My Ah-Ha! Moment came one cold workday morning in late fall. It was early, still dark outside, and for some reason I started thinking about my generation: how far we’d come; how uncertain the road ahead. Having been in marketing for over a quarter-of-a-century, I had seen (and used) just about every kind of segmentation strategy: demographic, geographic, psychographic, ethnic, sexual, lifestyle and past purchase behavior.
What I had not seen were many great examples of advertising that had been finely tuned to the shared history and cultural nuances of my generation: Baby Boomers. Further, I had not experienced advertising that addressed aging in a way I thought congruent with the aspirations, outlook and values of Boomers.
The largest generation of adults in the history of this nation had been misunderstood, misrepresented or maligned… sometimes all three at once in a single, pitiful ad. To put it in vernacular: many marketing portrayals of Boomers and aging just sucked.
So, feeling frustrated about the authenticity and resonance of advertising aimed at my generation, I started jotting down my thoughts. Hot black coffee, always a part of my sunrise rituals, supercharged my thinking that morning. In a few hours I had an outline and framework for a white paper about marketing to Boomers.
Over the following weeks, the white paper expanded into a short book, which eventually I published in 2003. The short book became a longer book in 2005. Then it grew again in 2007 to a still-larger volume of 325 pages.
Along the way, I took up the good fight to insist that marketers become more effective and nuanced in their portrayals of those of us who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s — those of us who were aging enough to become synonymous with aging. Sometimes I became downright bellicose with bashers who simplified Boomers as narcissistic, materialistic and sophistic. Sometimes I became infuriated when seeing stereotypical ads portraying older adults of any generation as inane and fatuous.
Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers became a springboard for this blog, which now has at least 100,000 words of content: the depth of an ambitious book, all published digitally here for your reading pleasure. And, along the way, I have grown in my appreciation of and respect for many others who are committed to the same broad goals: to make our nation and world a better place to grow old; and, to bring equanimity to collective perceptions and portrayals of all generations.
What is an Ah-Ha! Moment? In the early days of being Boomer, this psychological event would often be portrayed during Saturday morning cartoons as a light bulb switching on. Daffy Duck, confronted with another perplexing dilemma, would suddenly see another conniving way around his problem when a light bulb switched on in a thought balloon above his head.
This psychological moment of clarity is also called “the insight experience.” And scientists now know that these moments of clarity come with enhanced brainwave activity in non-visual parts of the brain, particularly in the temporal lobe.
Mutual of Omaha, the legendary insurance company that is this year celebrating its 100th anniversary, defines the Ah-Ha experience as “a moment of clarity, the aha moment is a defining moment where you gain real wisdom — wisdom you can use to change your life.” They’ve taken this ancient idea (historically portrayed as an apple dropping on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, propelling his insights into the nature of gravity) and transformed it into a new branding campaign.
Although not limited in scope to just the Boomer generation, a preponderant number of the Ah-Ha Moments in the company’s new advertising campaign are stories shared by people who are north of 45.
For example, “Tom,” a man appearing to be in his fifties, tells the story of sitting on a dock for two days, reflecting and imagining. He was looking for a change in his life, and he thought of a premise for a children’s book. At that moment, he made a commitment to complete a book for his young goddaughters.
“Polly” and “Jane,” two great friends who have shared much history, announce that “fear of aging is a big lie.” They are determined to disarm the myths and stereotypes of aging, and they do so with laughter and temerity.
As you spend time with the “Official Sponsor of the Aha Moment,” you’ll discover many other special moments in the lives of ordinary people. This is what makes this branding campaign out of the ordinary: real lives, real stories, real people, and real production values. These are people who’ve all encountered a personal moment of reckoning and have taken another path, the experiential route to greater authenticity and congruency.
These consumer testimonials enhance the authenticity of an insurance company in a time when belief in the veracity and altruism of the industry is under a hailstorm of criticism. These witnesses to personal change and growth don’t sell insurance; they portray the possibilities for lives grown larger through the magic of wisdom. The campaign inspires “citizen journalism” and showcases hopeful, human stories in a time of broad pessimism. (Pay attention to why the website is also a clever database development tool.)
This makes the Mutual of Omaha’s campaign quite wise in the context of much national stupidity. It’s a nuanced and integrated branding program that appropriately portrays older people as relevant, passionate and committed. It’s optimistic, realistic and memorable in its simplicity.
The companion website, http://www.ahamoment.com, compels each of us to consider our own wisest moments of insight. The elder statesman of insurance companies connects the dots between our shortcomings and our dreams for a better tomorrow. The company ultimately insures the future after a defining moment.
As I became acquainted with this marketing campaign, I reconnected to my own history with the company. Most Boomers remember Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom,” the television series begun in 1962 and starring zoologist Marlin Perkins. Not only did Perkins occupy a special place as a TV celebrity among Boomers, he had a significant role in propelling Boomers toward a conservation ethic. The original show earned a modicum of fame in advertising circles for the “sneaky commercial,” which would involve host Perkins saying something to this effect: “Just as the mother lion protects her cubs, you can protect your children with an insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha...”
There is nothing sneaky in the company’s contemporary marketing program. It is the kind of straight-ahead campaign I had in mind on a frosty morning seven years ago when my own “insight experience” made me aware that marketers could do a better job of reflecting the wisdom and benefits of growing, learning and aging.
ADDENDUM, April 25, 2009 — Omaha, Nebraska — Mutual of Omaha filed a lawsuit against Oprah Winfrey and Harpo Productions over use of the phrase “Aha Moment.” Oprah claims she made the phrase famous and has used it for years before the insurance company unveiled its new ad campaign in February and also filed for a trademark: “Official Sponsor of the Aha Moment.” Mutual of Omaha claims the popular Boomer icon and TV host failed to protect the phrase as a trademark and therefore cannot claim ownership.
I advise both parties to sort this out and find an amicable compromise. “Aha Moment” comes from the field of psychology, and I know for sure that I studied the concept decades ago and have used it in my own communications since I learned about the power of the insight experience.
Perhaps Oprah and Mutual of Omaha will have their own Aha Moments and learn how much more effective they can be by collaborating rather than litigating. The insurance company cannot win a public relations battle with Oprah, and neither legal team may be able to win a trademark battle when courts take a serious look at how extensively the phrase has been used for a generation.