Amsterdam, The Netherlands—In Paradiso the lights were dim and the shadows blue. On a tall, modernistic alter a few solitary figures wriggled under a spotlight to the blast of rock recordings, while hundreds of young bodies covered the floors, silent, and motionless …
A September 5, 1969 article from The New York Times projected a dazzling spotlight on Amsterdam and the ancient city’s allure to a young generation of explorers from America. The article promised deliverance for the young and restless looking for adventure.
They came to Amsterdam because of its legendary permissive attitudes toward experimentation, whether social, pharmaceutical or reproductive. They came for cultural enrichment and to share revolutionary ideas about world peace and human equality. They came for compelling beauty and some of the kindest hosts in the world.
Amsterdam represented a new frontier for a youth cohort seeking peace in a time of war: a multitude growing disillusioned with the world spinning out of control. They filled Dam Plain with their sleeping bags. They talked about politics and unity in a time of dissolution and fragmentation; cultures from around the world mixed in harmony.
A succession of rock legends played music in Amsterdam that year: The Who, Janice Joplin, Stephen Stills, Pink Floyd, and Mick Jagger.
Ex-Beatle John Lennon came also to this city of promises to promote world peace through a seven-day bed-in with his new wife, Yoko Ono. Perched in suite 902 atop the Amsterdam Hilton in March of that year, John and Yoko spoke of peace as world media swarmed the room with curiosity and amusement.
From their parents these searching young people had learned to think independently. They had shared the historical problems of racial divisiveness and environmental destruction. They had arrived in young adulthood with deep emotional yearnings for a better world. Their common slogans, attitudes, and interests spread from individual to individual and country to country. Through diversity and creativity, they found a common consciousness influencing profound mental and spiritual adjustments within the hearts of individuals. Suddenly, this mish-mash of youthful travelers discovered their own salient reference group, and a generational identity formed. Members of the post-World War II baby boom became Baby Boomers.
What are the implications for business today?
Well, as they say, history can repeat itself. You will see a few graying flower children wandering the streets of Amsterdam today, but more likely you will see middle-aged Boomers, manicured and tailored and well off. They are the Sixties’ survivors who have built companies, have risen to senior executive ranks, and have become leaders of the free world.
They fill Four-Star and Five-Star hotels, take catered canal rides during sparkling sunsets and gaze upon unparalleled visual sensations left by Rembrandt and Van Gogh. They come to Amsterdam and The Netherlands to sample an international buffet of food, art and history. Some come to remember; others come to discover.
They are, nevertheless, still Baby Boomers, harboring many values that inspired them in youth — the nobler goals of world peace, environmental health, and leaving the legacy of a better world. Whatever their individual motives now, Amsterdam has welcomed an unprecedented number of them since 9/11—1.3 million American tourists in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
Dutch tourism officials probably know that Boomers can transform brands. Their monetary might helped build business giants such as McDonald’s, Nike, Apple, and Starbuck’s. They popularized places such as Aspen and Santa Fe. Now a graying generation with more time and money than ever is expressing a global wanderlust that could build another brand resonating from their youth, I amsterdam.
This Boomer, who never visited Amsterdam until he turned 50, feels fortunate to be a keynote speaker at Holland’s most important marketing conference, MWG Congres. On Valentine’s Day, I will tell conference attendees, many of them children of Baby Boomers, about their older siblings and parents — how this generation is transforming yet another lifestage and pouring money into brands that resonate brightly — why experiences reign and educational travel is booming.
We’ll explore possibilities for Boomer brands of tomorrow: how these future power brands will address the deepest yearnings of a generation determined to create meaningful and rich lives after the age of 50. Maybe one of those emerging Boomer brands will be their own country and a city where a generation once discovered some of itself.