Michael Nutley
Michael Nutley 21 October 2021

New Omnichannel Research Shows There’s More Than One Digital Divide

It's well known that those who grew up with the internet have different attitudes to those who grew up before it. But new research shows that digital natives of different ages see things differently too.

We’re used to the idea of the ‘digital divide’ – that older people are less likely to ‘get’ digital than those who’ve grown up with it. We’re also used to Gen Z and Millennials having different attitudes, for example towards work. But new research shows different ‘digital native’ age groups also have different attitudes to the online world.

A survey carried out by London Research in association with GroupM agencies Catalyst and Xaxis earlier this year found that 18-34 year olds are more likely to want their media ‘on demand’ than 35-54 year olds, and to be more circumspect about the relevance and value of online advertising.

These differences may be more subtle than those across the original ‘digital divide’ – those over 55 and those under – but they’re still significant, and will become more so as the 18-34 cohort grows older.

The New Divide

The London Research report, Closing the Gap: Adopting Omnichannel Strategies for Stronger Brand-Consumer Connections, looks at the media behaviour of 2,000 US consumers and how it changed during the pandemic. It breaks that behaviour and attitudes down by three age groups: 18-34 year-olds; 35-54 year-olds; and over 55s. And it compares the changes with the way advertisers’ changed their approaches.

The first striking finding is that the middle group of consumers is noticeably more receptive to online advertising than their younger counterparts, particularly on ecommerce sites (84% of 35-54 year-olds, compared to 79% for 18-34s), on messaging apps (75% vs. 69%), and on podcasts (77% vs. 69%). There is little difference between the two age groups in their attitudes to advertising on social media, search, subscription TV, gaming, music streaming and online video.


The younger group are also less likely to agree online adverts are relevant to them (70% compared to 77% of 35-54s), to watch branded content (78% compared to 83%) and to watch ads in order to see free content (76% compared to 82%).

Behaviour Change

The two age groups also differ in the way their media behaviours changed during the pandemic. The 18-34s are more likely to be watching more subscription TV, streaming more music and listening to more podcasts than they did before. Meanwhile the 35-54s are more likely to be spending more time on messaging apps and watching traditional TV.

These changes show up as significant differences in how often each group uses certain types of media. The older group is more likely to spend time on social media at least daily (80% vs 73%). At the other end of the adoption scale, they’re also ten percentage points more likely to listen to podcasts at least every day (27% vs 17%).

On the other hand, two-thirds of the younger group (65%) are watching subscription TV at least daily, compared with 59% of their older peers. And they’re eight percentage points more likely to be streaming music every day (61% vs 53%).

Early Adopters Aren’t Always Young

The research also found that early adoption is no longer the preserve of the young. Catalyst’s Managing Director, Tarik Mughisuddin, suggests that: “Marketers shouldn’t rule out emerging platforms for reaching older demographics. By rigorously exploring and testing opportunities, you may uncover impactful ways to reach older audiences who are engaging with platforms typically associated with younger generations.”

For example, Fortnite, Twitch, and Clubhouse show the same degree of adoption across both under 55 age groups, with only Snap and TikTok being more popular among 18-34s. This is likely to be due to new platforms increasingly being targeted at specific age groups.

This idea is reinforced by the younger group being 50% more likely to visit Snap or TikTok multiple times a day than 35-54s. The surprise is Instagram, which the research found is also half as likely again to be visited by the younger group than the older. In contrast, while Google and YouTube see similar usage from both groups, Facebook is 13 percentage points more popular with 35-54s than it is with 18-34s.

All of this points to a young cohort which favours on-demand media more than its predecessors, is less receptive to online advertising in general, and is less likely to feel ads are targeted to them. Advertisers need to rethink how they reach and engage with this audience, exploring ideas such as greater personalisation, more customised experiences, and a stronger value exchange.

As Gila Wilensky, President, US, Xaxis, puts it: “Understanding your audience is often the first step for marketers. The research shows this younger generation has its own set of habits and relationships with advertising, and marketers must make use of AI and omnichannel best practices to engage with them on their terms. Building that relationship now will pay off well into the future.”

Closing the Gap: Adopting Omnichannel Strategies for Stronger Brand-Consumer Connections is available for download (registration required).

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