MARKET FOCUS - Online With the "Affluent-Agers"

by , Aug 1, 2000, 12:00 AM
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Baby Boomers are in charge, and they’re all over the web

First it came to Boomer-in-Chief Bill Clinton (born 1946). Then Bruce Springsteen (b.1949) and Cybill Shepherd (b.1950). Soon Jay “Dennis the Menace” North (b.1951), like his elders, will receive in the mail the document that signals one’s entry into geezerhood…the AARP card.

Over the hill? Uncool? Out of it? Not this age cohort, mama. Baby Boomers—the same group that coined the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30”—are now turning 50 in record numbers. With every life-stage they’ve passed through, they’ve left a distinctive mark. Focused now on health, wealth, and yes, the Internet, today’s maturing hipsters continue to challenge the stereotypes of aging and shape the marketplace.

Today 50-plus adults are the fastest growing segment on the Internet. According to Jupiter Communications, they’ll account for 23 million users by the end of 2000, comprising a market larger than kids (14 million), teens (13 million), or college students (12 million). And 45- to 64-year-olds are staying online longer than their offspring. According to Media Metrix, aging surfers spend on average 6.3 more days per month on the Internet, stay logged on 235.7 minutes longer, and view 178.7 more unique pages a month than 18- to 24-year olds.

Chris Kelly, editor/co-publisher of ActiveTimes magazine, explains, “Mature people are information gatherers. They want to be fully informed before they make decisions. The Internet presents an easy, efficient way to track down information they need about products, health, finances, and other topics of interest.”

“Lifestyle- and health-related sites, as well as business-oriented sites, are becoming increasingly popular among older Americans,” says Doug McFarland, svp of Media Metrix. “Internet marketers with an eye on the future are discovering how focusing on this overlooked, high-spending audience can be a wise business strategy.”

Characterizing older Americans as “an online gold mine,” Media Metrix says their spending habits make them one of the most desirable markets on the Internet today. Many boomers are in their prime earning years, their kids are out of college, and they’ve got excess cash on hand.

Yet this group—with spending power pegged at $1 trillion dollars —is undermarketed to by online and bricks-and-mortar stores alike. “The retail world is not doing anything to attract the mature shopper,” Kelly points out. “Most mall stores are geared to a much younger set. The Internet could easily become the preferred mode for shopping for mature people. If they have a good experience buying products such as books and electronics, they’ll move on to clothing, cosmetics, home furnishings, and cars.”

Right now older Americans are mostly buying software, books, and CDs/tapes online. “As they discover more sites geared to their lifestyles, and become more comfortable using the Internet, we’re likely to see much of older Americans’ purchasing migrate to the Internet,” adds McFarland.

Despite heavy Internet activity among 50+ users, today few portals target them specifically. Top on Nielsen//NetRatings’ June 2000 list of sites visited by baby boomers, aarp.com reports 700,000 user sessions per month and in excess of 25 million hits. Although advertising appears on the site, space is limited to contractual partners and service providers of the not-for-profit organization. These include United HealthCare, Scudder-Kemper, and MetLife. Other health, hobby, travel, and investment sites certainly succeed in capturing a high percentage of viewers born between 1946 and 1964. But for a lifestyle site to appeal to both a 36-year-old and a 54-year-old, a woman facing menopause and a man facing retirement (or a new wife), and The Boss and Dennis the Menace under one URL is a big challenge. Nonetheless, the following sites are grabbing a good share of these eyeballs.

THE MAJORS

www.thirdage.com

A popular site designed to appeal to first-wave baby boomers, adults in their mid-40s to 50s, Third Age presents upbeat content “to get more out of your life” in an easy-to-read font size. Lifestyle channels are beauty, computers, family, health, horoscopes, love & sex, money, news, politics, and travel. Banner advertisers and interstitial “trusted sponsors” (called so on the pages) include Merrill Lynch, Oil of Olay, More magazine, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, American Express Travel, Sola Optical, American Century Investments, Millstone Coffee, FreeAgent.com, and Citizens for Better Medicare. E-commerce merchant partners include Barnes & Noble, CDNOW, Dell, Cooking.com, Godiva, Omaha Steaks, and other well-known brands.

www.myprimetime.com

Web newcomer My Primetime recently surpassed longtime category leader ThirdAge.com in traffic. Its target audience is also the 81 million baby boomers—especially those focused on self-improvement. In June, according Media Metrix, My Primetime pulled an audience of 1,585,000. Many ad deals are in the works, according to sales vp Joseph Porcellini. Currently Fidelity.com, GE Mortgage, and FreeAgent.com are live within the site’s five channels (family, money, health, work, and play). More than 150 life stages are covered on the site—parenting, divorce, caring for an aging parent, starting a business, etc.—and Porcellini says the goal is to match advertisers with life-stage content. “If you put specific products adjacent to relevant content, the performance of that advertising tends to be more effective.” In addition to banners and tiles ads, the company is also embracing advertiser-generated tools, utilities, and even content.

ONES TO WATCH

www.livineasy.com

Developed to help acquaint newbies of a certain age with the Net, the freshly launched LivinEasy offers Net training and guidance. Advertising is limited now, but if the site’s mix of hand-holding and health, hearth, travel, finance, cooking, and gardening content catches on, marketers are likely to follow.

www.goldviolin.com

Talk about niche marketing. Launched March 15, Gold Violin sells products to baby boomers to “enhance the quality of their parents’ lives.” Items include ergonomic garden tools, handcrafted English walking sticks, and big-print playing cards. This e-commerce site, which also distributes a catalog to 525,000 households, currently carries no advertising.

www.heavenlydoor.com

Sooner or later every baby boomer will go bust…and HeavenlyDoor, “the only full-service, publicly traded Internet company serving the death-care industries” provides check-out services. Content includes online obituaries and memorials, complete with photos of the recently departed. Current advertisers include GE Financial Network, Conseco Life Insurance, Genetic Technologies, Statues Online, Celebration Forest, Burials at Sea (www.seaashes.com), and Celestis Commemorative Space Burials. With the material so accessible, now the kids will have no excuse not to visit.

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