Generational studies are a bit like horoscopes: there are
character traits that are broad enough to see yourself in them, but
they're probably not an accurate reflection of everyone who happens
to have been born within that time frame.
Generational dynamics are broad strokes, but they can still be
very useful for marketers and we often read about them in our
profession. We hear about the differing psyches and leadership
styles of Baby Boomers versus Generation X, for example. Or how
people my age (Generation Y) need a sense of purpose in our work
and have high expectations for digital and social communication.
All of this is important when building employer brands to attract
talent, or when choosing channels and social causes to connect with
But are these generational bands relevant to the majority of
South Africans? Most of the thinking behind them was developed in
the West, particularly the USA. The values and expectations of
these generational bands come about from a particular set of
circumstances in the USA, such as post-WWII government spending
making the Baby Boomers grow up wealthier than any generation
before them, or the working women revolution of the 1970s giving
Generation X their 'latchkey kids' name. Millennials like myself
were apparently mollycoddled by our parents.
But I would imagine it's the contexts and circumstances of South
Africa that shaped our generations. With the exception, perhaps, of
our wealthiest and most 'Westernised' citizens, does it make any
sense to view our different age cohorts through a Western lens when
the events that impacted on us were so very different from the
dynamics explained above?
We have a number of interesting local segmentations, but no
broader generational studies have found their way into the everyday
language and thinking of marketers in South Africa. We have no
agreed nomenclature for our cohorts.
An obvious generational split for me is between the Born Frees
and those born before the end of Apartheid. There is probably
another paradigmatic split between the generation who were at
school during the Soweto Uprising, and those who came before. The
children of South Africa's new black middle class may well be
Millenials in their digital consumption behaviour, but I bet there
are more specific cultural traits, aspirations and fears that
brands could connect with.
Generational analysis is useful for marketers to understand
shifting cultural context. It can help build more insightful brands
for both consumers and employees. But I think it's time we agreed
on a South African system, and gave up pretending our generations
map accurately onto those moulded in another part of the