A Renaissance of Boomer Marketing – The Journey So Far
Following a recent resurgence of business interest in Boomers as a market niche, aging or not, companies targeting them have become more sophisticated at developing communications that tap into amorphous and dynamic values that accompany generational affiliation and stage-of-life. A renaissance of generational focus is not an accident. Substantial profits have been made in recent years by marketers who have cracked the Boomer marketing code with effective segmentation and creative branding strategies.
Marketing communications create greater demand for products and services. Marketers look for motivating messages that evoke deep emotional responses, whether humor or sadness or passion. They sometimes devise selling messages that cause consumers to recall treasured aspects of their lives with nostalgic ardor and heroic triumph. When marketing messages carry psychologically motivating ideas that tap into a generation’s shared mindset, marketers potentially achieve greater credibility, emotional resonance, and consumer consideration.
For example, prominent advertisers established in the “aging industry” have redesigned their dusty marketing campaigns that once-upon-a-time focused generically on older adults without a sense of generational nuance. From Viagra to Touch of Grey for Men, advertisers have dressed up marketing communications with the goal of communicating, “We’re not about old people. We’re interested in you, the vital, experience-seeking Boomer generation.”
Consider how pharmaceutical advertising has changed during the last few years in an era of consumer-driven healthcare. Recall growth of financial services marketing that targets Boomers with products ranging from 401(k) accounts to lifetime annuities in an era of self-directed investing. Reflect upon all the classic rock music in music beds of newer ad campaigns.
I’ve observed erectile dysfunction medications transform from primarily a way to manage diseases that affect sexuality to becoming a performance enhancer almost any man can find pleasure in using. Viagra advertisements morphed from featuring GI Generation spokesman and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole to showcasing a garage band of Boomer musicians covering Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” as “Viva Viagra.”
I’ve seen former Beatle Paul McCartney remind those who admired him in youth that it’s not over yet and to “Never Stop Doing What You Love,” a powerful, optimistic message sponsored by Fidelity Investments. Not to be outdone, Ameriprise Financial ran an aggressive television ad campaign for over a year showcasing historical film montages of young Boomers accompanied by a music bed from classic rocker Steve Winwood: “Gimme Some Lovin,” a chart-topping hit from his Spencer Davis Trio days.
I’ve watched a marketing campaign for Dove soap transform women over a certain age into aspirational models, morphing anti-age into Pro Age. I’ve studied how Del Webb advertisements have evolved to showcase Boomers in pursuit of the good life through active lifestyle communities, instilling additional home value through community engagement and lifelong learning. And I have observed how newer contemporary national and international tourism advertisements appeal to Boomers’ emerging thirst for deeper learning while traveling.
Thousands of marketers now agree that generational marketing works amazingly well as long as communications have been constructed with sophisticated insights and authentic production nuances.
The Critics, They Are a’Chargin’
In business and marketing there are always segment naysayers. Some in this marketplace of selling ideas believe Boomers have become fatigued as a consumer segment and it is all downhill from here. Others believe that targeting a generational segment is not a meaningful or effective segmentation strategy.
“Baby Boomers have peaked,” commented investment manager Harry Dent, author of one book lacking accurate prescience, The Roaring 2000s. “They’re going to slow the economy down for the next 12 to 14 years.”
Dent and others who share his views may be missing some essential points about the Boomer generation. From a historical perspective, this generation has always represented a fountain of opportunity for those who are good at predicting what is important to Boomers.
As Steve Gillon observed: “In 1958 Life magazine called children the ‘Built-in Recession Cure,’ concluding that all babies were potential consumers who spearheaded ‘a brand-new market for food, clothing, and shelter.’”
Boomers are today’s built-in recession cure. They constitute a market force largely unabated by economic recession or the aging process. Boomers are the future of many product categories, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, anti-aging therapies, retirement housing, continuing education, luxury and educational travel, online social networking, consumer and aging-in-place technologies, financial services, consumer packaged goods, many categories of durable goods, purchases for grandchildren, home renovations, and so forth.
Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., author of Age Wave and Age Power, succinctly describes the value of Boomers to the future of business: “When they reach any stage of life, the issues that concern them—whether financial, interpersonal, or even hormonal—become the dominant social, political, and marketplace themes of the time. Boomers don’t just populate existing life stages or consumer trends, they transform them.”
Reacting to an article in Brandweek, also claiming that the Boomer market is on a swift decline while calling for new focus on younger generations, advertising executive Brent Bouchez commented, “This article couldn’t be more off-base. While Boomer spending may have slowed during the last two years, it’s all relative. The fact remains that in the United States people over age 50 represent only 30 percent of the population, but more than half of all consumer spending. Before you put all your eggs in the youth basket, take a look at the numbers and do a bit of math. You’ll find that people over age 50 drive today’s economy, whether up or down. Ninety million people with full wallets and low-balance credit cards are a lot of consumers to ignore. The 50+ cohort controls 75% of the wealth in this country, earns $2.3 trillion annually compared to $1 trillion for the 18-34 group, and they stand to inherit between $14 and $20 trillion over the next 20 years.”
Perhaps Boomers have peaked in their combined spending power across all business categories relative to the late 1990’s when most were in their peak earning years, but aging creates new opportunities for many of the nation’s most critical industries. Plus, substantial market research consistently demonstrates that Boomers are not brand loyal, as myths about aging would have it. They are as brand experimental as their children. They will continue to try new products and sample new lifestyles long into the future.
Nielsen, the goliath global research company, added an exclamation point to this argument. In a July 2010 Marketing Daily article, reporter Sarah Mahoney interviewed Doug Anderson, Nielsen’s SVP of research and development. Anderson’s research conclusions are thought-worthy:
Nielsen’s research says Boomers dominate 1,023 out of 1,083 consumer packaged goods categories, and watch 9.34 hours of video per day—more than any other segment. They also comprise a third of all TV viewers, online users, social media users and Twitter users, and are significantly more likely to have broadband Internet.
“Marketers have this tendency to think the Baby Boom—getting closer to retirement—will just be calm and peaceful as they move ahead, and that’s not true. Everything we see with our behavioral data says these people are going to be active consumers for much longer. They are going to be in better health, and despite the ugliness around the retirement stuff now, they are still going to be more affluent,” Anderson says. “They are going to be an important segment for a long time.”
The critics of Boomer business value are simply wrong.
The above essay is an edited excerpt from Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Today Are Changing Business, Marketing, Aging and the Future. This 279-page book explores a growing body of research, arguments, insights, and speculation over how Boomers are impacting aging and commerce. Implications from my book are monetary and personal, local and international, intergenerational and multicultural. To learn why these conclusions are significant for your work and future, you can get a copy from online book retailers, including Amazon. Thank you for following my blog and, of course, your interest in Generation Reinvention.