In August 2005, I posted commentary on this blog entitled Boomer Marketing Basics. In this brief overview, I addressed some typical questions that journalists ask me about marketing to a generational cohort. Over three years have passed, and so this is a good time for me to readdress some of my key points with more contemporary illustrations. This post covers the first of my hypothetical questions:
1) How is marketing to Baby Boomers different from marketing to the public in general?
One primary insight I shared is as follows:
“Marketing to a generational cohort, as opposed to a demographic or lifestyle segment, draws validity from an observation developed by a German psychologist: a zeitgeist. This simply means a shared sense of a time, particularly the impressionable years surrounding early adulthood.”
While this is essentially true, some important details are missing. First, the German psychologist is actually the father of sociology, Karl Mannheim, perhaps history’s greatest theoretician about generations.
Mannheim’s theory of generations includes the observation that a generation has the potential to affect an individual’s consciousness in much the same way as social class. When members of a generation reach their mid-teenage years, they discover a gap between the ideals they have learned from older generations and the realities they experience. Because of this disparity, the young generation eventually develops ideas, values and social behaviors that constitute a “set of collective strivings.” The generation then forms “fundamental integrative attitudes” that can persist through life, even beyond age 50.
Understanding exactly how unique and widely shared generational attitudes and values learned in early adulthood become the “basis of continuing practice” is the key to generational marketing.
Since 2005, a number of Boomer-targeted advertising campaigns have been launched with flourish, and many of these campaigns have been criticized for their superficiality and obvious pandering. Some sophisticated companies have reduced their marketing messages to simplistic portrayals of peace symbols and mythic Boomer culture such as “Never trust anybody over 30.” A clear-cut example of this was a TV and online campaign launched in 2008 by Combe for the men’s hair coloring product, Touch of Gray for Men.
Some experts in marketing to Boomers believe that trotting out hackneyed Boomer symbols and slogans as window dressing to a product message is tiresome at best and flawed at worst. I agree with these concerns. However, I maintain that tapping into a generation’s coming-of-age zeitgeist with exactly the right nuances and message strategy can be extraordinarily powerful when executed with sophistication.
Quite to my pleasant surprise, I witnessed a good example of this in the line-up of otherwise lackluster TV commercials during Superbowl 2009: a spot produced for Pepsi-Cola called “Refresh Anthem,” a clever juxtaposition of Bob Dylan when he was young with the contemporary rapper, will.i.am:
While this TV spot shows some archival Boomer documentary snippets, which have in other advertising contexts received “thumbs down”reactions from Boomer marketing pundits, this spot’s nostalgic reifications lead to a very contemporary conclusion: Every generation refreshes the world. Cool.
I believe this message taps into a number of values shared by most Boomers: (1) staying young in mindset; (2) having a strong patriotic core (juxtaposition of returning Vietnam War vets and Iraq War vets); (3) finding renewed relevance through contemporary manifestations of Boomer music culture (rock 'n' roll served up by Bob Dylan and updated by will.i.am); (4) honoring go-for-it physical engagement with the world (skate boarding 1969 and 2009; surfing and beach culture); and, (5) seeing cultural and artistic representations of our lives manifested with new forms of expression (from Gumby to Shrek; from lighting cigarette lighters at rock concerts after dark to displaying blazing cell phone LCD screens).
Produced by PepsiCo's new advertising agency of record, TBWA/Chiat/Day, this TV spot clearly supports a Pepsi brand message that originated in 1963: a beverage for a new generation of young people, The Pepsi Generation, which was the first time a consumer packaged goods marketer claimed an entire generation, not just a demographic group but a way of life.
Created under the direction of Dave Burwick, PepsiCo’s new chief marketing officer, the entertaining television commercial also honors two generations: Boomers and their Millennial Generation children. And the commercial concludes with perhaps the most powerful (and needed) message in today's media milieu of generational antipathy: EVERY generation refreshes the world.
I believe that most Boomers embrace this concluding statement. Rather than being reduced to ideological zealots, we’d like marketers to understand our formative and continuing passion to change the world constructively and to honor what we’ve accomplished to achieve this “collective mentality” that springboards from our youth.
The company clearly “gets it” in this TV commercial by demonstrating how a generation’s zeitgeist can be placed successfully in a contemporary framework and by honoring all generations for their unique contributions to social and cultural progress. This is an excellent portrayal of the deeply held value of inclusiveness (gender, racial, cultural and generational), packaged with a tightly constructed brand message.
And although PepsiCo may benefit most from the younger Millennial Generation in terms of product sales, the company and product nevertheless win a halo for honoring Millennials’ parents and portraying shared connections between these generations. This will have long-term branding benefits as Millennials progress through future life stages.