Old Is The New Young

You may think that "old is the new young," is just a facile phrase meant to shake up your preconceived notions, and it is. Across the board, marketers have effectively ignored Boomers who have tons of money in favor of trendy teens and post-adolescents, many of whom can't find a well-paying job to support their credit card addiction.

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.

Tags: baby boomers
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4 comments about "Old Is The New Young ".
  1. Arthur Koff from RetiredBrains.com , July 7, 2011 at 10:46 a.m.

    We have found that boomers and seniors are primarily interested in information as opposed to tiles and banners.

    Editorial type advertising is particularly effective when information of value is provided with a link at the end bringing those interested in purchasing the product or service to a landing page where they can do so.

    The exception to this seems to be when the banner is such that the viewer completely understands what the product or service is. An example might be "Own a UPS store"

  2. Martin Gertler from BoomerHead, Inc. , July 7, 2011 at 12:46 p.m.

    We agree that marketers should be shifting their focus to recognize the buying power and influence of the more than 78MM Boomers as this group is still in its prime for the consumption of just about every good and servce. Having said that, it doesn't mean that messaging now needs to talk "old"; it just needs to talk relevant.

    We do take exception with the idea that Boomers are the center of their own little universe. All of our research shows that they are much more the "I" generation than they are the "me" generation...a cohort that is accustomed to making a difference and to being treated with respect.

    Marketers who acknowledge the importance of this audience through their actions will prosper. Those who ignore Boomers will have created their own brand glass ceiling. At BoomerHead, we've identified the headings that will predict the behaviors of Boomers and which marketers need to understand and apply. That's how we help them to know, connect and capture the Boomer consumer.

  3. Joe Buhler from buhlerworks , July 8, 2011 at 12:22 p.m.

    One more piece of advice to both clients and agencies: When marketing to boomers, maybe consider hiring a boomer to assist you in the effort. Business experience combined with real-life market know how is a valuable asset here.

    P.S. Full disclosure: Shameless personal plug!

  4. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , July 15, 2011 at 2:24 p.m.

    Please do a blog post on how offensive it is to "younger boomers" that new car commercials think it's so cool to have 25 year old "kids" worrying over their parents who are "so old" they are driving around with their "old" friends listening to the Cars??? When the heck did that happen? '80's people are now elderly? Led Zepplin for Cadillac was cool but to skip 15-20 years of music and use the Cars to market to "old" people is a reach ... just sayin' ... (makes me so offended that I am not sure I can recall the name of the car company)