell time on an analog clock). Writing in longhand is like an unbreakable code to all three of my children. They return their birthday cards to me for deciphering mumbling, “Can’t read cursive, Mom.” Every day I have conversations with my kids that I cannot imagine having had with my parents when I was a child, such as “Which one is Jesus, again?”

Meschac, my youngest, is adopted from Africa, so he’s even worse because he doesn’t get American glyphs, (ideas the rest of us take for granted) etc.

Now Gen Xers are getting old. I attended my 30th high school reunion in the spring. I remember many years ago thinking that high school graduation and the year “2000” were in the distant future. Numbers like “2020” and “30-year” were inconceivable. The baby boomers always made us feel young, but now I have conversations like this:

? MILLENNIAL: Sarah, let me remind you what a wise OLD woman once told me. 

?‍♀️ SARAH: If you quote me right now, you’re a dead man. You had better quote Mother Teresa or Betty White or somebody who is actually old. 

? MILLENNIAL: Ummm. Anonymous.

I tell you these stories as a context for this next exchange that I had with my Gen Y and Gen Z children. 

?‍♂️ LUKE Gen Y (26):  You know how on the other side of the Earth they have different seasons than we do?

?‍♀️ ME Gen X: Like the Southern Hemisphere has summer during our winter?

?‍♂️ LUKE: Yeah, so like in Japan–

?‍♀️ ME: No, like Australia.

?‍♂️ LUKE: Whatever. When it’s summer here and it’s winter there, do they call it summer, but it’s cold?

?‍♀️ ME: They call it winter when it’s cold.

?‍♂️ LUKE: So, June, July, August is winter? And Christmas is in the summer?

?‍♀️ ME: Yes.

?‍♂️ LUKE (incredulously): Well, if you needed any more proof that Santa isn’t real, there you have it. 

?‍♀️ ME: What!? 

?‍♂️ LUKE: Yeah, like Santa’s whole North Pole thing doesn’t work if your Christmas is in summer.

?‍♀️ SOPHIA Gen Z (14): That’s stereotyping Santa.

??‍? MESCHAC (11): Who is Santa again? 

That sums up the ABCs of Gens X, Y, Z. In this tech age, the glyphs we all know and understand change fast, leading to difficulty in shared meaning. So, it’s more important than ever to know your audience and spend time with your target demographic–inside the organization and out.

Be a marketing Titan:

Recognize that your audience has a different context for interpreting your messages

Spend time with people from all generations to see what they’re thinking about

Read about the psychographics (thinking differences) between the generations. Their values are similar but how they express their values is very different

Need help figuring out how your target audience thinks, feels, and behaves? Let Titan do the marketing research for you

Sarah Bryant

Sarah Bryant


Sarah Bryant is a Star Wars nerd, word wizard, and brand storyteller with purple hair who lives in a purple house in the midwest. A master marketing strategist with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and an MBA, she’s a neuro-linguistic programming trainer, a master hypnotist, and certified in body language, lie detection, and facial action coding system (FACS). She’s an amazing gift giver who has mastered the art of peeing once a day in order to squeeze in more creative pursuits.