How Generation D is changing the generation game

Cultural divides between generations can impact brands trying to span several audiences

Vijaya Varilly

UK Head of Youth Culture & Partnerships and Senior Cultural Strategist FleishmanHillard


From Baby Boomers to Gen X, and Millennials to Gen Z, we are all well-versed in the cultural divides between generations, and the impact on brands that are trying to span several audiences. However, our recent study at FleishmanHillard, Authentic Insights: The Culture Gap, discovered that today’s society is driven along more nuanced lines than these traditional demographic tropes and as a consequence has become Generation Divided – AKA Generation D. 

Generation D has formed amid the seismic changes ushered in by the evolution of the internet and subsequent tech that has metamorphosed everyday lives within the space of one short generation. People are now less confined within ideological bubbles, which has resulted in more clashes of opinion, and this has further exacerbated the cultural divide and contributed to the birth of Generation D. 

Today’s society is driven along more nuanced lines than traditional demographic tropes and as a consequence has become Generation Divided

Vijaya Varilly, UK Head of Youth Culture & Partnerships and Senior Cultural Strategist at FleishmanHillard

Brands need to respond to this rapid sea change. It’s no good sticking their heads in the sand hoping things will go back to the ‘good old days’ where people could be simply categorised by such traits as age and gender, and brands could use the same labels year after year, generation after generation. 

As Kai D. Wright, author and lecturer at Columbia University, with whom the report was written in partnership, says, “Brands need to find a more progressive way for society to communicate.” 

This means there is more pressure to balance the business imperative of ‘growth’ with an obligation to operate in a more inclusive and ethical way. We’ve seen progression, with many household names moving away from the traditional demographic markers in their advertising and marketing comms. However, no matter how positive these milestones are, it is imperative for brands to focus on being authentic in order to resonate with emerging audiences. Generation D sees through transparent efforts to jump on the bandwagon of the latest trend to hijack it for your own ends. 

Kai D. Wright says, “In an increasing world of viral sensations, economic headwinds and political change, infrequently revising brand assets and guidelines create significant brand risk as sentiment and social norms change. 

“Understand, and act to make communities better off in a manner rooted in and respectful of diverse cultures.” 

Our report, ‘The Culture Gap’, focused on six areas where the culture gap has become a chasm. 


Sport was once a bastion of traditionalism that jogged apathetically along, often uninhibited by changes in society. The Culture Gap indicates that such attitudes are anachronistic. 

In sport, the goalposts have moved. The inclusion of trans athletes, the elevation and adulation of women in sport and the uprooting of unpopular rules are among the changes in this field. And brands need to be leading the charge for change. 

On transgender athletes, our research found that half of those surveyed think more mixed sports will be important, and 52% said they believe that sports teams and sponsors should shift from gender-based categories. Brands should move away from binary categories, creating new ones to bring people together.  

This is already happening with The London and Boston marathons introducing non-binary categories in 2023. 

Brands should also be blazing a trail in women’s sport. Six-in-ten people think it will be important to see more female leaders in sport, while 64% recognise the necessity for an increase in female officials. Despite a staggeringly high ROI on sponsoring women’s sport, many brands stick steadfastly to sponsoring men’s sport. Why? 


While receiving effective treatment is always key for consumers, there is a growing trend that these treatments must also be sustainable and inclusive solutions. However, these demands come at a price and risk increasing health inequity as the less financially well-off are unable to pay for the latest innovations. 

Almost three-quarters of consumers believe that climate change is a major consideration for the impact of their healthcare today on the generation of tomorrow. Brands must find a balance between ensuring healthcare is accessible to consumers while paying heed to their concerns about climate change. 

One potential solution to the accessibility quandary was hinted at, with 14% of people willing to attend a hospital in the metaverse. 

Media and platforms 

After a tumultuous few years, we know that the youth are bored of polished content, seeing it as a one-way broadcast, and instead hanker after channels that enable them to connect with friends and express their true selves. TikTok and Be Real are on the crest of this new wave of ‘authentic’ social media – and look to continue to be king in 2023. 

But alongside thriving ‘new’ media, more traditional media is in some turmoil. This is reflected in Generation D’s scepticism about the truth of what the news is telling them – leading to a new trend for ‘news avoidance’. Only 56% think they can sniff out fake online content. Three-quarters believe that online content should be independently verified to weed out ‘fake news’. 

As the distrust of online news burgeons, the behaviour of people consuming often-contradictory reportage becomes worse. Almost six-in-ten people think that politeness is declining because of the preponderance of online debate. 

What can brands do to help restore people’s faith in news media? 


Voter apathy is one of the dominant themes emerging from the research.  

While 51% of people are loyal to one party, 49% aren’t. Furthermore, 58% do not see themselves reflected in party leaders. And this division, typically is between the young and the old who are usually in power. 

However, while there is disinterest in political parties among large parts of society, the passion among voters on issues is burning as brightly as ever. 

For brands, acting on issues is far less problematic than directly becoming involved in party politics and possibly alienating a prime portion of potential customers. 

The workplace 

The biggest recent shift in the workplace has of course been the move to hybrid working, provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Our research shows that people are still keen for this arrangement to evolve, however, we are seeing rapid change, with more and more businesses reverting back to pre-pandemic models. Despite the work-from-home turnaround, nearly nine in ten think that a virtual workplace would be beneficial, so it is clear Gen D are yet to be convinced backwards. 

Another big change crystallises the whole concept of Generation Divided. As society has become less tolerant of other points of view, this conflict is seeping into the workplace. Managers need to be trained to heal any such workplace schisms. 

Workers are also pickier about where they work. Almost six in ten would plump for an employer based on the company’s willingness to take a stand on social issues. However, just over half are dubious about the authenticity of their employer’s DE&I credentials. It’s crucial that brands prove their commitment to important social issues. 

The change Generation D is ushering in is the need for brands to begin their valuable consumer relationships with cultural understanding. 

We explore the main trends that emerged from Authentic Insights: The Culture Gap, research conducted by FleishmanHillard that discovered the true depths of the current culture divide and analyse how brands can remain culturally relevant without sacrificing their authenticity.  

Guest Author

Vijaya Varilly

UK Head of Youth Culture & Partnerships and Senior Cultural Strategist FleishmanHillard


V heads up the UK Youth & Partnerships division within the Global Culture Unit at FleishmanHillard. She has spent her career helping global brands remain culturally relevant in a fast-evolving landscape, as well as shifting the perception of brands in a variety of sectors. This includes developing strategies with Hennessy to reclaim their urban music roots in culture; creating global movements with fashion brand, MissPap to ensure all womxn attend their smear tests, and developing initiatives to help propel young people from LSE backgrounds into employment for brands such as the Social Mobility Foundation.

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