How Many Buying Cycles Do You Have Left?

On May 4, General Motors made the first move I have seen that gives me any hope whatsoever that the company might be heading in the right direction.

It hired Joel Ewanick, former CMO of Hyundai, to oversee GM marketing as well as the marketing of all GM brands, including Chevy, Buick, Cadillac and GMC.

Finally, a decision from Detroit that makes sense ... hiring a decision maker.

On Mr. Ewanick's watch, the game-changing and highly successful Hyundai Assurance Plan was created and launched in just 37 days. Ewanick oversaw the launch of the Hyundai Genesis, a Korean luxury sedan that will have as much or more effect on the luxury sedan market than Lexus did 20 years ago, and he introduced the new Sonata, sales of which immediately increased 50% year on year.

So what has this got to do with a column about marketing to boomers? Well, to my way of thinking, Mr. Ewanick's Hyundai advertising is the only (yes, I said only) automotive advertising in the U.S. today that truly appeals to the boomer consumer.

And since people 50+ buy 56% of all new cars, that's not just a bold statement, it's a statement with the kind of numbers behind it that can mean the difference between success and failure for a car company.

While every other automotive brand, including Mercedes Benz and Cadillac, is going out of their way to appeal to much younger buyers than their brands' average, Joel Ewanick and Hyundai have taken a different approach -- appeal to intelligent, thoughtful and wise adult buyers no matter what their age.

Of course, given that the median age of an American adult is 49, this means that Hyundai is speaking to boatloads of boomers.

The results? How about this; in January 2009, perhaps the worst month in automotive sales history, Honda, Toyota and Chevy sales dropped more than 30% (after an already dismal 2008); meanwhile, Hyundai was up 14%.

In January 2010, Hyundai rose another 24% while Honda dropped 5%. In fact, Hyundai has seen something like 18 straight months of sales increases while the rest of the automotive industry has been in "crisis."

So what is it about Hyundai's advertising that works for boomers?

First, it puts the product front and center. Whether it's a spot about the 100,000-mile warranty, the Hyundai Assurance Program or Hyundai employees hand-carrying a new Sonata through the entire assembly process, the film and the car are as stunningly beautiful as anything ever produced by Mercedes Benz or BMW.

Second, it's straight-forward, honest and informative. It tells viewers what they need to know about the brand and the product, simply and elegantly. I don't have to think hard to understand the message. Alas, this was once the territory of brands like BMW, Volvo and Honda. Today, not so much.

Third, it assumes that the viewer is not an idiot. The copy, read by Jeff Bridges, is mature and insightful, with the demeanor of a trusted friend chatting with you over a beer. No yelling, no loud music, no special effects, no over-the-top joke to grab your attention.

Fourth, all of this incredibly successful Hyundai advertising relies not on digital or viral or social media, but on "traditional" media like print and television (audible gasp goes here). Two media whose average reader and viewer is 50+.

This from Mr. Ewanick in an Ad Age interview last October: "My faith in ads has been significantly reinforced this year. The power of the 30-second commercial, if done right, can move mountains."

All of which is the perfect pitch to the very busy, very smart, very open to new brands, 45-65 consumer. The consumer that Detroit lost 30-some years ago when we switched from Chevys and Chryslers to Toyotas and Hondas, from Cadillacs and Lincolns to BMWs, Mercedeses and eventually Lexuses. The consumer that spends $2.5 trillion annually compared to $1.5 trillion for the younger segments.

Having spent a few years in Detroit recently, I can tell you that automakers are squarely focused on, you guessed it, the 25-35 consumer. Their youth blinders are machine-welded firmly in place.

A friend of mine was recently in Detroit pitching a medium that targets boomers. A very nice marketing woman who will remain nameless remarked that while she loved the medium and the content, her brand didn't communicate "to people over age 50 because they don't have a lot of buying cycles left in them."

She was apparently unaware of the fact that the average America household buys 13 cars in its lifetime, 7 of them after the head of household turns 50 years old.

I have a feeling Joel Ewanick would not be caught off-guard or surprised by this Statistic; he seems to get it instinctively.

Maybe that's because, as one automotive journal said recently, he's a "marketing whiz."

Or could it be because he turns 50 this year.

I'm guessing it's a combination of both. A combination that Detroit -- and especially General Motors -- is desperately in need of.

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6 comments about "How Many Buying Cycles Do You Have Left?".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , May 17, 2010 at 11:28 a.m.

    The next chapter is to see whether GM actually uses what Mr. Ewanick recommends or a cultural clash puts some salt on his tail. It will be interesting.

  2. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry , May 17, 2010 at 11:47 a.m.

    I believe GM's missteps in avoiding targeting boomers has been the misconception that in order to be 'contemporary,' one has to be 'hip.' And the only way to be 'hip' is to be 'young.' Hyundai proved this is not the case. Additionally, Hyundai succeeded because, in essence, it knew the reasons its customers liked them, and it gave them more of it. The company was first to market with a 100,000 warranty, and the 'Hyundai Assurance Plan' is a logical, believable extension of that.
    Perhaps the 'anti-Hyundai' of recent years has been GM's Buick. Instead of embracing the fact that its buyers were mature boomers, the brand keeps trying to get younger and younger. As a result it is little more than a niche brand right now. For more on Buick's missteps, read here: http://ht.ly/1M57f
    http://www.quisenblog.com
    @mickeylonchar

  3. Ronda Wasser from Grandgifting , May 17, 2010 at 12:23 p.m.

    Thank you, Brent! Very insightful, fascinating story.

    The stats are so compelling it's a continuing mystery why marketers don't 'get it'. It's like they turned pressed the mute button.

    Wishing Mr. Ewanick great success - it will make for a much better ending to the GM fiasco.

  4. Nancy Padberg from Navigate Boomer Media , May 17, 2010 at 2:20 p.m.

    Great article and insights Brent, Thank you!

    Some additional car facts to note Toyota Matrix campaign targeted 28 yrs olds - who is average age buyer and driver - 43 yr olds!

    How about the Honda Element - targeted 30 yr olds and the buyer and driver - 48 yrs old!

    Pontiac Vibe campaign targeted 30 yr olds - Actually 48 yr olds driving it.

    The stats for other categories -

    Moviegoers over age 50? 24%

    Boomer Women spend on clothing - $24 billion

    Boomers Buying 80% of Luxury travel

    Gen X and Y are too busy paying rent, buying concert tickets and buying meals.

    Thank you for the article, keep them coming and Congratulations on your new agency, sorry missed you in New York Friday!
    Nancy Shonka Padberg, CEO Navigate Boomer Media, Largest Online Boomer Ad Network

    Source, "Generation Ageless" by J. Salker Smith & Ann Clurman of Yankelovich.

  5. Jerry Shereshewsky from GrownUpMarketing , May 17, 2010 at 5:48 p.m.

    Brent is a delight to read or hear. His trenchant observations are matched by his style and tone. Thank you Brent. I wish only that this was mandatory reading in Detroit and Orange County and not just us talking to us.

  6. James Sanfilippo from Innocean Worldwide Americas , May 17, 2010 at 7:22 p.m.

    I'd wager Joel will assemble as insightful a team @ GM as he left behind in So. Cal!

    Nicely done Brent!