Myspace, Mixtapes, and Middle Children: What Every Marketer Needs to Know About the “New Adults”

Neither millennials nor Gen Xers, the so-called "New Adults" occupy their own niche in the market. Players in all industries need to be ready to meet them where they stand—or risk missing the boat.

how to market to new adults
Between Gen X and Millennials: Find out what the sub-demographic “New Adults” mean for marketing.

Bags away, pencils out: it’s pop quiz time.

Pop Quiz Question #1: Maria lives in San Diego, California. She is a recently married homeowner with two pet hedgehogs and an iguana named Al. She is 37 years old. Maria is a:

a) Millenial

b) Gen X’er

c) Weirdo

d) None of the above

Pop Quiz Question #2: How do you reach consumers who are on the young side of Gen X but don’t relate to millennials?

a) Launch a “Bring Back MySpace” campaign

b) Who knows?

c) Who cares?

d) Read this article.

Score one point for you if you answered (d) to question #1. Despite her choice in pets, Maria is not a weirdo. She is also neither a millennial nor a Gen X’er, at least, not if you ask her.

Score one more point for you if you answered (d) to question #2. As more and more demographic subgroups emerge, identifying and targeting these subgroups with copywriting that speaks to their interests will be the difference between brands that succeed and brands that fail.

(The “Bring Back Myspace” campaign has legs, though, so give yourself half a point if (a) was your answer.)

But back to Maria…

Though her age could place her in both categories–most researchers define Gen Xers as those born between 1961 and 1981, and Millennials as those born between 1982 and 2004–Maria has little in common with either group.

She’s not alone. Many young’ish Americans born within a few years of Maria feel the same; namely, that they are both too old to be millennials and too young to be Gen X.

Enter “New Adults,” the “micro-generation” born between 1977 and 1985. Like Gen X’ers, they owned flip phones, made mix tapes, and wrote on chalkboards in grade school. Unlike Gen X’ers, they grew up with computers at home and aren’t cynical. Like Millennials, they are social media savvy. Unlike Millennials, they are not optimistic. (What do you expect from a group whose first experience with financial independence was a complete collapse of the economy?)

New Adults are, in effect, middle children stuck between an authoritative big brother (Gen X) and a spoiled baby sister (millennial). Bled emotionally dry by their two most demanding kids, New Adults’ parents (marketing professionals) forget his birthdays, skip his soccer games, and send him to school with stale sack lunches. They also assign him hand-me-down values and motivations that are ill-fitting and shopworn.

But that’s all about to change.

With numbers measuring in the multiple millions, New Adults’ collective buying power is asserting itself in industries ranging from fashion and beauty, to real estate and health care. As such, marketing professionals must rethink their demographic classifications and redefine their content marketing strategies, including how they write copy for websites, social platforms, newsletters, and more.

(Cue sigh and eyeroll as you read this and realize there is yet another subgroup of a subgroup of a subgroup whose unique language, interests, and needs you must incorporate into your campaigns.)

But before you take a sledgehammer to your laptop and run from your office screaming “Not everybody gets a trophy!” consider this: Pinpointing consumers who are on the young side of Gen X but don’t relate to millennials gives you a competitive advantage. Because so few brands are currently customizing their campaigns to the New Adult audience, those brands that do will corner a sizable market with money to spend.

It must be noted, however, that the key word in the previous sentence is “currently.” New Adults are the demographic equivalent of breaking news, the first time a hashtag was used on Twitter, and a limited time offer all rolled into one.

If you don’t believe me, believe Buzzfeed, the meme-memorializing, gif-glorifying web-tertainment juggernaut known the world over for clogging Facebook feeds with clever listicles we simultaneously love to loathe and love to click.

Buzzfeed’s vast index of articles with titles like “45 Signs You’re an Old Millennial” and “22 Signs You’re Stuck Between Gen X and Millennials“ testifies to the significance of this audience. (In related news, my next column will be titled “397 Signs You’re a Crotchety Marketing Writer.”)

Further proof is in the publishing industry pudding. Among business sectors, publishing was the earliest to incorporate New Adults as a marketing demographic concept. According to a 2012 article in The Guardian, New Adult is also a publishing genre comprising “books in which the main characters transform from teenagers into adults and try to navigate the difficulties of post-adolescent life: first love, starting university, getting a job, and so on.”

Given the success of Young Adult fiction–think Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars–it makes sense that publishers continue to cultivate an audience whose history of buying books suggests a future with more of the same.

Similarly, it makes sense that brands start to cultivate an audience whose influence is on the rise. To put it in seafaring terms (because it’s summer and because we should all be on a yacht instead of in the office, which is likely where you’re reading this): “Get on board now or miss the boat, because the New Adult ship is about to set sail.”

For help getting on that ship, email the copywriting team at Marketsmiths. We’re funny and we like a pun! We’re also punny and we like fun (see above seafaring metaphor). Our experienced writers, some of whom actually are New Adults, excel at creating copy for targeted audiences. Just ask our clients!


Amanda Cargill

Amanda Cargill

Amanda Cargill is a Brooklyn-based writer, video producer, and marketing communications strategist specializing in food, travel, culture and lifestyle content in domestic, multicultural, and international markets.

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