The rules of engagement: How to keep Gen Xers watching on YouTube

December 2019

Gen Xers are more connected than you might expect – 96% are active on the internet, and 85% use smartphones. With 75% of this generation – currently in their late 30s to mid-50s – watching YouTube at least monthly1, they represent a ready audience for advertisers to engage. Here are the key ways to keep them watching.

Rule 1: Keep them informed

Gen Xers have embraced a rapidly shifting technological environment – growing up in a world without mobile phones or social media, and becoming early adopters of both.

Today, feeling informed remains a key part of their identity, and with 74% of respondents aged 45-54 in the UK agreeing that YouTube offers content everyone is talking about2, it’s as much for discovery as for staying up to date.

Case study: How Delimobil encouraged more of us to share

To increase brand awareness and attract new users after expanding its fleet, Moscow car-sharing service Delimobil launched a month-long ad campaign with an energetic hero video to highlight the ease of the service, using skippable ad formats including TrueView for action. Delimobil reached 2 million users in one month — and by using YouTube best practices like including brand mentions throughout, increased ad recall by 73%.

Rule 2: Lean into nostalgia

For Gen Xers looking to reconnect with the past, YouTube offers instant access to timeless moments – and nostalgic campaigns can prove both popular and shareable. Consider commemorating a product or brand milestone if you can – keeping an eye on the details to truly engage viewers who were there the first time.

Case study: How Google Assistant brought a holiday classic back to life

For a festive twist on the ‘Make Google Do It’ campaign, Macaulay Culkin helped reinvent a key moment of Gen X culture in Home Alone Again – using Google Assistant to make home defence (much) easier. Iconic moments from the film merged seamlessly with demonstrations of Google Assistant, and smart in-jokes helped the campaign earn a ton of discussion. A sequel on Google’s own YouTube channel – starring Home Alone’s Joe Pesci – earned 31 million views.

Rule 3: Teach them new skills

How-to content is huge on YouTube, and Gen X have embraced it as a way to expand their skills and make their lives easier. 82% of 35-54 year olds in Saudi Arabia, for instance, say YouTube helps them find useful tips and learn how to do something new3, with content categories including home improvement, cooking, technology, art, and beauty proving some of the most popular.

Case study: How Ikea helped customers make the most of their space

The Ikea Square Metre Challenge asks one compelling question: with space at a premium, how can you create living spaces that still feel like home? To answer it, Ikea created a series of snackable videos offering innovative space-saving ideas. Product inclusions feel natural rather than pushy, and each video reinforces Ikea’s brand as a provider of elegant, efficient living solutions. The four-part series earned more than 7.9 million views, introducing a host of viewers to Ikea’s brand of thinking – and the rest of their channel.

Rule 4: Help them connect

As well as news and current events, Gen Xers are keen to stay in the know about what their children or younger relatives are engaging with, or simply what’s current – whether they’re learning the moves to the Baby Shark dance, or trying to figure out the appeal of Fortnite.

In fact, 79% of research respondents in Germany agree that YouTube is the place to discover new talent and voices.4 For brands, this means creating content that helps them stay informed can be a key way to connect.

Case study: How Warner Bros brought cuddly monsters to the nation’s attention

For the release of the first live-action Pokémon film, Warner Bros aimed to cross generational boundaries by appealing to younger fans alongside parents who didn’t know their Squirtles from their Sandshrews.

Content like ‘Casting Detective Pikachu’ helped to bridge the cultural divide, using a fake behind-the-scenes video to introduce the film’s off-beat humour. The result? 21 million views on the channel of Ryan Reynolds – who voiced Pikachu himself – and a record box office opening for a video game adaptation.

Rule 5: Be authentic

Research suggests that honesty and authenticity are key values for Gen Xers, making treating them with respect crucial to successful campaigns.5 Don’t talk down to them – and keep it real.

Case study: How Škoda Auto got personal to reach new audiences

Personalised ads make users feel respected, but the problem arises with tailoring them at scale – something which Škoda Auto did by combining technology, psychology, and creativity. For the launch of its new Fabia model, Škoda Auto launched a YouTube-first campaign promising viewers their “Drive of Choice”, and combing their preferences with Google Audience Signals to create clearly defined audience pools.

Škoda Auto then used Director Mix (a tool to create customised videos at scale, swapping out different elements to tailor content to specific audiences) to create adaptable, translatable, 20-second TrueView ads for each persona — beating average completion rate benchmarks by 80% across their top five countries.


Like Gen Zers and Millennials, Gen Xers look online for information, entertainment, and a sense of togetherness — but understanding how their needs differ can be a key way to reach them. Find ways to teach them new skills or connect them to the cultural zeitgeist, and you’ll find an audience that’s ready to engage.

Planning for 2020? The 5 rules of engagement to deliver results on YouTube all year round