2009: What A Long Strange Trip It's Been
For Boomers, 2009 has been a long, strange trip: it was a year we witnessed significant, symbolic progress for civil rights and a setback for women's rights; we marked the 40th anniversary of peace, love and music and an escalation in military troops overseas; we slogged through the greatest economic meltdown of a generation and saw major brands and media and entertainment outlets re-embrace the Boomers. In short, it was a year that seem to epitomize the Grateful Dead's famous lyrics:
Sometimes the light's all shining on me.
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it's been.
Here then, are my highly unscientific reflections of 2009 events and trends:
A Delayed Dream Come True
We started the year giddily inaugurating our country's first African-American President, who promised change, sounding themes reminiscent of the 1960s: an end to failed foreign policies, equal rights for all, including workplace and marriage equity, and enactment of health care reform.
While Boomers did not initiate the Civil Rights movement, their participation was critical for gaining broad support among whites and bringing about important legislative victories during the 1960s and '70s. But, it wasn't until this year that the dream of content over color enabled an African-American to win the White House -- and the Boomers, as much as the Millennials, made that victory possible.
A Long, Protracted Recession Resets the Rules
While Boomers have weathered other economic downturns, this particular recession forced a re-think not only for them but also for the brands that market to them. With concerns about the value of their assets and their prospects for continued employment diminishing, given their rising ages, many Boomers shifted to value brands or significantly reduced their discretionary spending.
• Gallup reported in August that Boomers cut their spending from a daily average of $98 in 2008 to $68 in 2009. While their reduction was not as severe as Generation X or Millennials, the sheer size of the Boomer population -- 78 million -- has greater ramifications for marketers as well as the economy.
• Brands like Mercedes-Benz and Burberry have had to re-think their marketing strategies as they witnessed Boomers reducing spend on luxury items. Others, like Kraft Foods, L'Oréal, Procter & Gamble and Target seized on this trend and began courting this sizable demographic group.
• Despite these trends, Boomers remain the wealthiest of generations and account for 77% of all investable assets in the United States.
The Media and Entertainment Companies Rediscover Boomers
While traditional media struggled for viewers and advertising dollars, some media outlets discovered that catering to Boomers benefitted their circulation, viewership and advertising revenue. Periodicals like People magazine have seen circulation and sales grow when Boomers are featured on the magazine's cover.
On television, ABC and AMC both have hits - "Cougar Town" and "Mad Men" -- featuring Boomers. TNT is hoping it can cash in on the magic when it airs "Men of a Certain Age." Even The New York Times began a weekly column devoted to Boomers, titled "Generation B."
40 Years Later: A Generation Gap Still Exists between Boomers and Their Parents
There seemed no end to the 40th anniversaries this year: Woodstock, the moon walk, Stonewall, Sesame Street, the Nixon doctrine and the Manson killings. Looking back, we see the seeds of Boomers' rebellion. Yet 40 years later, Boomers continue to disagree with their parents: this time on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on abortion, civil rights, gay marriage and health care reform.
But, there seems to be virtually no gap between Boomers and their children for new technologies
In fact, studies consistently show Boomers' willingness to embrace new technologies -- whether smartphones, Kindles, or yes, even social networks -- that enable them to stay connected to friends and family and news and entertainment.
As we enter into a new decade, marketers should continue to monitor these trends for their impact on Boomers.