Baby Boomers outspend other generations by an estimated $400 billion each year on consumer goods and services. In fact, with Baby Boomers accounting for 35% of the American adult population and the 55+ age group controlling more than ¾ of America’s wealth, you would think that they would continue to be a marketer’s dream. These facts and statistics support Steve Gillon’s claim in Boomer Nation: The Largest and Richest Generation Ever, and How It Changed America that almost from the time they were conceived, Baby Boomers were dissected, analyzed, and pitched to by modern marketers who reinforced the sense of generational distinctiveness.
So, with all of the Baby Boomers’ control over personal financial assets and consumer spending in the United States, why is Peter Hubbell, CEO of the BoomAgers ad agency, telling marketers to wake up when it comes to Baby Boomers and arguing in his new book that boomers are a bust for most brands today?
In a recent interview with Richard Eisenberg for Forbes, Hubbell explains that every time he goes out and speaks, boomers tell him they are really frustrated about advertising, and some are angry. They see ads with pop culture icons they don’t even know selling brands they have been buying for years, and they’ve had enough. Hubbell admits that he has switched his jeans allegiance to J.L. Powell from Levi’s because he is out of Levi’s marketing cohort, with ads featuring “tattooed kids with messy hair, ripped clothing and pierced skin making out in the back of the car.”
Hubbell contends that Madison Avenue only worships consumers until age 50 and then ignores them. But, with the beginning of the new era that Hubbell has coined “The Age of Aging,” the last of the boomers will turn 50 and leave the portion of market that advertisers have declared matters most: ages 18 to 49. He firmly holds that marketers need to “get old” because in a few short years there will be more people over age 65 than under age 5 for the first time in world history, and there is “no other global trend that will do more to affect global economies than The Age of Aging.”
If marketers are going to do it right, they are going to have to understand that boomers desire to be current and have “FOMO – a Fear of Missing Out.” A recent Transamerica Retirement Survey found that 65% of boomers either plan to work past 65 or don’t plan to retire, yet few employers are helping their older employees transition to semi-retirement. Only 21% of the survey respondents said their firms have a program in place to help employees shift from full- to part-time. And, only 41% of boomers said they’ve kept their skills current, which would be another huge business opportunity for companies that could help boomers stay current with their skills. Another way companies could benefit would be designing eldercare benefits for employees.
Jim Gilmartin, an expert on marketing and sales to boomers and a principal at Coming of Age, which provides interactive/online marketing services to clients eager to connect with boomers and senior customers, shares many of Hubbell’s sentiments. He noticed Baby Boomers were being dismissed by Super Bowl ads and devised seven boomer attributes that advertisers should keep in mind to attract lucrative boomer customers:
1. We demand facts – Boomers want more facts and less hyperbole.
2. First impressions are more likely to be permanent compared with younger consumers – Boomers react more quickly with negativity and lack of interest than people in their 20s and 30s. Positive first impressions often result in more faithful boomer customers.
3. We’re less self-oriented and more altruistic than the younger generation, too – Boomers have a shift toward stronger spiritual values and a greater concern for others; remember, our narcissistic and materialistic values wane in influence.
4. We spend more time making purchasing decisions – Boomers often ignore time-stamped offers, so don’t bother with the “offer good until…” business.
5. We see fewer differences between competing products – Boomers typically believe most items in a category are basically the same.
6. We’re less sensitive to price and more sensitive to value – Boomers combine our spiritual, intellectual, and tangible values when deciding if a product is worth buying; the purchase experience becomes a projection of our whole being.
7. We’re interested in much more than just a product’s features and benefits – Emotions are the driving forces behind boomers’ purchasing decisions.
So, boomers don’t want to be younger. They don’t want to be ignored. They don’t want to be thought of as being less valuable or opposed to new choices and behaviors. And they certainly don’t want to be treated like the younger demographic because their boomer generation is a brand in itself. Learning something new and doing something new makes boomers happiest, because they are able to feel smarter, younger, modern, and current. And this is where companies need to direct their marketing if they are going to reap the potential benefits of The Age of Aging.