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.