The Generational Divide – Behavioural Marketing and Privacy Anxiety


Behavioural marketing – you encounter it everyday, whether through recommendations for who to follow on Twitter, suggested pages on Facebook, and advertisements related to things that you’ve googled. It boils down to targeted content based on your past behaviour. The companies that want to target you collect your information through things like cookies and pixel tags, search history, app data, and IP addresses. These all function in different ways to accumulate your data, and with each click more information regarding your specific interests, preferences, and purchasing habits grows. A comprehensive overview of you can be made by what searches you make, what links you click on, the pages you visit and the length of time you spend there,

The Benefits

The outcome of this is that you will see advertising that is actually targeted to your interests. It continues to grow in popularity as a particularly effective marketing technique, with more emails opened, conversations triggered, and links clicked on as a result. For businesses it means they can keep their message more direct and relevant, and for consumers it means less extraneous advertising to trawl through everyday. A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that behavioural marketing can even change a persons perception of themselves.

Privacy Concerns

As these behavioural marketing ads become more prevalent, so do the concerns that they are too intrusive. There are rules concerning what information can be gathered, and how, by online advertisers. They include things like transparency and consumer control, reasonable security and limited data retention, and consent before collecting sensitive information. Despite this, many people still don’t like the idea that everything they’re doing online is being monitored, and are concerned that their personal information is too publicly available. But between generational divides there is a big difference in the way that people worry about their online privacy.

The Silent Generation to The Millennials

Generations were traditionally defined by average time intervals between the birth of a parent and the birth of their offspring. Today, social researchers base their definitions of generations on groups of people born into and shaped by a particular span of time. The social changes and trends affecting these groups provide context for their generational definitions. And while generational definitions are always going to be generalisations, they are helpful in understanding the motivations and expectations for different parts of the population. Although the exact dates and names of the generations alive today are widely contended, here’s a rough guide:

The Greatest Generation, born 1901-1926

The Silent Generation, born 1927-1945

The Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964

Generation X, born 1965-1984

Generation Y/Millennials, born 1985-2004

Generation Z, born 2005-onwards

Naive or Not?

As a result of today’s globalised world, in which we can communicate with almost anyone, anytime, it’s been suggested that Millennials are more tolerant, embracing, and optimistic about behavioural marketing than any generation before. Dr Rebecca Huntley, author of The World According To Y, suggests that the optimism of the younger generations today is a result of them being either “more capable of facing the world’s problems or more effective at ignoring them”.

Their open armed embrace of social media and has often been seen as naïve, and illustrative of an indifference to privacy. In contrast, the Baby Boomer generation are far more skeptical about putting anything online, and since it’s not such a significant part of their social identity they are more likely to opt out of social media.