What does it mean to make way for Generation Z?
The slogan, “Make Way for Gen Z,” is the “featured” trend in a new report by Ford Motor Company called Ford 15 that supposedly predicts micro-trends that are expected to influence products and brands for 2015 and beyond.
It is sad but not surprising that Ford’s prognosticators chose to slant the company report in a negative and arguably ageist way rather than by using a positive concept like “Welcome Gen. Z!”
Ford doesn’t really explain who is supposed to make way for Gen Z but it appears obvious that everyone who was born before the mid or late 1990s should be preparing to move to the back of the bus. It is a common marketing ploy for a business to distinguish a product on the basis of age. Youth is characterized as cool and desirable while age is the opposite. General Motors once had an advertising slogan called, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile”
Ford is trying to appear trendy, forward-thinking and to cultivate a youth market by distancing itself from the aging millennial and baby boom generations. Ford celebrates Gen Z as the “first truly global generation, born into an on-demand, technology-driven culture.” Common negative stereotypes about older people are that they are rigid and slow to change, not global and, especially, that they are not technologically driven.
In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that age discrimination in employment is epidemic in America and is fueled by outdated ageist stereotypes and subconscious fears about age-related decline and death. Ageism is so prevalent that it is trickling down to workers who were once considered young. Ford is signaling to millennials that they are no longer young. Millennials reached adulthood around the year 2000. That would put them in their 30s today!
I suggest that one of the trends that Ford missed is the very real and destructive trend of ageism in consumer marketing. This trend contributes to ignorance and irrational fear of aging. It pits generations against each other. And for what purpose? To sell cars?
There seems to be an underlying concern in America that the pie is not big enough to be split in an equitable manner – that one generation is robbing another. But this in a country when 16,000 families in America possess $6 trillion in assets – equal to the total wealth of the bottom two-thirds of al American families. The problem is not the pie; it’s the inequitable distribution.