The AARP At CES: Finally Listening To Boomers?

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), its organizers and exhibitors finally seemed to value Boomer consumers. They recognize, of course, that Boomers are driving sales of the hottest products in their space: tablet computers and 3-D televisions. They also see that Boomer spending on health devices represents the best way for the $200 billion consumer electronics industry to capture a slice of the $2.6 trillion healthcare industry.

But what surprised me most at this year’s CES was hearing an organization that has long acknowledged the value of Boomer consumers – AARP – actually reveal that it’s starting to listen to them, too.

At the opening of the Silvers Summit (a CES sub-conference focused on aging consumers), MSNBC anchor Alex Witt interviewed Emilio Pardo, AARP chief brand officer. Witt, a Boomer herself, showed natural sensitivity to the needs and interests of other women like her.

Pardo shared the results of recent AARP research evidencing a desire to understand these women, too. Some of what he said sounded familiar.

Boomers and their Children: a New World

Pardo described how Boomers are now having multi-generational conversations with their friends and family members of all ages, and are no longer isolated (as their parents were) with their equally isolated peers. I’ve written recently about evidence that there is no longer a generation gap between Baby Boomer women and their children; as a result, Boomer moms assert an influence over their children unseen in earlier generations. If you hold onto stereotypes that apply to parents older than 65, you won’t engage parents aged 50 to 65, men and women who meet their children daily on Facebook or Skype.

50-70: A New Lifestage

Pardo also shared a graph revealing that Boomers now find themselves in a new lifestage, one between the late 40s and the late 60s that simply didn’t exist before. The path of learning and discovering continues well past the stage when it ended for their parents. Boomer women have been telling us for many years that they inhabit a lifestage all its own. Marketing guru Marti Barletta was the first person to explain to me, at least five years ago, that the longevity revolution didn’t add 20 years to the end of life; it added 20 years to the middle of life. Our own 2009 white paper (based on a survey of 1,000 Boomer women) confirmed that this is exactly how women perceive it. I’m glad the AARP noticed.

New Language of Aging?

Pardo also said that AARP’s research has identified a “new language of aging.” We’ve seen real Boomers using that language since we launched our site in 2008. And, as early as 2004, the Harvard School of Public Health (together with the MetLife Foundation) wrote, in a report called “Reinventing Aging,” that “the current language of aging is obsolete and may be an impediment to change. New language, imagery, and stories are needed to help Boomers and the general public re-envision the role and value of elders and the meaning and purpose of one’s later years.” Eight years later, I’m glad the AARP agrees.

The AARP has come a long way in recognizing that the Boomers they target are fundamentally different than the seniors they have known for so long. But they do have one remaining hurdle. Pardo didn’t mention it, but there’s another word that Boomer women (and Boomers of both genders) don’t want to hear, as I’ve written before and, unfortunately, it’s a word in the AARP’s own name: “retirement.”

Tags: baby boomers
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3 comments about "The AARP At CES: Finally Listening To Boomers? ".
  1. Mark Bradbury from AARP Media Sales , February 13, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.
    Nice post. A point of clarification... AARP originally named the American Association of Retired Persons, but in 1999 it officially changed its name to "AARP" to reflect that its focus was no longer retirees. AARP requires members be 50 years of age or older, not that they be retired.
  2. Suzie Mitchell from Mitchellpr.com , February 13, 2012 at 1:34 p.m.
    Agree it's a nice post; but AARP publications have been targeting Boomers for years. They understand the 50 plus market as evidenced by their blogs and their magazine articles.
  3. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion , February 14, 2012 at 6:09 p.m.
    AARP has recognized these things for several years and in addition, understands today's active 70s+ far better than most organizations, including my own organization. Many members of the "silent generation," just ahead of the boomers, actually led the way for their younger generational siblings.