Simple common sense dictates that marketers should turn their thinking around, yet they seem to have little or no interest in learning how to sell to all those Boomers. Too bad, because in some ways Boomers are even more self- indulgent than their kids and grandkids, and they're eager to spend on themselves before eventually passing whatever's left to the next generation.
Gerontologist Robert Butler coined the word "ageism" in 1968, not long after the first Baby Boomers reached the age of majority. Basically, Butler defined ageism as looking at older adults in a way that strips them of their individuality. Like any pernicious -ism, it replaces uniqueness with simpleminded stereotypes that make the ageist more comfortable. It also fuels attitudes and behaviors that diminish the humanity of older adults, making them easier to ignore or abuse while marginalizing them to the edges of daily life.
Tolerance of ageism will begin to end with the advent of the Baby Boomers, a huge, rich and powerful group of individualists who won't sit still for being treated like anything less than the center of their own little universe. As they enter "old" age, they're going to mark that milestone in ways that will force us to transform how we treat older adults, and ultimately that will be good for business and society.
Of course, this transformation won't come without a struggle. However, if the history of the Boomer Movement is any indication of their power to move mountains, it will inevitably happen. They were, after all, among the leaders in overcoming the toxic effects of racism and sexism. And they'll inspire future generations to keep at it until those poisons have been completely eliminated from our society.
Historically, ageism has always been demeaning to older adults, but almost all of them have borne abuse stoically, much in the same way that women did before the feminist movement broke the shackles of America's male-dominated culture. Interestingly, Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique published in 1963, took on ageism when she wrote The Fountain of Age 30 years later. Some people just don't know their place.
If you aspire to sell anything to Boomers, you need to first thoughtfully examine, assess and rethink your attitudes about aging, because if you slip and appear to be ageist in your advertising or marcom, they'll never forgive you or your business. However, if you structure your advertising and marcom strategies and executions based on the assumption that Boomers are genuinely important individuals, you'll grow your business. The bottom line is that when you marginalize Boomers, you marginalize your profit potential.
Young or old, we're all ageist to some extent. There's not a person among us who doesn't knowingly or unknowingly have at least a handful of ageist tendencies. That's why as a thought leader in business, you need to discover and stay in touch with your thinking, feelings, attitudes and behaviors concerning older adults.