Boomers Prove Their Clout At The Box Office

A month ago, Pamela McClintock wrote an article for The Hollywood Reporter on the failure of "Larry Crowne," a movie starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, mocking the age of its audience, 71% of whom were over the age of 50. Not only did McClintock demonstrate the classic blunder of underestimating the Boomer+ market, in a roundabout way, she highlighted the power of the very audience she mocked.

Look at it this way: "Larry Crowne" made a profit, despite being nearly universally panned by critics because of the size and power of the 50+ market.

In spite of Hollywood's traditional infatuation with younger audiences, some insiders are starting to wise up to the reality of the situation. "One of the most urgent issues we face as an industry is to figure out how to lure the Boomers back to the movie theaters," Bob Pisano, the Motion Picture Association of America's president and interim chief executive, attests.

And the facts back him up, proving that entertainment marketers who ignore the Boomer+ demo do so at their own peril. Consider the following:

  • 45 million people age 50+ see movies in theaters every year -- that's one out of every three adult moviegoers.
  • Those 45 million moviegoers demonstrate a growth of 18 million people over the last 15 years. That growth rate nearly doubles that of the 18-49 year-old movie-going population.
  • Over the next 10 years, the 50+ population is expected to grow by nearly 20 million, four times the rate that the 18-49 population, which means that movie going audiences will continue to age.

Imagine what "Larry Crowne" could have done had it actually been a good film.

Or rather, don't imagine, and simply look at the success of Woody Allen's recent success with "Midnight in Paris."

Without a big marketing budget, Sony Pictures Classics struck gold with this surprise box office hit by targeting older consumers directly and then reaping the benefits from the word of mouth for which Boomers have become so well-known. The film is Allen's most successful in 25 years and, with its success among older audiences as a foundation, is now being marketed to and attracting younger audiences. It's a welcome reversal of the conventional approach of targeting the younger demographic and depending on "spill" to impact older consumers.

The truth of the matter is, movies with older star power have proven to be highly successful when also critically acclaimed. "The King's Speech" starred Colin Firth (50), Geoffrey Rush (60) and Helena Bonham Carter (45), and "The Kids Are All Right" starred Annette Bening (53), Julianne Moore (50), and Mark Ruffalo (43). Reviews are critical to the success of movies among older movie goers. According to new research from AARP among its members age 50+, nearly two-thirds say they consult reviews before seeing a movie.

Movies like "Midnight in Paris," "The Kids Are All Right" and the Meryl Streep vehicle "Julia & Julia" succeeded because they met several of the general criteria required to encourage Boomer and older consumers to open their wallets for most categories of products and services. They delivered high quality, served a valuable purpose, and added to life's experience, so they were deemed by Boomers to be a smart expenditure.

But these films went a step further by depicting Boomers in a desirable light, which is what Boomers want in both entertainment and advertising that targets them. Boomers don't want to be singled out by their generation, and especially not by their age. They want to coexist amongst other generations based on their interests and relationships. This is how they're living their lives right now.

Boomers and older consumers are a distinctly powerful consumer segment. As the evidence defying the conventional wisdom continues to mount, we can use Hollywood as yet another example of why underestimating that power will prove to be an increasingly costly error.

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