October 23, 2016

Viacom's "Gen X Today" Research

Viacom International Insights, part of the global media conglomerate Viacom, home to such channels as MTV, TVLand and Nickelodeon (among others) has conducted an extensive international study, called Gen X Today, which asks what's become of global adults ages 30 to 49, and offers a more in-depth picture of what their lives are like now.

While Viacom has several blog posts about the recent  research on Generation X available on its websites (see http://blog.viacom.com/2016/10/gen-xs-unconventional-approach-to-relationships-sex-career-and-life-viacom-international-insights/ for a place to start), the findings are perhaps best shared in a 10-minute documentary which can be found at http://internationalinsights.viacom.com/post/gen-x-today-the-documentary/.

In the 10-minute documentary (see below), you'll hear in their own words what participants from the Gen X project had to say about their lives – especially their relationships, careers, and interests.

To better understand Gen X, Viacom surveyed over 12,000, conducted a quantitative survey of people ages 30 to 49 and 18 to 29 (for contrast) across 21 countries, spanning every region of the globe (Viacom hosted a series of intimate dinner discussions and ethnographic interviews in 8 countries). This was supplemented with qualitative Gen X research that included asking them to document their lives through photos, dinner gatherings to talk about their lives, and time spent in their homes in 8 cities around the world.  Viacom says it believes theirs to be the most wide-ranging study of the Gen X demographic to date.

The reason?

Because Gen X grew up with Viacom's channels and continues to be very important to the company. Worldwide, Viacom says it reaches well over 180 million Gen Xers.

Viacom correctly observes that while Millennials rather than Gen X are usually associated with the world of technology and social media, and acknowledges that there are many notable Gen Xers among the tech and social media trailblazers whose work is still shaping lives around the globe today:
  • Google: Larry Page, 43 / Sergey Brin, 42
  • Twitter: Jack Dorsey, 39 / Biz Stone, 42 / Evan Williams, 44
  • Uber: Travis Kalanic, 39
  • WhatsApp: Jan Koum, 40 / Brian Acton, 44
  • Spotify: Martin Lorentzon, 47
This is just one area where Viacom found that Gen X was the source of socio-cultural shifts sometimes credited to Millennials, most of whom were not even old enough to create the technology companies that they are so closely associated with.  In fact, no baby in diapers ever created a social media network.  In fact, it was Gen X who created each of these things.  Viacom's research shows that it was Gen X is the force behind many recent socio-cultural transformations more often associated with Millennials.

For years, the world watched Millennials with fascination.  But Gen X came of age with social media and interactive screens, and they have been credited with countless transformations of what it means to be an adult.  As it turns out, while the world was focusing on Boomers, Millennials and Post-Millennials, Generation X quietly reinvented what it means to be an adult.  Importantly, Gen X is not dependent on the technology it invented, rather sees them are tools that enhance their lives, but does not define their existence.  This is a generation that can still hold an actual conversation on the telephone, not just rely on truncated text messages that eliminate all the subtle nuances that make human interactions so great.  One reporter (likely a Baby Boomer) for the Knoxville News Sentinel (see her article at http://knoxne.ws/2eZczMb for more) observed "You can still get a Gen Xer to talk to you on the cellphone, for example, but you might as well forget it and just text the Millennial" which says a lot.  From social media participation to flexible work arrangements to the acceptance and normalization of a wider range of relationships, one thing is clear: Gen X did it first.

One of the more interesting findings is that as Gen X approach mid-life, they're managing to avoid midlife crises. While earlier generations became overwhelmed with responsibility, stymied by regret, or unsure of their identities in their middle years, Gen X have unwittingly stumbled upon a remedy.

Yet importantly, during this time, media and advertising have targeted Gen X with tired and unimaginative messages based on antiquated ideas of adulthood—including the three milestones of homeownership, marriage, and children.  So, how did one generation go from young iconoclasts to conventional married homeowners in 20 years?  They didn't.  It quietly reinvented each life-stage and put its own stamp on each one.

The rebellion that once defined their youth has transformed into a radical acceptance of who they are. They're not struggling to follow a script.  They don't want to be anything they're not.  They're living life in their own way.  And they don't give a f*ck about what others think.  That's a pretty radical change from the way that Baby Boomers approached middle-age, often associated with mid-life crises and regrets.

The primary link to the Gen X research can be found at http://internationalinsights.viacom.com/categories/research-studies/gen-x-today/ and is worth a visit if you're interested in learning more about this important demographic group.

The relevant, 10-minute documentary can be viewed below, or at https://vimeo.com/186259937 .

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