Q&A: A Fresh Look At 50

Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent-YouTube Life is confusing for those at the hind-end of the Baby Boom. First, born between the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, they hate being called Boomers -- their lives were shaped more by MTV than Woodstock and by the cynicism of Watergate than the optimism of the Civil Rights Movement.

Second, although they fall between the ages of 44 and 54, they have no idea what they're supposed to look like. Is it 50-year-old Madonna, cavorting with boytoys half her age? Or Susan Boyle, 47, the British singing darling of YouTube, who looks dowdier than the Queen? They are even confused reproductively: While the number of women having a child in their 40s and even 50s is increasing, the average age of becoming a grandparent is about the same: 47.

Demographers struggle to nail this group down, alternately calling them Cuspers, Tail-End Boomers, or Generation Jones -- a nod to just how alienated and anonymous this group feels. After spotting yet another trailer for "The Cougar," the new TVLand reality show in which a 40-something mother of four pounces on sweet young things, Marketing Daily asked Carol Davies, a partner at innovation consultancy Fletcher Knight, based in Stamford, Conn., to weigh in.

Q: Why are people talking more about what midlife is supposed to look like now?

A: Younger Boomers, with millions of them approaching 50, have always felt in the shadow of older ones. And they've always felt younger. These Cuspers feel very confused about their age. They often say things like, "I feel 10 or 15 years younger than my chronological age," for example. The election of Barack Obama has really reignited that feeling, and drawn attention to it. Look at him -- he has young children, he's only just beginning to enter his prime. And his wife Michelle also seems very young. When he travels around the world, people describe him as "The young American president." The sense is that the Obamas are just entering their prime, and not a hint of them being over the hill.

Q: Is the recession fueling this sense of "Am I old? Or am I young?" confusion?

A: Yes, in a way. The whole concept of retirement has gotten so much fuzzier -- there's no clear finish line, no magic age when people stop working. They may want to retire at 60, or they may plan to work until they are 80. And the recession has definitely affected people's sense of when they can or should retire.

Q: What's with the cougar thing?

A: The idea of still being in your sexual prime in midlife is very appealing to women, and that's different from the past. Madonna's a good example. There's a growing cultural sense that women want to continue to be sexually relevant even after they turn 50. Women are really saying, "Yes, I'm physically changed, but I want to figure it out. I'm not giving up on myself, I'm just experimenting in new ways."

Q: How does that change them as consumers?

A: Marketers think 50-plus people never try anything new, and they couldn't be more wrong, especially regarding beauty products. They're undergoing fundamental physical transformation -- whether it's hormonal, cellular or even plastic. They're in hyperactive trial mode, searching for beauty products, exercise regimes and nutritional solutions to help them correct the damage the first 50 years have done. They want to feel like the 30-year-olds that live perpetually inside them.

Q: What other marketing misconceptions are out there?

A: Experts underestimate how much people in this age group hate to be labeled. Targeting them with a product that says "For women 50-plus" or "For Mature Skin" is a huge turnoff. They're very diverse, and they know it -- a 50-year-old could have small children, or she could be a grandmother.

Q: Who's getting it right?

A: Procter & Gamble's Olay is doing a good job, in the sense that it talks about needs and benefits, not specific ages. Lauren Hutton's Good Stuff cosmetics line is definitely appealing, as is a product like Lancome's Genifique Youth Activating Complex, which offers implicit advantages.

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3 comments about "Q&A: A Fresh Look At 50 ".
  1. Jeff Solomon from consolidated , April 17, 2009 at 4:07 p.m.

    Yeah, Generation Jones has been getting quite a bit of play in the media lately, I keep seeing articles about it. I'm a member, and glad to see we are finally being distinguished from the Boomers. BTW, whenever I've seen this generation referred to in the media, it's almost always referred to as Generation Jones, not cuspers or late/young boomers. I do see the cusper term used sometimes, but it seems it's almost always used to describe the "cuspers" between GenX and GenY.

  2. Erin Read from Creating Results , April 20, 2009 at 3:55 p.m.

    "Cusper" could describe anyone born between two cohorts or on the edge of any one generation. Generation Jones or trailing-edge are most accepted as labels for those born between 1956 and 1964.

    Those who lump the 78 million Boomers together will misstep in their marketing. For example, in our recent survey (Photo Finish) we found significant differences between the cohorts in their preferences for marketing photography.

    I'd recommend the new report from the MetLife Mature Market Institute - "Boomer Bookends" - as a good resource for marketers looking at this group. MetLife compared the oldest Boomers (born 1946) with the youngest Boomers (born in 1964). More than one third of the youngest Boomers preferred to define themselves as GenX.

  3. Susan Heitkamp , April 21, 2009 at 1:32 p.m.

    We are indeed different demographics and I'm a prime example of that. My mother was born in 1946 and was only 17 when she had me (b. 1964). She's a very youthful 62, but her childhood and mine were very different. There were a few differences between the '50s and '70s after all!