Ten years after beginning a serious inquiry into understanding the sociological and cultural collision between the Boomer generation and marketing, business, and aging, I have come away with some overarching observations and conclusions.
Aging is a nonnegotiable part of the human condition, a biological imperative that binds, beckons, and bothers. Aging begets elderhood.
These are facts, immutable, independent of generational context.
What remains malleable is flexibility of meaning: social, cultural, and institutional narratives about human aging continue to evolve.
A provocative generation is marshalling its population dominance, economic force, and propensities for transformation, and then spearheading dramatic changes.
Boomers are addressing, modifying, edifying, and even attacking many stultifying conceptions of aging, especially the sociological and psychological context that impinges on media, marketing, and advertising.
Implications are far-reaching, but here are some of the salient:
- Boomers embody immense market potential for products and services typically associated with aging, but they expect features, benefits, and branding to address their styles and evolving sensibilities.
- This generation also constitutes a compelling market for consumables, durable goods, and services traditionally thought of as the domain of youth markets.
- Their online and traditional media habits are often counterintuitive. Their online behavior is becoming more pervasive with every passing year; they watch, listen to, read, and respond to traditional mass media in persuasive numbers.
- Boomers sometimes over-represent emerging market segments reflecting a broad contemporary zeitgeist, such as Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability (LOHAS).
- They are actively inventing myriad new businesses and companies, large and small, which satisfy innermost impulses for reinvention and control of destiny.
- The generation is vigorously changing conventional thinking around commerce and aging, inspiring marketing and advertising campaigns that elevate rather than diminish, cultivate rather than marginalize.
- Boomer hegemony over popular culture continues as generational icons and thought leaders create modern chronicles about aging and wisdom, portrayed with panache through television, movies, books, theater, and music.
- Baby Boomer men and women are searching for greater meaning and opportunities in later life, and their quest creates stirring prospects for businesses, nonprofits, and institutions, as well as strong potential for new products and services.
Generation Reinvention is changing aging, so much so that some changes may only become obvious through the lens of historical reflection. But fifty years from now, as pundits and scholars reexamine this time and assess the final few decades of the post-World War II generation, I believe they will be generous in their critiques.
There will be tribulations along a winding path to greater age inclusiveness and lifelong engagement among those over 50. There will be serious decisions for companies, communities, and individuals to consider, given the demands and opportunities of aging nations. Fundamental social, cultural, and political changes do not come easily and never have.
Yet, any possible disadvantages of so many growing old simultaneously can be addressed, negotiated, and rendered manageable. In their wisdom, Boomers and older generations will search for optimum balance between life extension, long-lasting social and economic engagement, and inevitable closure. This generation will continue to reinvent itself.
Generation Reinvention promises personal, community, institutional, business, economic, social, and political reinvention—a menu of extraordinary opportunities for those who understand the implications and embrace a reasoned and realistic vision of the future.