Thinking Ahead: Can't Be Done
I replied that the operative word in that sentence was "had."
After all, any agency over 20 years old was certainly built on the back of the boomers.
But that was then, this is now.
In the never-ending battle to stay "current" with the coveted 18-34 markets, general agencies grow younger and younger each year. Along the way, the boomer "experts" have been replaced with Gen Y experts followed by Gen X experts. So while there might still be a handful of boomers at my client's general agency*, for the most part, the experienced boomers have long-since moved on to other pastures.
In fact, today the average age of a general agency creative person is 28. And nationally, less than 5% of agency personnel are over the age of 50.
I asked the same client if he would hire a youth marketing expert who hadn't worked with kids since 1990. His answer was obvious, and he immediately got the comparison to general agencies and their past knowledge of boomers.
Boomers are constantly evolving, and turning 50 is affecting them in ways never seen before because it is the demarcation of a new and uncharted life stage. A life stage you can't understand at 25 or 30 or even 40.
On or around my 50th birthday, someone asked me what was the most surprising part of turning 50. Without thinking I replied, "Cliché's become meaningful."
I don't know if I'd heard that phrase somewhere else or if I was just especially insightful at that particular moment. Either way, I agree with me.
When you reach 50 and beyond, suddenly all the worn-out, over-used, yeah-right things that you had heard said and ignored your entire life magically transform into excruciatingly true pearls of wisdom.
You've got to stop and smell the roses.
You don't know what you've got till it's gone.
Youth is wasted on the young.
I could go on, but I won't since you've already done that for me in your head. The point is that being over 50 changes our point of view in ways we couldn't have foreseen. We begin to think differently, about almost everything.
Not negatively or badly, just differently.
Another personal example:
When I as 32, I might have been just as absent-minded as I am today. But back then, when I left my car keys in the house, I thought, "I'm a creative director and too focused on my work to think of boring things like car keys." Now that I'm 52, when the same thing happens, I immediately think, "Oh, no, early-onset Alzheimer's," and then chuckle to myself a bit because I really have always been this way.
An entirely different reaction based solely on the fact that I am 20 years closer to the time when Alzheimer's could be a concern. And, in fact, it is a very big concern for adults 50+ ... even more so than financial security.
All of the above is a long-winded way of saying there's a very good reason that an AARP study found that the majority of people over 50 feel advertising either portrays them negatively or ignores them altogether, it's because most advertising is created by people at least 20 years younger. People who aren't like-minded to their audience.
The bottom line is this: it's impossible to "get" being 20 or 30 years older until you are.
That's right, I said impossible. Not even if you read this article.
So the next time your agency tells you that they really understand boomers, simply ask to see their driver's licenses. And as you scan the birthdates, remember another old cliché ...
It takes one to know one.
*We actually did a bit of espionage and discovered that the "general agency" in question had well over 500 employees. The number over the age of 50? Nine. On my calculator that's less than 2%.