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‘90s Nostalgia, Authentic Branding Unite Generations X and Z

Targeting different demographics just got easier.

While there’s about a 30-year difference between Generations X and Z, the two cohorts share a number of similarities that affect the way they respond to marketing—and an expert is recommending that brands and retailers use the crossover to their advantage.

During a talk at Project New York, WGSN Mindset director Jennifer Edwards listed key characteristics that define both demographics.

“Despite the years and having an entire generation being between them, they are remarkably similar in both attitude and outlook,” Edwards said.

Generation X, a group born between 1964-1978, and Generation Z, a group born between 1996-2010, are united by technology, as digital pioneers and digital natives, respectively.

The two demographics are also multifaceted.

According to Edwards, each cohort can be broken down into different tribes. For Generation X, this includes the compressionalists, who juggle balancing a career, children (who typically fall into the Gen Z demographic), and caring for their aging parents; and the punks, who are the “fun” aunts and uncles with no children of their own. They’re the secondary caregivers responsible for a combined $61 billion spend on their loved ones.

Generation Z, on the other hand, can also be broken down into two categories: Generation Me, a seemingly image-obsessed subgroup; and Generation We, a group more focused on building community.

So where do both demographics—and all of their subgroups—meet? According to Edwards, it’s all about the ’90s. “Both Gen X and Gen Z have ’90s fever,” she said. “Gen X is nostalgic for childhood, and Gen Z is nostalgic for an era they never experienced.”

A 2018 multichannel campaign for Stuart Weitzman summed up this commonality. In it, Gigi Hadid—a Gen Z model often photographed in ’90s-inspired clothing—and Kate Moss, a member of the ’90s supermodel elite, got together for a multigenerational campaign focused on their similarities. The models discussed their love of coffee, hidden talents and early modeling careers.

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And while Gen Z and Gen Y share an understanding that technology can make their lives easier, they remain skeptical about the origin of their information sources.

For these reasons, Edward noted, both generations value authenticity and can easily identify when a brand or retailer is marketing to them. This, combined with their civic-mindedness, makes both cohorts able to determine which brands are truly ethical and which are all talk—and it’s why brands such as Patagonia, Levi’s and Nike are so highly regarded by both groups.

Each of these brands has established a strong ethos that go far beyond marketing tactics: Patagonia donated its $10 million tax cut earnings to environmental groups; Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh rallied 200 CEOs together for stricter gun control; Nike featured Black Lives Matter advocate Colin Kaepernick in a controversial ad campaign.

Brands that take a stand on social issues—even when it means alienating some of their followers—often get the attention of both generations.