Does 'Boomer' Now Mean 'Old'?

For many years, I’ve been making the point that Boomers aren’t as old as many marketers seem to think they are. The youngest Boomer is just turning 49, after all, and the “average” Boomer (born at the peak of the bubble) is only 55; they are a long way, in fact, from being old.

But in reality, no one seems to care.

Maybe because the media likes to cover all those Boomer “firsts” (like turning 65), it has proven harder than I expected to make people see the Boomer generation as anyone but its oldest members. The scribes and historians of the Boomer generation and Boomer marketing are themselves mostly over 60. Some who write and talk about Boomers are over 70, and are not even Boomers themselves. 

Marketers may also have contributed to this impression, by allowing “Boomer” and “Senior” too often to form part of the same sentence. There has always been more money in the Senior marketplace, after all, and I think it’s been hard for marketers and consultants to resist the temptation to connect the two generations, even if it doesn’t make sense to do so.

For these and many other reasons, it seems clear that just about everyone in the U.S. thinks that Boomers are old, and no number of surveys, no amount of hand-wringing and article-writing and foot-stomping, will change that fact.

Is it time to retire “Boomer”?

The people most people think of as Boomers are now becoming Seniors, and Gen X is rapidly entering mid-life. Before we know it, “Boomer” will rapidly lose its meaning. In fact, it may have already done so. 

Therefore, and with all due respect to this blog’s host (MediaPost’s Engage:Boomers) I propose that we call our target consumer something else.

What to Call Them

With every passing quarter, it seems, another major company says it wants to start targeting the consumers we write about here. But it also seems like each of these companies calls that target something different. Some call them “50+” while others call them “45+.” Some develop new terms (we’re comfortable calling them “vibrant women”), but nobody’s bright new idea has yet been adopted by others. 

My best guess is that we’ll end up with two solutions:

  • First, marketers will target the consumers they want to target without talking too much about age. If they want to reach women with college-aged and adult children, they’ll do so without talking about age. If they want to talk to women about post-menopausal healthcare, they can do so without mentioning age. And if they want to talk to women about their growing interest in managing their own financial future they can say so, without talking about irrelevant words like “retirement” or “husband.”

  • Second, I think we will settle on a general age to reflect the transition into midlife. Based on what women are saying in our community, 45+ seems a better descriptor than 50+, simply because many women start thinking and talking about the issues of midlife before they turn 50.

I can live with whatever solution works for others – so tell me, and our MediaPost community, what you think. 

Is it time to retire “Boomer”? And, if so, what should we put in its place?

Tags: baby boomers
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17 comments about "Does 'Boomer' Now Mean 'Old'?".
  1. Janice Kreutzer from Bisig Impact Group , March 11, 2013 at 10:03 a.m.
    I have been in media on the agency side since 1978. I am a seasoned Baby Boomer and media professional. As a BB I think we take pride in being one of the most privileged groups in modern history. We had the best of freedoms of the 50's & 60's. We saw and helped shape the country, our lives and our children's lives as no previous generation ever did. I doubt we will ever think of ourselves as old but wiser and more capable than any generation before us. As a media professional I still target demographic and psychographic audiences depending on my product or service no necessarily an entire generation. Proud to be a Boomer.
  2. Carolyn Hansen from Hacker Group , March 11, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.
    Please retire "Boomer" as a media term -- and not because it's synonymous with "old." Age is one of the last things that marketers and media professionals should care about when targeting. The exception is when age is a bona fide requirement for purchase -- for example, in Medicare marketing. The replacement should be behavior and interests -- not age.
  3. Lisa Cooke from Evergreen Productions , March 11, 2013 at 10:23 a.m.
    Presumably we are all adults once we leave our teens, regardless of our state of mental maturity and/or economic status. Recognizing the need marketers have sometimes to target a specific segment, I think we should start using the term: "adult group 30-40", "adult group 50-60", etc. This solution would also remove the pejorative notion of "age" as it relates to boomers.
  4. Stephen Reily from Vibrant Nation , March 11, 2013 at 10:26 a.m.
    Great comments - thanks. For Janice Kreutzer, I would say that admitting that "Boomer" might mean "Old" to marketers and agencies does not mean taking away anyone's pride at being a Boomer. It means separating generational attachment and identification from marketing, and (as Carolyn Hansen and Lisa Cooke says) thinking about lifestage and (where appropriate) age instead of generation.
  5. John Keck from Lifestyle Lift , March 11, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.
    I suspect that those wanting to change are not boomers and those wanting to stay Boomers are, in fact, Boomers. I target women 55+ and to have a target audience that is growing with 10,000 Boomers turning 65 EVERY DAY, with boomers being the only one's still reading the newspaper and watching TV when it is actually on television, not at another time - it makes Boomers a fabulous target audience. Obviously there are segments to Boomers and also, if one spends any time understanding them (by, for instance, reading "Engage Boomers") then one knows how quickly they are changing and adjusting to new technology. So I see no need to rid ourselves of a monikor that has proven valuable because in so many ways what Boomer is really saying is that a lot of us, even by segment, are making the same changes and adjustments to our lives, all at the same time. Like when I wanted instant coffee to be brewed instead of those Sanka packets, BOOM, instant coffee was brewed. See: we'er "boomers".
  6. Brent Bouchez from Five0 , March 11, 2013 at 11:15 a.m.
    Our research has shown that there is little to no upside in the term "boomer". Very few people who are boomers want to be referred to that way...it's a moniker that was applied to us by people who came before us...people who really didn't understand us. The one thing that we know for sure about the group of people that are now between 50 and 65 is that they are fiercely independent, that's how they grew-up...not wanting to be categorized or labeled by anyone. In many ways, as Stephen points out, "boomer" has become pejorative in it's use, especially by the younger groups. So why use it? And perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind if you make your living marketing to consumers over 50, is the fact that next year, GenX consumers will start turning 50...at Five0 we want our business to be about a life stage that many will be joining for years to come, not about a one-time demographic group.
  7. John Parikhal from joint communications , March 11, 2013 at 11:37 a.m.
    Great thought piece. Thanks. Since you asked for suggestions ... 1. Don't retire the name Boomers. Rebrand it. Stop talking demos and focus on positives and possibilities. Tell fresh 'stories'. 2. Don't reinvent the wheel. Everything that was true about Boomers 20 years ago is true today, just more nuanced. You might want to read "The Baby Boom: Making Sense of Our Generation at 40". You can get it used on Amazon for about $3. Full disclosure: I wrote it.
  8. Jim Morrison from Jim Morrison, LLC. , March 11, 2013 at 11:39 a.m.
    How about we work to lessen the habitual use of demographics as a lead tactic for targeting. A 45 year-old baby boomer can exhibit behavior and preferences that would label them as older psychologically and socially than a 60+ boomer. Example: A client tossed the demo factor and instead targeted an aspiring lifestyle (w/long-term commitment to the 1,000 tactical execution details) and top line revenue doubled.
  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 11, 2013 at 1:42 p.m.
    Note to JK: No, we were not freer in the 50's and 60's than we are now, not even white men. We were condensed, bubbled, less educated and blind sided. Let's not fall for that myth or yield to it as we form our present and future which would then be built on myth and miss the marks.....How about Supporters or something in that vein instead of Boomers ?
  10. Janice Kreutzer from Bisig Impact Group , March 11, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.
    Note to Paula: I don't disagree with your statement but as a child and teen during those years we had a great deal more freedom than I can imagine allowing children now. We are considerably more educated than our parents and certainly have more opportunities. We fought to change the things we didn't think were right and there were plenty. As a Boomer by any name we changed a lot including advertising and marketing just by the mere presence and buying power of such a large number of consumers. As a consumer group we still have the largest disposable income in the history of consumer groups. I have said for many years I prefer psychographic, lifestyle, user information over age groups. I spend my money and my time differently than other people in my age group in my own neighborhood.
  11. John Keck from Lifestyle Lift , March 11, 2013 at 3:05 p.m.
    I am honestly surprised at the differing opinions - though I have never heard this specific question addressed so I am looking into this a bit deeper. I just turned 61, born 1952, and I can say (and this is far from a "survey of one") that my "segment" has no issue being "boomers" - we have led a much luckier life than the current generation, never worried much about getting a job, seemed to have flowed fairly smoothly (as smooth as one can, we have all had a bump or two) through the job era and we do see "power" in our size. And this attitude includes many of our customers - especially the ones you see in our commercials, all of whom I have met. Yet I read much disagreement with this perspective. People even sending me "notes" reflecting a perspective I am unfamiliar with. So there is obviously another point of view, though to Brent - I have not done a "survey" nor have I ever head anyone, until this discussion - and I have had a lot of discussions about boomers - suggest that the term boomer is pejorative. Finally, my complements to MediaPost - dialogue like this is one of the values of such a post.
  12. LinDee Rochelle from Penchant for Penning , March 11, 2013 at 3:06 p.m.
    I don't think we should retire "Boomer" nor is it necessary to try to coin a new phrase. Whether we asked for it or not, “Boomer” is here to stay – at least for a few more years. Most Boomers I know understand and instantly recognize the term; and many who read/react to Boomer targeted materials are of ALL ages. We can't second-guess who reads what and why. If the first few words or an image resonates with them, they’re hooked, regardless of age. But as someone who targets all those who listened to Rock music on the radio 1954-1979 (for my Blast from Your Past book series), "Boomers" fits my target profile perfectly. And I too, am proud to be one – whatever we’re called. (BTW, I choose to omit “Baby” in the reference, most of the time.)
  13. Ruth ann Barrett from EarthSayers.tv , March 11, 2013 at 5:08 p.m.
    Targeting audiences with "age appropriate" messages about relevant products and services without relying on stereotypes associated with any given age range is the challenge. I still see segmenting done, for example, for everyone between the ages of 18 and 45 so please tell me how that works? Boomers is not linked to "seniors" by anyone I know which is one reason why those in the fifties receiving email and print campaigns that show folks in walkers and clearly well into their seventies and eighties are hitting the delete button, noting the email as junk, and/or using the waste basket for mail without opening it. Duh. Oh well, I expect every so often there will be conversations around retiring terms such as boomers or baby boomers, but one hopes it results in focusing on retiring stereotypes and moving towards age approppriate advertising rather than terms that are fairly well established and generally understood.
  14. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 11, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.
    Janice, for where you lived and even where I lived we seemed to be able to play outside more. Not as many people had that opportunity as we were led to believe. Women did not have the freedom to leave their abusive husbands and their children did not outside to play. Children did not have as much freedom to ask for help of any kind outside of their family and no where to go. I remember it on my block. That's just the tip of the skin on the teeth. Freedom is not free and our freedoms now cost a lot more. It is up to our Boomer generation to teach the up and comers what the truth is and what had to be done so they don't have to start at the beginning and lose what they have. (A party line was not waiting in line for the next iPhone.) Lest we forget.
  15. Ron Brindle from Brindle Media , March 12, 2013 at 11:48 a.m.
    As John Parikhal suggested, rebranding seems to make sense. It's my understanding that the term Alpha Boomer is being applied to those members of the Baby Boom generation who were born prior to 1956. There used to be an unspoken notion in media that once someone exited the 25-54 demo, they were no longer relevant to the needs of the advertising community. The enlightened have realized that's not true. We discuss these issues in our LinkedIn group, Ambitious Energized Alpha Boomers.
  16. John Parikhal from joint communications , March 12, 2013 at 2:07 p.m.
    Thanks Ron. Boomers are unlike ANY generation in American history. Here's why. Their moms married younger than any generation before or since and had 2-4 children spaced close together (who influenced each other in the home), TV 'united' Boomers, transistor radios 'freed' them, music was their newspaper, and college was cheap and available. This combination of closely spaced brothers and sisters along with mass media TV and radio is the reason that a 'youth' culture emerged. And, the moms were very young too. That's why most Boomers are secure in being Boomers. It was self-validating. The 18-34 and then 25-54 'demo' for advertising were invented because the Boomers were the biggest part of it. Anyone who underestimates them as they turn 65 (at the rate of 11,000 a day) is in for a surprise.
  17. Doc Searls from The Searls Group , March 12, 2013 at 8:52 p.m.
    None of us is an age or a population, and it's an insult to treat any of us as either. That's a fact of manners, though not of marketing, which deals in categories. I'll let that paradox lay there while pointing to what I wrote when I passed 65 last summer. It's called "The Final Demographic": http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2012/07/29/the-final-demographic/