NEW YORK: Marketers may not fully understand “the distinctive media and market behavior” of millennials and Generation Z, according to Scott McDonald, the president/CEO of the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF).

Writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR), McDonald proposes that clients and agencies too often presume that “the younger cohorts do not care about privacy, and that they are averse to advertising”.

In fact, he suggests, “Consumers already have moved in that direction. Most are willing to have their purchases tracked in loyalty-card programs in exchange for discounts, and their employers install surveillance cameras to provide better security.“Digital consumers of all ages seem to be making trade-offs between utility and privacy, but the evidence is weak that there are sharp and systematic age differences – much less true cohort differences.”

And, countering the perception that younger audiences are less inclined to pay attention to advertising, the ARF chief argued that the problem of disengagement may have more to do with the product than the audience.

While assessing the popularity of ad-blocking software in What Do We Really Know about Attitudes Toward Privacy and Advertisement Avoidance?, he argued, “The reasons have little to do with privacy and everything to do with annoyance.

“Digital-display and video advertisements are criticised for their intrusiveness, their repetitiveness, their frequent irrelevance, and their tendency to hog bandwidth and slow performance.”

McDonald came to the ARF in 2017 after holding senior research positions including at Condé Nast and Time Warner, as well as teaching for 18 years as a member of Columbia University’s business faculty.

And he stated in JAR that greater rigour is required in studying young consumers: “Although it is fairly easy to find age differences in behavior and attitudes, it is much more difficult to extrapolate these to persistent generational differences.

“Research to date has failed to demonstrate strong and consistent age differences in attitudes toward privacy and advertisement avoidance – areas where claims of generational difference sometimes are made.

“Because age differences from cross-sectional data are much easier to verify than abiding generational attributes, we should approach grand claims of persistent generational difference with some skepticism.”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff