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.