AARP: Marketers Must Rethink Boomers

AARP-AAutomakers have been chasing the rabbit of youth for decades -- but have they been doing so at the expense of the demographic that actually buys most of the new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.? Sure -- Millennials are putatively the next big wave of car buyers just coming into their own as spenders. The data show, however, that people 50 years of age and older are the ones doing the most car buying. J.D. Power & Associates data from its Auto Offline Media Report find that last year almost two-thirds of all new vehicles -- about 5.6 million cars and trucks -- were bought by Boomers. 

Automotive sales increased by one million over the past year, but 54% of that growth came from buyers age 50 and over, who were also responsible for 67% of new domestic auto purchases, 59% of foreign models, 56% of European, and 60% of purchases with Asian nameplates. 

Boomers also over-index for hybrid vehicles, and the most fuel-efficient gas-fueled cars were bought by adults 50 and over: Sixty-four percent of Chevy Cruze buyers were Boomers, and 62% of buyers of Ford Focus were in that age group. Of the more than 286 automotive models measured in J.D. Powers' study, 8 in 10 get at least 50% of their sales from buyers old enough to join AARP.

Chevrolet, in fact, is in the third year of its marketing program with the AARP. The program involves a $1,000 incentive to AARP's roughly 37 million members for the Chevy Impala and the Colorado mid-sized pickup. 

Mark Bradbury, director of insights and integrated marketing at AARP Media Sales, says that in their Boomer-focused ad creative both Chevrolet and -- in an earlier program -- Jeep feature active-lifestyle 50-somethings in bucolic settings. "For older consumers, it's about lifestyle. Boomers are less likely to be in urban areas. And while Millennials have been hit by unemployment, Boomers are more likely to be working. What you want to do in properties like AARP is design creative that connects with their life stage and their passions." 

Bradbury points out that the Jeep special offer with the organization featured a grandmother, but not of the stereotypical variety. "They aren't pretending to be 20," he says of 50-and-older Americans. "But they don't want to be defined by their age. They enjoy the life experiences that comes along with it. So marketers should focus more on [Boomers'] experience than their age." He says an example beyond the auto world is Pfizer's ad for Viagra that shows an older guy driving around in a muscle car getting things done. "The message is he's achieved the Boomer's ability to address problems, find solutions, and move on with the life they want to life."

Bradbury adds that while probably not much more than 10% of marketing dollars go toward Boomers, automakers and other categories are paying more attention now. "The mean age of new car buyers has gone from 46 to 55 in a 10-year span. Boomers have a 21% higher median household income than Millennials. They have accumulated wealth and money coming in right now that enables them to buy. I've been [at AARP] for five years, and when I first started it was a struggle to get brands to pay attention; now we have so many advertisers who want to learn." 

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