Boom Time For Boomers

In the early days of television, media was bought on households and broad demographics like “men” and “women.” Then in the early 1960s, trailing network ABC had an ingenious idea: Why not change the buy-sell conversation and sell on strengths? ABC did not lead in overall household performance, but it did lead among younger TV viewers. The “sell” was that these younger 18- to 49-year-old viewers were open to messaging and did not have intractable brand loyalties. Advertisers could reach them while they were open for conversion and willing to experiment. The idea stuck -- and soon all networks were targeting to that valuable consumer group of Adults 18-49.

But maybe youthful age targeting was a bit too simplistic? Maybe the mindset of 18- to 49-year-olds in the 1960s was actually more psychographic than demographic. Young adults of that time were different from older adults. They were also different from previous generations of young adults. Maybe, just maybe, the shift to A18-49 selling in the 1960s was because A18-49s at that time were Baby Boomers. And you know how different Boomers are from other generations.

In a cruel irony, let’s shift to 2013, when the tyranny of targeting A18-49 continues unabated, as the Boomers, who once epitomized this youth trend, age out into the advertising netherworld of 50+. The generation that wouldn’t trust anyone over 30 now looks back at that age with some nostalgia.  But psychographically, we are still fitting into our skinny jeans and ready to change the world. My mom says that “people don’t change,” and I have to agree. So maybe it’s time to reconsider the A18-49 media target.

Last week I attended a Town Hall meeting, “Rethink 50+,” sponsored by RLTV and hosted by Jane Pauley, which focused on the attitudes, activities and aspirations of Boomers. A version is slated to air on Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. on RLTV. Panelists included NBC’s Alan Wurtzel, whose work on Alphaboomers showcased their buying power and cultural influence, CBS’ David Poltrack, whose research proves that Boomers embrace media and are big consumers of high tech and media services; advertising columnist Stuart Elliott of the New York Times; film critic Jeffrey Lyons; media executive Johnathan Rodgers; Nancy Graham of AARP; Brian Terkelsen of MediaVest; and Kirsten Flanik of BBDO. Videos from this event can be viewed here.

Adults 50+ are 100 million strong, and they are “spending, high worth, highly active, interesting people,” according to RLTV President Paul Fitzpatrick. And by 2017, Adults 50+ will constitute over 50% of the US population. Did you know that the average American consumer buys 13 cars in his or her lifetime, seven of them after the age of 50? So why aren’t there more product categories willing to buy and sell on Adults 50+?

The panel noted the ingrained prejudices about older adults: That they are set in their ways and are not brand experimental. But hasn’t the consumer environment changed over the past 50 years? Aren’t there more product choices, and brand-new-to-market products that are continually invented and upgraded? Example: The iPhone did not exist prior to 2007, and now 23% of all iPhone purchasers are 55+.

Boomers represent the generation epitomizing a revolutionary, individualized mindset open to new stimuli, who also now have the discretionary income needed to act on their innate consumerism. Unlike younger consumers today, Boomers, with three trillion dollars of spending power, are willing to spend it not only on themselves -- for clothes, travel, launching new post-retirement second career businesses, CPG, fitness and autos -- they also spend on others. Boomers are part of the Sandwich Generation. According to the AARP, more than 70% of all Boomers are supporting their children in and out of college and are caregiving their own parents.

Why not target a consumer group that is responsible for a range of purchasing decisions, not only for themselves, but also for the previous and future generations of consumers? Granted, A50+ are not the “be-all / end-all” target for every single consumer category. But they do represent a considerable percentage of spending in so many important consumer goods and services. We... I mean, they, should not be counted out.

Tags: demographics, tv
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10 comments about "Boom Time For Boomers".
  1. Jane Fiore from JHF Media , January 29, 2013 at 1:34 p.m.
    THANK YOU! This is particularly meaningful to me as both a television seller and an individual about to "age out" of the 18-49 demo at the end of the week. I am an active consumer, mother of two teens, wife of an 55+ ad sales exec. it's hard to believe that marketers would want to target my 18 year old son over us; we're the ones paying for everything. We've got the money!
  2. Chuck Nyren from Advertising to Baby Boomers , January 29, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.
    Hmmm. It all sounds vaguely familiar. Since 2003: http://www.advertisingtobabyboomers.com/
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , January 29, 2013 at 2:55 p.m.
    Not new, but obviously this needs repeating since it hasn't gotten through to so many functionals. Please add, too, the high percentage of boomers who are NOT married or attached nor have the desperation to be yet have the income to spend. Such an ignored market and so much money to be had.
  4. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant: WeislerMedia.blogspot.com , January 29, 2013 at 3:38 p.m.
    Thank you all for your comments. Yes it has been told before but the message doesn't seem to change the buy / sell market. Maybe now...?
  5. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant: WeislerMedia.blogspot.com , January 29, 2013 at 3:39 p.m.
    And Happy Birthday Jane!
  6. Cynthia Neely from Black Gold Productions , January 30, 2013 at 10:54 a.m.
    It is high time that media buyers realize that boomers are far more capable of purchasing new products or watching television and movies than the 18-49 group. I am 62, my husband 65, and we have the income we only dreamed of at that age. I use an iPhone, iPad, and computer constantly and Tweet and Text. I am on Facebook. I do yoga, exercise, do volunteer work, attend plays, etc. etc. I am nothing like my parents were at my age. My peers are all just like me! My 27 year old daughter runs her own business and my 26 year old son is in college and living at home. Neither have much time for TV nor have any expendable income. I am constantly shaking my head at the outmoded attitude advertisers and networks have of my age group. We laugh that by the time they wise up to the gold mine boomers represent boomers will all be dead and advertisers will be in unemployment lines!
  7. anthony parello from Parello Co. , January 30, 2013 at 12:01 p.m.
    One of the things I have heard as of late about the less desirability of the over 50's in the primetime TV market is a sort of supply and demand situation. Since over 50's watch more TV than say a 28 year old it is easier to get the eyes of a 55 year old on your commercials at other times of the day. They may watch soaps, chat shows, cable news, cooking shows, game shows, syndicated repeats, or network news. The 28 year old is rarer and not watching as much TV so prime time advertisers are seeking them out so then the programming follows suit. Obviously the most successful formula is CBS' where they have a very high number of over 50 viewers while maintaining high demo viewership as well. Just a thought.
  8. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant: WeislerMedia.blogspot.com , January 30, 2013 at 12:55 p.m.
    Hi Anthony, Yes one of the comeback lines from buyers is that 50+ can be found almost anywhere but are you connecting with them in programs that are constructed to actually appeal to 18-49s? Are these programs resonating? Another thought in this matter is that today's Boomers are not really heavy viewers of TV. Millward Brown recently did a survry for RLTV that found that A45+ are medium to lighter viewers --- maybe because they are still working or very active in second life activities? More research needs to be done but I think the previous ideas of how older Americans use media needs to be updated.
  9. Anne-marie Kovacs from Boombox Network , February 5, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.
    The old advertising paradigm that favors the 18-49 market is lamentably slow to shift, but my agency is seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. Certain companies "get it", are acting accordingly and are on a better track to win over boomer customer support and loyalty. For your curiosity and amusement, here is an article we wrote in Terry O'Reilly's podcast on Ageism in Advertising: http://boomboxnetwork.com/2012/10/ageism-in-advertising-a-short-history/. Worth the listen!
  10. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant: WeislerMedia.blogspot.com , February 7, 2013 at 10:09 a.m.
    Thanks for the link. It adds insight into the conversation.