What marketers should know about pitching to Baby Boomers

As a Boomer, I’m not much of a consumer, really, even though I spent most of my professional life working in corporate PR and marketing. But even when I worked for Mercedes-Benz, I preferred to drive around in a 13-year old lime-green Volkswagen that my Benz bosses made fun of.

I was keen on Reduce-Reuse-Recycle long before these trends became trendy. I don’t shop at malls. Ditto for those hideous Big Box stores. Instead, I like to visit auctions, yard sales, farmers’ markets, consignment shops and my local family-run hardware store. I believe it takes a certain skill to sniff out a truly fantastic bargain. And my shopping motto has always been:

“Any dummy can pay full price retail!”

Yet we Boomers comprise roughly one-quarter of the North American population and have some $3 trillion in buying power, although less than 5% of all advertising dollars are targeted to adults 45-64, according to The Nielsen Company. That’s why I was keen to check out this industry advice to marketers from the Advertising Age White Paper called 50 And Up: What’s Next? 

This report was conducted in early 2011, assessing our generation’s attitudes, assumptions, aspirations/plans, demographics, consumer actions, media usage, lifestyle and psychographics.  Here’s what Ad Age found:

“The general attitudes of Boomers are illuminating for marketers. This generation is facing later life with less money and less free time than they might have envisioned—while at the same time, they are experiencing many firsts such as:

  • becoming empty nesters
  • caring for elderly parents
  • having grandchildren

“They are choosing to age in place and work longer. And they have unique needs, many of which have been unmet.

“This is the first generation of older people who aren’t leading linear lifestyles. They are getting divorced and remarried, going back to school late in life, and having children and stepchildren living under the same roof.

“This is a marked change from their parents, who went off to war, got married, had children, stayed at the same company for 30 years, retired and moved to Florida.

“Since this group is moving in and out of life stages at different times, they are receptive to products and services they never before considered. These could include furniture for a condo, toys for grandchildren, or smartphones that allow them to update their Facebook status. But few marketers are actually talking to them.

“Even when advertisers target Boomers, it’s usually for an age-related financial or health product, and often in very patronizing ways. Reaching out to this group because of its age is a marketing technique called the age silo.

“A second strategy is to get older consumers to buy something that most other consumer groups buy, something that is inherently age-neutral. These require totally different marketing techniques, but most companies treat them the same.

“Boomers don’t want or need advertising that features a gray-haired woman using technology to learn about arthritis. (They get enough arthritis commercials as it is!) But they do want to see themselves represented in ads – and accurately.

“Whenever someone over 50 is being portrayed in a [TV] spot, they’re either smiling, vapid idiots on the beach or they’re old hippies. There’s not a lot of focus that’s very realistic or very engaging right now for Boomers. Most don’t want to be targeted because they’re old – they want to be targeted because of who they are. This is a group willing to vote with their feet and walk away when they’re pissed off.

“Many brands fear that if they do reach out to Boomers, they will risk ‘aging’ their brand. Few marketers contacted for this report said they marketed to this group at all, or even considered them in the design of a product or service.

“One solution: market to Boomers based on values, not age. Hallmark greeting card ads used to be emotionally engaging, but where did all of that go? One ad exec interviewed for the Ad Age report observed:

“In some ways, you could say we created our own hell. In the ‘60s and ’70s, marketing glorified youth. That sort of stuck, even though the money has moved on.”

“A number of companies that originally targeted more mature consumers no longer do so, especially in women’s fashion. While marketers want to build appeal and sell to the next generation, you don’t have to abandon your loyal customers to do that, especially when Boomers still have money to spend.

“Women between the ages of 50 and 64 are twice as likely as men the same age to be the principal shoppers for their households. Bank of America Merrill Lynch recently issued a “long on women” investment theme that noted women already make the majority of household purchases and may soon be the higher-income earners in their households.

According to Carol Orsborn, co-author of  Vibrant Nation: What Boomer Women 50+ Know, Think, Do and Buy:

“Nowadays, the women are making decisions. Marketers have to be retrained to not talk to the man or the couple. Many [women] see through empty promises, read the fine print. Even if the advertiser makes the fine print so small that they think the people won’t see it, the Boomer woman will get out her magnifier glass and find it.”

“There are likely enormous business opportunities for those who cater to people over 50, particularly when it comes to improving quality of life.

“Make it easier for me to get to the doctor, to buy my food, to understand financial reform and healthcare. If marketers are looking for a key word – it’s going to be simplicity.”

See also:   “Four myths about screen sharing marketing to 50+ women

9 thoughts on “What marketers should know about pitching to Baby Boomers

  1. Our company invests heavily in marketing, marketing research and sales techniques. We completed a program especially tailored to selling to women a few years ago and helped us deal with a time that had essentially already passed. As the old 70’s saying went, you see with your eyes not with your hands and the women of course were the eyes. They ask the RIGHT questions, are generally less trusting, but more sincere and open. They expect direct and honest answers and that in itself is quite refreshing because in purchasing they understand value and compromise. They actually require the salesmen to listen and “playback” what they want. It was a learning experience indeed.

  2. Yes, I find most websites geared towards boomers to be hideously condescending or geared towards selling us life insurance or financial products. How stupid do they think we are?

  3. Baby boomers being the energetic retirees with new ideas about places to see and go also need new challenges. I can visualize many of them starting a second career – network marketing. It is both fun and versatile.

  4. Hi. I realize this post is a few years old but I must echo what you wrote.

    Funny how the marketers stereotype what they think Boomers look like, feel like, and think like. Inside I think we still see ourselves as 20 or 30 year olds and often live our lives that way (that’s not always a positive thing but I know I’m not old).

    I’m not interested in being a vapid beach bum but I do like the new technology and am most interested in catching up…which includes spending some of that trillion dollars 🙂

  5. Pingback: Age and Ability

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