Do You Have A Story To Tell? Baby Boomers Want To Hear It

A huge cognitive gap exists between a 30-year-old copywriter and a 65-year-old consumer. The result is that very little advertising aimed at Baby Boomers reflects the way they think because, typically, the young copywriter sees the world through the lens of an under-40 year old.

As individualistic as our fingerprints, how we think is influenced by our unique life story, our current circumstances, our environment, our worldview and, finally, the experience and wisdom we gain through aging. In fact, it’s different from how you thought as a child or even 10 years ago.

As we age, we tend to experience an increase in right brain participation in our mental functions. The right brain is as different from the left brain in how it sees and makes sense of life as you and I think. It would seem then that increased activity in the right brain in later life would result in changes in world views, values and what people expect from life. It also appears likely that a different style of communications is needed to connect with the right brain than the style that best connects with the left brain.

So the lesson in all of this is that, as the Baby Boomer brain moves to the right, the marketer must also do so in how he or she develops communications for Baby Boomer markets. More specifically, the mechanistic, analytic reasoning left brain wants facts and prefers them in clear, unambiguous terms. The emotional, intuitive right brain is less interested in details than in the total picture. The left brain sees things in terms of categories; the right brain in terms of relationships. 

Today, all of the Baby Boomers are now over the age of 51 and have a stronger right brain orientation than younger markets of the past. This is because mental activity in the right hemisphere of the brain tends to increase. This is a critical factor in creating messages for Baby Boomers because the brain’s right hemisphere sees things differently than the left hemisphere does.

The right hemisphere perceives reality in images — in sensory images to be more precise. So how does one convey non-visual sensory information in a print ad? By creating multi-sensory word pictures. Even though the right brain has only rudimentary word-processing skills, it draws on image-associated words to key the formation of sensory images. The left hemisphere sizes things up in words. It’s the brain’s word processor. 

Generating emotionally strong responses is more critical in Baby Boomer markets than in younger ones because older minds depend more on emotions (gut feelings, a.k.a. intuition) in forming perceptions, thoughts and decisions than younger minds do. 

The right brain also likes metaphors — images of one thing that remind one of something else. It helps the right brain’s comprehension of a matter or brings the matter home more vividly. This overcomes the right brain’s very limited language abilities. You’ve heard, I’m sure, that a picture is worth a thousand words. To the right brain, that’s a maxim. It’s also important to know, however, that the left brain, endowed with powerful language skills, is unable to decipher metaphors. Standing as abstract representations of reality, words generally are less evocative of emotions than images are. Sensory images are far more effective in this regard. And of course, the stronger the emotional responses generated by a message, the greater attention the message is likely to get.

Finally, stories, stories, stories. The right brain loves stories. The stronger right brain bias of Baby Boomers also increases their responsiveness to messages conveyed through stories as opposed to expository or neutral statements. Stories generally do a better job of emotionally engaging Baby Boomer minds. In fact, Baby Boomers are more likely than younger consumers to ignore a message that simply describes a product with little or no affect.

The rightwards shift in mental activity that is associated with Baby Boomer minds promotes a number of crucial changes in how they see the world and try to make sense of it. This gap can never be fully closed but if the 30-year-old makes it his or her business to learn as much as s/he can about how Baby Boomers think, noteworthy progress can be made.

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4 comments about "Do You Have A Story To Tell? Baby Boomers Want To Hear It ".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Independent, April 6, 2015 at 10:15 a.m.

    I have a problem with the premise of this column. Just because a copywriter is not 65 doesn't mean they don't know someone who is 65, or can't find out more about how people that age think and feel. The truly talented in this field don't only create to their own experiences, they have the ability to get into other peoples' heads and understand and communicate to points of view other than their own. This ability isn't solely reserved to those people with 20+ years of experience. Those with more experience should be in a position to be sure that the creative output of the younger creatives hits the mark, but that doesn't mean they can't do it.

  2. Stephen McGill from McGill Buckley, April 9, 2015 at 5:18 p.m.

    Jonathan,
    I'm not sure the author was suggesting that someone has to be the same age as the audience they are writing for. Rather, they need to really understand the audience. When you think about that should be the case for any writing that is done for any specific audience. Enjoyed the article a great deal.  

  3. Jim Gilmartin from Coming of Age, April 9, 2015 at 6:29 p.m.

    Stephen,

    You've captured the essence of my intent.

  4. Beth Charlesworth from Charlesworth productions, April 10, 2015 at 3:33 p.m.

    Jim, this is a very interesting article, and reflects what I've often observed in maturing friends and colleagues. I'd like to pursue this further.  Can you give me some references to the research behind this? Thanks.