There are all sorts of stereotypes and theories attached to each of the generations; but who’s in charge of naming them? Where do terms like “Millennial” and “Baby Boomer” originate, and why are they so pervasive?
The fact is, there’s no formula for creating a name for a generation: as helpful as the terms may be, their origin stories can be quite murky and varied. The practice isn’t even that old; in fact, the first generation to earn a nickname was the Baby Boomers. The Greatest Generation, which came before the Baby Boomers, gained its nickname after the Baby Boomers gained theirs.
The first evidence of the phrase “Baby Boom” being used to describe a generation is a report from the Census Bureau, which called the years between 1946 and 1964 the “Post War Baby Boom” due to the skyrocketing birth rates during these years. The children of these years would eventually grow up to become consumers, and as consumers they were targeted by the marketing and advertising industries who referred to them as “Baby Boomers”.
But all good things must come to an end, and as the Baby Boomers began to age and lose their appeal as consumers, the advertising agencies began to target the up-and-coming generation. Without a helpful Census report to inspire a name, the ad agencies decided to come up with their own way to describe the new group of consumers.
Like with most ad campaigns and ideas, much of the inspiration for naming generations simply comes from trying new names and seeing what fits. You might remember the short-lived term for Millennials, “Generation Y”. It didn’t catch on, but Millennials did – probably because Generation Y is hard to say and not very catchy.
The media is really the defining judge of a name’s worthiness. Whether or not the news and television starts using a term to describe a generation is the hallmark of success or failure. But who is in charge of deciding which age range to include in a generation? Since the Baby Boomers covered a 20-year span, that’s become the norm for a generation. In 2010, when Baby Boomers ranged from ages 45 to 64, Millenials were considered anyone between the ages of 15 and 34.
What about those people in between? Known as Generation X, this lucky (or unlucky, depending on who you ask) managed to get by with relative anonymity; they weren’t a major target for advertisers, who still focused on the financially stable Baby Boomers. Generation X was a comparatively smaller generation than either Baby Boomers or Millennials, and weren’t a great market for ad agencies.
So what’s coming up next? The placeholder “Generation Z” is used to describe those who will follow the Millennials, but they’ve yet to become a prized marketing audience and we don’t know much about how they will shape the world – when we do, though, you can be sure that the ad agencies will find a way to tidily summarize them.