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Published on WARC.

Ah, our obsession with ‘generational differences’!

Until five years ago, marketers were still scrambling for any insights on “Millennials” (which, depending on the cut-off year you use, may include those 40-years of age!). Consultants were hired by government and private sector alike to help them understand what is so unique about this cohort and how to connect with them best. I can’t recall how many reports on Millennials I received, or the number of seminar invitations (not free, of course) that came to my inbox.

How time flies. We are now preparing ourselves for the next big thing. Move over Millennials. Gen-Z is coming! And again, brand and marketing managers feel a familiar anxiety of needing to understand these people. What is so different about them? What makes them tick? How should I change my marketing strategy? It is as if by default, generations should behave differently, no questions asked, and we put them under the microscope to ensure we do not miss the slightest differences.

What if our obsession with difference leads us into confirmation bias? When we long to find something, our perception is distorted to a point where we ignore conflicting facts to get the picture we were seeking for. At TBWA\ Indonesia, we asked the heretical question: what if there is more commonality across generations in Indonesia than marketers were made to believe?

To answer this, we analysed our Global Web Index database that provides comparison across Gen-X, Millennials, and Gen-Z in Indonesia, through various batteries, such as attitudes, expectations from brands, brand source of awareness, etc. We define generational differences if the results differ by more than 90-110 index. What we found is quite intriguing.

Differences are only skin-deep

When we investigate underlying attitudes, Indonesian Gen-Z share 7 out of 10 top attitudes with Millennials and Gen-X. These are attitudes towards importance of family, importance of continuous new skill development, importance of being updated, the desire for success, wanting to be best version of oneself, to pursue life of challenge and change, and striving for equality. There is no significant difference across three generations for those attitudinal statements.



When there are differences in attitudes, Gen-Z still has more in common with Gen-X. As we move to attitudes that are less agreed with, we start to see differences. But this is where the plot gets twisted. Gen-Z has more in common with their older skip generation Gen-X than their direct, Millennial brother and sister. And this similarity is marked with lower intensity than Millennials. For example, both Gen-Z and Gen X were lower than Millennials in terms of ‘keeping up with the latest fashion’, ‘risk taking’, ‘being brand conscious’, ‘buying premium version of product’.

As we move into more outward attributes, then we start to see some differences, while many similarities persist at the same time. In terms of expectations from brand, Gen-Z are as likely to demand innovativeness, trendiness, and smartness as Millennials. When it comes to source of brand awareness, Gen-Z have more in common with Gen-X, both relying less on consumer review sites, reviews by bloggers, ads on music stream, and forums, than Millennials.

Digital behaviours and challenging age-old assumptions

When it comes to online behaviour, the often-unchallenged assumption is: “the younger they are, the more digital they get”. While this may be true a decade ago, now that more than half Indonesians have internet access (more so in the cities), does it still hold ground? The data validates our suspicion.

For the top 13 digital behaviours of Gen-Z Indonesians, they are all in parity with Millennials and Gen-X. From social media usage, use of search engine, visiting online retail, to sharing video, there is no marked difference across three generations in Indonesia.


Of course, as we keep going down the online activities, we will find differences, for example: Gen-Z is slightly more likely to use music streaming service, slightly more likely to watch vlogs, use a online dating or VPN service than Gen-X. But the main findings for most top online activities, is they are indistinguishable from the older generations.

What about purchase of digital content? We often just assume that younger people spend more on online content than the older generations and take it as truth. But what does the data show? For many products and services, Gen-Z pay less than Millennials, which can be explained by purchasing power (still in school or first jobbers). Gen-Z spends as much as Millennials on mobile game and e-book, and as much as Gen-X on music download, movie/TV download, digital gifts and news services.



What does it mean to marketers in Indonesia? Perhaps we need to abandon the assumption that online channels are only for young people. It is now the media to reach all three generations. The presumption that the digital channel is less relevant to the older generations may have cost marketers more opportunity.

What does it mean to brands?

Generally, across parameters, where Gen-Z and Gen-X share similarities, they tend to be lower in intensity than Millennials. Being sandwiched by two generations, it is as if the Millennials were the exception rather than the norm. But if you think this is a phenomenon only in Indonesia, there are articles that also spot the same thing globally.

Last year, Bloomberg reported that Gen-Z share the same pessimistic outlook, the same gritty attitude towards work, and the same financial responsibility as their Gen-X parents. It is as if Gen-X parents raised tougher, less happy-go-lucky children than Boomers raising Millennials. While the article uses US data, we were surprised to see similar tone with Indonesian Gen-Z.

What is the implication for marketing to Indonesian youth, specifically the rising Gen-Z? First, resist the obsession with differences, as if one generation must be different from its predecessors – Go back to the data. We learned that Indonesian Gen-Z share a lot of things with the other generations at deeper level. While what manifests in certain behavioural level may be different (pop culture taste, fashion, etc.), the underlying values and attitudes may not differ that much. This should be good news to marketers. Because it is the latter that offers stronger connection with consumers, young and old.

Rather than focusing on confirming how should we do things differently, we can start with what really ticks people’s boxes across ages. It turns out that being Indonesian may not differ that much whether you are a 40-something or a fresh graduate, at least at heart. This means many products and services can appeal to broad target consumer.

In Indonesia some leading brands have managed to resist the temptation to talk only to the “youth”. Indomie, the biggest noodle and food brand in Indonesia, has built its iconic brand by decades-long appeal to Indonesians’ nationalism and harmony values, across all age groups. Ditto with Teh Botol, the pioneer of Indonesian bottled jasmine tea whose brand name is synonymous with the category itself. Teh Botol communication taps on all Indonesians’ love of local food, and recently on our harmony in diversity. Its advertising talks to people of all ages.

BCA, the biggest bank in Indonesia, when promoting its mobile banking services was not trapped in the cliché of “mobile finance is only for young hip people”. The campaign used a popular song from the Boomer era and featured people of different generations benefiting from the technology.

How can we do things differently with this knowledge?

1. Product development. If we already decided a target segment for a new product, we need to be sure whether the product will only appeal to that segment, or it has potential for bigger group. As Prof. Byron Sharp pointed out in his now classic How Brands Grow, sometimes a brand opportunity is limited by discretionary “segment” that is not justified.

2. Communication. Setting aside limited media budget consideration, is having specific media target justified? Are we limiting the product potential growth because we only talk to specific segment without strong justification?

3. Creative. Perhaps 8 out 10 client briefs I receive today put “younger Millennial” or “Gen-Z” as target, which results in creative execution that is also developed to relate to them. But if the product has a broad appeal, why not tug on a deeper string that connects different generations? For example, tapping on family values and the desire for personal growth which are shared across all generations.

4. The Digital Discrimination. We may also want to relook at our prejudice against the older generation on digital behaviour and channel. Sometimes there is still prevailing “channel discrimination” on certain segments that are unfounded by data. Our finding shows even Gen-X can be as digitally-reachable as Gen-Z.

Lastly, understand that Gen-Z is not just a further profile to Millennials on a spectrum. It is not the case that whatever Millennials do, Gen-Z will just do more of the same. In fact, in some cases, it could be the opposite. We saw that in many areas, Gen-Z consumers may be less demanding than Millennials and resemble Gen-X more. This requires fighting muscle memory if one has been used to certain way of marketing in the past 10-15 years. The adept marketers will keep fresh eyes, go back to data, and be ready to adapt again.

As a Gen-X myself, I would love to say welcome to Indonesia’s Gen-Z. It’s nice to see familiar face!

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