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Gen X is Going Round the U-Bend

The Young Ones are hitting 50. The coal strike babies. Disco babies. Thatcher’s babies. CND babies. ‘Who shot JR?’ babies. Recession babies. Debt babies. ‘Every bit of shit hits fan’ babies. Gen X is hitting a monumental midlife crisis: falling apart. Never a day goes by without a divorce download, the nursing of minor aches, the re-examining of old battle scars, a mild sense of frazzle. Not just for the chaps either; menopausal ladies are allowed a midlifer these days too.

Our 20s in the Nineties were heady and the Noughties were, *ahem*, pretty naughty. But the Teenies, in our 40s, have been, well, a bit of a slog to be honest. The bringing up of small humans, sweatily big mortgages (the Banks bred us to borrow), crappy work politics, hormonal swings, caring for beloved parents, Brexit, meh. All this has left Gen X-hausted.

We make for bleak reading. A pretty depressing piece on The New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun for Oprah all but writes us off. And so is it any wonder no one wants to target us. As Grey Group’s ECD, Leo Savage, revealed at Cannes, 70% adland planners and creatives have never worked on a 50+ targeted brief. To Millennials, we’re just sad fuckers sporting ever-wrinklier tattoos. Game over.

But enough!

While Gen X is at rock bottom, we’re at a significant psychological crossroads. As Jonathan Rauch’s ‘The Happiness Curve' (also coined ‘The U-Bend’) demonstrates (via successive population studies), 50-year olds are actually at a positive midlife pivot. The only way is up. Happiness grows exponentially post-50 as we shed demons, let go of defeats and renegotiate our quest for contentment. So, it’s time to start thinking about how we rock our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. This is just half-time. Data says so.

There’s much societal change afoot that will help Gen X redefine its fortunes. And if we keep it together, we are well-placed to enjoy an enviable second act. Age is simply reorientation.

Yep, we will need to work until we’re 67. But we can now choose to do that with better headspace; preventative medicine; fitter bodies; a chance for further education; and maybe a glittering new second half career. We are woke. We’re the parents of Gen Z who, just turned 18, will boss it with our support. Like them, we are activists. We might have poll-tax rioted back in the 80s, but today we stand for platforms like sexual equality, mental health, neurodiversity and education reform. Yes, we have vulnerabilities, but as a generation we also have courage. We know, as Brené Brown puts it, how to “live in the arena”. And we want our mojo back.

So, this is a call to marketers to get stuck into Gen X. We’re the ones defining your older age too. Stop grey-washing us like L’Oréal with its Vogue Non-Issue partnership (with-guess who?-ooh-Helen Mirren). Don’t put us on trapezes like ageing Kidmans with dimpled thighs and feathers. Remember Charlie Brooker is one of the clan. And Winona Ryder at 48 has been to The Upside Down with Millie Bobbie Brown. We buy tech, beauty, trainers, VR headsets, 0% beers, all sorts of stuff. And we love to laugh. Humour is key to our generation. So please make us laugh. The last thing we need is a flipping brand purpose.

So, true, Gen X is in the doldrums.

But hell, we’re going right round this U-Bend.


Rebecca Moody is Chief Strategist & Founder at brand strategy consultancy, Salt of the Earth. www.wearesaltoftheearth.com