Why Business Shouldn't Ignore Boomers

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While so many marketers focus on Gen Y and the Millenials, a massive opportunity might be slipping by to engage with the single largest generational group in history. Remember the baby boomers?
I’m a baby boomer so it puzzles me to see how much of the marketing “spend” goes to wooing the young, the vibrant, the sexy and the cool. Look around. Gen X and Y (the millenials) are ubiquitous in advertising. This fascination for targeting a younger consumer market to the exclusion of people in the 49 to 68 boomer segment blows me away, especially as boomers are known to be self-indulgent, eternally optimistic, defiant of aging and in love with media. (Remember we were the first to experience television.) Things, however, are changing. Many global brands have even started using boomer models to promote their products.
Let me give you some examples. Seventy-five million people have viewed the YouTube video of actor Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two moving Volvo trucks — a stunt, incidentally, he did himself in one take. Here we have a 53-year-old boomer dramatically demonstrating the precision of Volvo’s dynamic steering.
Here’s another: The iconic luxury brand Louis Vuitton is working with another iconic brand, David Bowie, to produce the second TV spot ever aired in the company’s 160-year history. The ad, an installment in Louis Vuitton’s “L’Invitation au Voyage” series, will feature the Thin White Duke in an as-yet-undefined role. Given Bowie’s sense of style and visual storytelling, you can be sure the ad will be memorable — a smart musical pairing that positions the brand as a classic, upscale choice for the affluent Baby Boomer generation.
Boomers in a New Light
So why aren’t more companies marketing to boomers? Perhaps it’s because the marketing industry has traditionally focused on consumers until they reach the magic age of 49 and then ignored them in favour of the next “crop” of potential customers. Or perhaps the advertising and marketing industry is inhabited by millennials who see boomers as a dying breed.
Boomers, however, represent the fastest-growing age group in Canada. In 2011, there were 9.6 million boomers in Canada (StatsCan) and a staggering 77 million in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau). By any standards, that’s a market too large to ignore — and their spending power is hard to ignore too.
The other fallacy is boomers are not big spenders. In the U.S., studies carried out by Nielsen Marketing show boomers will soon hold 70 per cent of the country’s disposable income and be responsible for buying almost 50 per cent of consumer packaged goods. Those statistics are almost certainly mirrored here in Canada.
Over the next 24 years, a whole lot of boomers will be in their prime earning (and spending) years prior to retirement, but don’t expect them to retire in the droves previously anticipated. The economic downturn hit many of them hard, forcing them to remain in the workforce longer than their parents did. For many, this will be a blessing as they are not ready to retire, especially now that “65 is the new 55.”
This postponement in switching to a fixed-income lifestyle means boomers will continue to be active consumers for the foreseeable future. Not only that, they will be earning at a higher level than younger people, making them a very attractive consumer group for marketers.
Beyond the Stereotypes
So what do you need to know about this valuable sector if you are going to market to it?
First, you’ll find most boomers are fitter, healthier and more optimistic than their parents were at the same age. One of the keys is to see them as they see themselves. “Treat me as old and I’ll shun your product,” could be their mantra. If you’re going to feature boomers in your advertising, you’d better be thinking more Pierce Brosnan than Ernest Borgnine because we are not of the same mindset as our parents. We’ll fight aging until our last breath!
Boomers are constantly reinventing themselves and how they live; they always have been. They continually look for ways to stay young and experience life at its fullest. Think about people you know in this age group. How many are starting a business, buying a new home, doing volunteer work in a Third World country or going wilderness trekking?
When you are marketing to them, treat them as adventurers: active, not sedentary. The point is, they have plans. They are looking for new experiences, hobbies and interests, which makes them winnable as customers.
Let’s also put to rest the myth that boomers are not tech savvy, don’t buy online or don’t engage with social media. According to Statista Inc., 70 per cent of boomers have a Facebook account and 40 per cent actively use it. More than three million boomers purchased products online last year and, according to StatsCan, “As Internet-literate baby boomers are about to enter their later years, they represent an important market for new products and platforms, which may be designed to meet their needs.”
Another myth is that boomers stick to the brands they’ve always used. I, for one, don’t use Old Spice or wear Levis anymore. I shop in the same stores as my late-20s children and often wear the same brands as they do. We have the same iPhones, the same apps and we text and FaceTime each other almost daily. This leads me to an interesting fact: boomers buy 40 per cent of Apple products.
The Opportunity Generation
So boomers are a massive and under-targeted market — an incredibly valuable market to go after. They offer an amazing opportunity, especially if your competitors are ignoring them in favour of a younger audience.
And this market is made up of people who are living longer and longer. In 2013, there were just 7,000 people in Canada 100-years or older. In its latest report, Stats Canada predicts this number will grow to 63,000 by 2063.
Now, there’s a market with longevity.