Stop the presses! Nielsen has spoken. So has NBC.
In a July 19, 2010 online article published by Advertising Age, reporter Brian Steinberg addresses the marketing community with a provocative headline: “Nielsen: This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Baby Boomer: Research Titan Claims Demographic’s Retirement Upends Old Notions, Younger Consumers Are Losing Dominance.”
Fundamental conclusions reside in a couple of paragraphs:
Nielsen wants to change those perceptions (surrounding the perceived lack of marketing value of Boomers/50+ consumers) and it’s got numbers on its side. Its researchers believe consumers over the next decade will have fewer children, leading to smaller households and fewer young consumers to lure. A rough economy will lead to those smaller young families spending less, and smaller salaries for younger generations known today as “Generation Y” and “Millenials (sic).” Indeed, as the baby-boom generation retires and grows old, America is likely to have a larger older population and a much slower-growing young one, suggested Doug Anderson, Nielsen’s senior VP-research and thought leadership.
“There will be a huge number of people over the age of 65, 75, and 85 over the coming decade. We’ve never had a population this big this old before,” he said. “This is not something that demographers and anthropologists have tons of models sitting around that they can talk about. We as a species have never had this many older people before. It’s new ground.”
The article continues with yet another shocking revelation:
While baby boomers are leaving the demographics that have been favored by advertisers for decades, said Mr. (Alan) Wurtzel (president-research and media development at NBC Universal), “their value is actually increasing in many ways and no one has noticed it (italics added for emphasis). For many years, we all got along with it. Now what everyone is seeing is that a very significant portion of the audience is leaving the group, the Nielsen group that is counted.”
Nielsen’s Doug Anderson and NBC’s Alan Wurtzel, undoubtedly competent researchers, lack some historical perspective. Demographers have understood and anticipated the aging of western countries for at least 30 years, once it became clear that a baby bust followed a baby boom. Perhaps anthropologists have not paid enough attention to the commercial implications of Boomer aging, but, for at least 20 years, a few farsighted marketers have been writing and speaking about the economic necessity and material value of focusing on the 50+ consumer.
I am thinking of, for example, Ken Dychtwald’s influential books, Age Wave and Age Power, published in 1990 and 2000, respectively. I’m also thinking of my book, Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers, published in 2003 and expanded into a 2nd edition in 2006, as well as David Wolfe & Robert Snyder’s Ageless Marketing, also published in 2003. I’m thinking of Chuck Nyren’s Advertising to Baby Boomers, published in 2005. And Mary Brown & Carol Orsborn’s BOOM, published in 2006. And Matt Thornhill & John Martin’s Boomer Consumer, published in 2007. And Mary Furlong’s Turning Silver into Gold, published in 2007. And Marti Barletta’s PrimeTime Women, also published in 2007. And David Cravit’s The New Old, published in 2008.
With Nielsen and NBC stepping into the fray — and Advertising Age taking notice (or paying homage, whichever you prefer) — the volume does get louder. But these two organizations are hardly thought leaders or marketing innovators. They’ve simply brought their clout and budgets to a lively conversation that’s been going on for years — a conversation that’s been accurate in aggregate and way ahead of mainstream marketing and media consensus.
The World Advertising Research Center (WARC) also published an article on July 20 about Nielsen’s revelations, leading with a headline, “Marketers Neglect Older Consumers in the U.S.”
Shoppers in the 18-49 year old demographic are often perceived as having more liberal spending habits and a greater willingness to try new products.
However, a study by Nielsen, the research firm, has suggested that customers of 50 years of age and above have considerable potential for companies which promote their portfolio in the right way.
“There will be a huge number of people over the age of 65, 75, and 85 over the coming decade,” said Doug Anderson, Nielsen's SVP, research and thought leadership.
Those titillating words again: thought leadership.
I reflect on this accolade with a grin since I published an article in WARC’s print magazine AdMap in June 2006, entitled: “Boomers, Middle Age, Money and Rock ‘n’ Roll: Brent Green & Associates outlines the still-to-be-explored market potential of America’s biggest and most influential generation.”
Here’s an excerpt from the piece I wrote more than four years ago:
Known in media circles as ‘the demo,’ adults 18–49 still dominate the mindset of Hollywood and Madison Avenue. This is making less and less sense, with more than half the Boomers now over 50.
In 2001, Advertising Age concluded that of the $8 billion spent in TV’s upfront and scatter market, 55% targeted the 18–49 group. The remainder went to children (under 18) and adults 25–54.
This past season, NBC charged $185,000 for a national 30-second spot on young-adult focused Las Vegas. However, CBS could capture only $130,000 for a similar spot on Jag, with viewers’ median age hovering around 58. Skewing too old for TV executives, Jag recently jumped a one way flight from primetime TV land. A youth-demo fixation appears to be driven by the old brand-habit theory instead of quantifiable evidence. (This outdated theory holds that brand loyalty hardens with age, and you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.)
Clearly, it’s exciting news that Nielsen and NBC have had a recent epiphany about marketing and media opportunities promised by Boomers and 50+ consumers. My colleagues and I applaud them.
But it is a bit of an overstatement to conclude that these organizations are thought leaders. They need to read books already published by Dychtwald, Green, Wolfe & Snyder, Nyren, Thornhill & Martin, Furlong, Barletta, Brown & Orsborn and Cravit.
Maybe the researchers, being thought-leading researchers, have already read some of the books and simply neglected to offer attribution for insights garnered.
I must disagree with one conclusion in the Advertising Age article, which I guess you could call an original hypothesis. The marketing and business “models” that Nielsen’s Doug Anderson believes to be lacking can be found in all the aforementioned books, each offering original revelations and marketing recommendations.