The marketing-advertising-consulting- industrial complex has been brilliant in persuading smart and well-read executives to embrace the idea that there are distinct generational cohorts.
The idea of distinct generational cohorts first took off about 50 years ago.
Madison Avenue created the phrase Baby Boomers to refer to people born in the high-growth postwar years.
Then came Gen X for people (like me) born between the mid-1960s and 1980s.
Then Gen Z emerged to describe those born after 1995.
Now we have the fashionable term Millennial used to describe anyone generally born between the early 1980s and 1996.
Factiva data suggests that the term has appeared at least 45,000 times in the global media in the past three months (four times as many as Baby Boomers.)
The use of Millennial has been so successful, the mere suggestion that you understand this cohort elevates you to a shaman-like status which has the answers to vexing consumer and social trends.
Listen, using age as a marker makes sense if you are operating in the communications environment of the 1960s - one marked my mass broadcasts of one product being pitched to many.
Heck, there were just three channels, a handful of meaningful radio stations, and a major newspaper serving your city. It was a simpler, less competitive environment to capture attention and sell your way into the consumer's wallet.
Now there are 1,000 of channels, many podcasts, endless tweets, and thought leader commentary across the web.
In all seriousness, if you asked me to name who anchors any of the big three national newscasts and to name one local anchor, I'd fail completely.
I really have no idea.
Defining consumer habits, desires, and predilections by distinct generational cohorts makes sense if you are working in a selling environment marked more by mass commodity products (think Campbell Soup Company) and not today's direct to consumer marketplace of limited specialized products (think Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams).
Using age as a vehicle to sell is foolish.
Age doesn't exist.
What exists is how a consumer spends their day - what activities, what interests, what hobbies, what professions - this is what matters.
Understand where someone goes on holiday and you can get them to buy.
Understand where someone goes for groceries and you can get them to buy.
Understand where someone works and you can get them to buy.
Age works in a selling environment.
We are in an ageless time that calls for a buying environment.
-Marc A. Ross
Marc A. Ross specializes in thought leader communications and events for senior executives working at the intersection of globalization, disruption, and politics.