Listen Up, TV And Advertising Execs: I'm Not My Father

In less than a month, I will turn 55. In the real world. this is not a notable birthday -- no one's throwing me a party. But in the world of marketing, television programming, and advertising, it's a number of great significance.

Having already moved out of the 18-49 demographic, I am about to move out of the key 25-54 group and become part of the dreaded and nebulous 55+ category.

What will happen between now and next month that will change how advertisers and networks see me?

I will still have more disposable income than ever. I will still watch lots of TV (although not much live), go to lots of movies (where I actually do see the commercials), and buy lots of stuff. I will still use numerous mobile devices, from my BlackBerry to my iPad2. I will still subscribe to Netflix, have three DVRs, stream video fairly often, text at least a few times every day, and spend a good deal of time on Facebook. I will still play games with my 12-year-old son on Playstation 3 and Wii. And I will continue to try new brands (at least those that acknowledge I exist).

But advertisers, marketers, and networks will now see me as though I was part of my father's generation. I am not. Ignore me and those like me at your own risk.

• When my father was my age, his son had already graduated from college, moved out of the house, and started working. I have a 12-year-old son, and have probably spent more money this year on video games than on food.

• My dad grew up during the Depression, which resulted in a whole different way of seeing the world, consuming products, and dealing with money. I grew up during the 1960s and 1970s, in the heart of the middle-class Baby Boom generation.

• My dad was in the army during World War II. I turned 18 the year we got out of Vietnam (part of the last group to actually get a draft card, and the first generation in many years not to go to war).

• I was also among the first generation to grow up with television (my dad grew up with radio).

In short, I'm part of a completely different generation than my father, with a completely different mindset.

A few years ago, the Council For Research Excellence (CRE) released its landmark Video Consumer Mapping Study, which dubbed 45-54 year-olds "Digital Boomers." This group tends to watch television similarly to the next older age group, but uses computers and mobile devices more closely to the next younger age group (I was fortunate to help spearhead this study, along with my colleague Shari Anne Brill, as co-chairs of the CRE's Media Consumption and Engagement Committee).

These Digital Boomers are now moving into the 55-64 age group. Adults 45-64 should be one of the key advertising demos. It is no coincidence that the average median age of the broadcast networks' prime-time audience falls smack in the middle of this group. A lot of people don't realize they are also the heaviest DVR users.

The very idea of age being the primary driver of media usage, however, may well be an antiquated notion. My son just moved out of the 6th grade. When I was his age, my classmates' parents were generally similar in age, income, marital status, and even number of kids per household. Life stage didn't matter much when it came to measuring media, because people of a certain age were typically in similar life stages. When I look at my son's class today, I see parents who range in age from their mid-30s to late 50s, half of whom are divorced.

I have friends who are the same age as me, some with no kids, some with kids in college, some married, some divorced, some single. I have friends in their 30s and 40s with kids the same age as mine. Whose media habits are closer to my own?

When it comes to radio listening or what I load on my iPod, probably someone closer to my age (unless my 12-year-old son is in the car). When it comes to home computer use, what movies I go to see or download, how much I text, or my video game usage, there are almost certainly more similarities to younger parents with children the same age as mine. Without a kid my son's age, I doubt I'd be so familiar with Youtube or whatever dot com he asks me to check out today.

My TV viewing and time-shifting habits are probably somewhere in the middle. Some shows, such as "Modern Family" and "Glee," we often watch as a family pre-10 p.m. (although not necessarily on the day it initially airs). Other series, such as "Sons of Anarchy" and "The Walking Dead," I watch after my son goes to bed.

What's the bottom line? I forget. Oh, yeah, life stage age trumps age, but if the industry insists on using age/sex as a key metric, 45-64 should be among the most significant groups to target.

Tags: television, tv
Recommend (26)
13 comments about "Listen Up, TV And Advertising Execs: I'm Not My Father".
  1. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , July 28, 2011 at 2:30 p.m.

    LOVE this! I am about to turn 50 and regularly hang out by the PS3 with the resident 17 year old until 3am and my fav shows are TMZ and Entourage ... and I still take a guilty pleasure from an occasional Matlock! Thank you for writing this.

  2. Julie Piepenkotter from FX Networks , July 28, 2011 at 2:34 p.m.

    Really smart piece, Steve -- and Happy Birthday next month!!
    Btw -- get ready to *love* the new season of Sons of Anarchy which bows Tuesday, Sept. 6th at 10:00PM on, of course, FX! :D
    Best, Julie - your blackjack pal

  3. Cheryl Nelson from The Food Channel , July 28, 2011 at 2:44 p.m.

    Doesn't it seem pretty obvious that common sense should have kicked in by now with brands/advertisers and at agencies/networks about this powerful age group? Is all the bad news about the future and its impact on Boomers that is affecting their outlook? I think we are a resourceful group! I'm 61 and I participate in Twitter parties, handle Social Media for several of my clients and will be launching a QR campaign soon. Just because my hair is white doesn't mean I'm asleep at the wheel! Have you seen those great billboards that say - Wake-up People! Seems fitting here.

  4. Philip Moore from Philip Moore , July 28, 2011 at 2:55 p.m.

    Demographics are soooo 1990

    We did our own behavioral segmentation study to develop a new media strategy and doubled our unaided awareness in 8 months (after 5 years of plateau). It was very expensive research (5000 respondents to a 45 minute survey), but the cost was miniscule compared to the value we achieved by getting the right creative in front of the right audience (and it had nothing to do with anyone's age).

    Now if Nielsen and the agencies could just catch up with the rest of us, life would be grand.

  5. Bill Ganon from Verve , July 28, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.

    Really concise and well expressed Steve. I too, a just-turned-54 stand too on the precipice of target audience wasteland - the 55+. I remember from my media planning days (somewhere between Jurassic and Paleozoic period) how dismissive the media plan was to the 55+. Literally off the radar. Lots changing today and we'll see if advertisers besides begin to get it - or if we remain relegated to "old, no kids in HH"-centeric product messages.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 28, 2011 at 4:23 p.m.

    Happy Birthday ! One thing forgotten is that 55 year olds (others, too) must save more than their parents. Remember a larger portion of income now is spent on media than our parents, too. Plus, a larger portion of income is rivited in debt than your parents plus a larger portion of your income is going to be spent on your son's college education even though you now in the more income to spend bracket.

  7. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc. , July 28, 2011 at 4:30 p.m.

    Great post, enjoyed it a lot. I'm turning 59 tomorrow so I can certainly relate. We've had parallel careers, I spent the first half of my career in NY; Ted Bates, JWT, Dentsu and Vitt Media.

    Keep up the good work, nice to see you're in demand now that you're consulting.

  8. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston , July 28, 2011 at 5:48 p.m.

    Welcome to the so-called 55+ demo, or as I tell my students, 55-death.

  9. Steven Graff from Bloofusion Inc. , July 28, 2011 at 6:04 p.m.

    These ancient demographics also assumed a great deal about employment and earning potential that no longer apply in an economy that's been sputtering for well over six years and a society that has pushed retirement out an equal number of years.

  10. Jan Renner from driverTV , July 29, 2011 at 6:27 a.m.

    Terrific post. Do you think this means more programming and content designed for this demo is needed, or just better ways to target them?

  11. Bert Shlensky from stretchandcover , July 29, 2011 at 11:38 a.m.

    Remember and I am 66 , it is our generation that has led this country in everything since after the war. We also have all the money, are the largest population segment have the most discretionary income and frequently do help support our kids and parents . However ,to integrate the over 55 category which includes workers at their prime , affluent retirees and people in nursing homes is absurd . It shows the stupidity of marketing executives today

  12. Cece Forrester from tbd , August 9, 2011 at 11:42 a.m.

    Another problem I've observed is that thirty-somethings tend to mentally put all boomers in the same basket with their own parents, regardless of how their actual lifestyles may differ. A little more imagination should be applied when envisioning such a diverse group. Generalizations work up to a point. Part of being a good marketer is to find and remove your goggles of preconception, whatever they may be, if they're getting in the way of good insights.

    At some point "old" and "young" stop being useful categories because they lead us to confuse issues. For instance, working on a clothing brand, I realized that no Boomer woman who's worn blue jeans all her life is going to stop just because the odometer rolls over. She is an individual of her own generation; she does not suddenly morph into her grandmother and put on her grandmother's uniform.

  13. Marc Allan Feldman from Openivo, Inc , October 27, 2011 at 8:46 a.m.
    The concept of the advertising demographic may become obsolete. It is not hard to imagine an interactive system where TV ads can find their own markets. Ads on Google Search use interests, not demographics to target. http://openivo.blogspot.com/2011/10/tv-ads-that-find-there-own-market.html