Was It Something I Said?

I recently wrote a column for a BusinessWeek about Super Bowl commercials and the missed opportunity of the 50+ market. Hardly controversial, or so you would think.

Just a simple contrarian point-of-view to all of the post Super Bowl pundits tongue wagging about what brand was funniest or most outrageous or simply boring in the one program of the year during which the commercials are paid as much attention as the show.

I made the case that a large portion of the Super Bowl audience is over age 50, with twice the discretionary spending power of any other group and yet not one spot was targeted anywhere near them. Unless the person over 50 was pining for their 20s again ... and that's assuming that when in their 20s they were male, with the libido of a jack rabbit and the intellect of a beer keg.

Many comments were positive and thankful; a fair number even added their own 50+ observations, wondering when the marketing world would figure out that 90 million people accounting for over half of all spending in America is a very rich goldmine just waiting to be tapped, which it is.



The shocker was the number of comments that were negative. Many people actually took the time to not just disagree, but to disagree virulently. A few of the more memorable writings go something like this ...

"Baby boomers want everyone to keep kissing their collective butts, but the fact of the matter is you only have another ten to fifteen years of buying power...We gave the 50 plus age bracket Blackberry[s] at work, HA WHAT A JOKE....Does it really require a geezer in an ad for a geezer to buy something?'re just trying to whine...The baby boomer generation is the most over-served, self-righteous, boo-hoo generation of the last 100 years. Not only has it poisoned the planet...95% of all males over the age of 50 would rather be 35...You are old and will be forgotten soon. And it's about time."

Whoa ... dudes ... what's up? Why the anger? It's just marketing. It's not like I was advocating taking away your Twitter accounts or taxing your Guitar Hero points. Can't we all just get along?

But seriously, folks ... The PEW Center released a study at the end of last year suggesting that the current generation gap is the largest in the almost 50-year history of the study. Even larger than during the Vietnam war era. Today, an astounding 79% of Americans believe that there is a generation gap in the ways young and old think and believe.

And then there's this ...

The average age of an advertising agency creative person is 28. The average age of a media planner is 24. And less than 4% of advertising agency personnel in America is over the age of 50.

I know why all the ads look and sound the way they do. I know why none of them talk to the 50+ audience. A friend of mine offered up this paraphrased quote from the Greek philosopher Xenophanes: "If horses had gods, they would look like horses."

Thirty-five year old creative people are always going to create messages that look like them, sound like them and act like them. Why? Because they're 35.

As marketers begin to realize the huge profit potential in the 50+ segment (and there are signs that some of the smarter ones are starting to do just that), they need to realize something else; Asking their general advertising agencies to create messaging for this group is like asking them to flap their arms and fly.

When can you understand what it's like to be an over 50 consumer? Not one minute, hour or day before your 50th birthday. Creating messaging for the 50+ target is no different than creating it for the Hispanic target, the African American target or the gay target; to do it right and well requires experience being a part of that target.

And before those of you under 50 stress your fingers feverishly typing a comment in the box below about my being ageist in reverse and discriminatory and one-sided and a typical boomer, remember this ... I was 35 once so when I talk about being 35, I speak from experience. Can you say the same?

19 comments about "Was It Something I Said? ".
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  1. Barbara Pflughaupt from BP Media Relations, LLC, March 15, 2010 at 12:22 p.m.

    My goodness... those under 50 should, at the very least, have some gratitude or respect for their parents and grandparents. The negative comments back are pretty vitriolic considering it was the over 50's who gave them everything they needed to succeed enough to be commenting on your article. Sad commentary in many ways.

  2. Arthur Koff from, March 15, 2010 at 12:30 p.m. is a destination for the 50+ age group and we are now receiving a good deal of advertising from companies interested in marketing their products and services to older Americans.

    Most of the advertising is initiated but the companies themselves and not by their ad agencies. The cost of reaching this market varies substantially from media to media and doing so through a site that specifically targets this demographic is cost effective for advertisers, but not particularly profitable for ad agencies.

  3. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc., March 15, 2010 at 12:32 p.m.

    Well written and documented, always best when we "confuse people with the facts". As a media practioner with 35+ years experience I learned long ago to let the data help steer me, not necessarily public opinion. So called public opinion can be fickle as evidenced by one of the posts you shared. The 18-49 demo is very important but let's agree to be less hung up on age and more on perpensity to purchase and/or respond to advertising. Make sense?

  4. Richard Shain from Performance Analysis Group, Inc., March 15, 2010 at 12:34 p.m.

    You are corrrect: It takes one to know one!
    Far Out Man..your comments are Right On!
    (Am I showing my age?)

  5. Thomas Villing from Villing & Company, Inc., March 15, 2010 at 1:32 p.m.

    I’m not quite from the Mad Men era of the agency business, but closer to it (at least in age) than I’d care to admit. When I first got into the business, everyone said 18-34 was the most sought after demographic for advertisers.

    Not long ago, I heard someone make that same statement and it made me wonder. Is that still true? I guess if you repeat something often enough, it does become accepted as reality. Then I read a great piece called “Take Me To Your CFO.” In it, Brent Bouchez laid out some very interesting statistics.

    By 2010, 50 percent of all consumer spending in America will be by people over the age of 50.
    The 18-34 demographic spends $1 trillion annually.
    Those 50+ spend $2.4 trillion annually.
    I suppose the conventional thinking was that younger buyers were less “set in their ways” than their parents so they were more open to new products and new brands. Lock them in early and have brand loyalty for life. I’m not sure that axiom cuts as much wood these days. Care to guess what demographic groups are among the fastest growing users of Facebook? Men 45-54 and women 45-65. The average age of handheld video gamers? 42. Average age of GPS system users? 50.

    You get the idea.

    Maybe 45-54 is the new 18-34.

    Maybe it’s time media moguls and modern day Mad Men grew up to the new realities.

  6. Haralee Weintraub from, March 15, 2010 at 1:39 p.m.

    Ads can respond to many age groups, for example the
    Isaiah Mustafa/Old SPice Ad, had an appeal to a wide age range of women. Or at least I think it did! Did the Ad increase the brand sales, or brand awareness? It captured the fantasy of advertising.

  7. Kathy Sharpe from Resonate Networks, March 15, 2010 at 1:41 p.m.

    Thanks for the insight.
    The stereotype of boomers being techno-phobes is just as rampant. I know a 90 year old with a Facebook page and the average age on facebook is over 35 so...... The bigger questions is does advertising anywhere really influence people over 50? Not that people of that age are "set in their ways", but that they need something more than a 30 sec spot to motivate a brand change.

  8. Barry Dennis from netweb/Omni, March 15, 2010 at 1:44 p.m.

    As a previous Publisher and Editor of a Mature Market publication for 10 years, one that I designed and built from scratch, I feel that many make the mistake of underweighting, or overweighting the Value of that marketplace. Yes, they have tons of buying power-but they are more judicious in it's deployment, preferring a Value Package that is different from Gen Y, say.
    Yes, and this is a biggie, they are Brand loyal, but not to the exclusion of a trial of some one else's Value Package, even if they return after the trail.
    I am merely suggesting that a good marketer's considerations extend beyond the immediate need of exposure a la Super Bowl contest for Best Ads.
    I venture that marketers deploying the Gen Y Super Bowl ads had fleeting thoughts of who the audience was, but opted for the path they took based on other considrations.
    That may be why their reaction to your suggestions was so virulent; they got aught with their pants down, and didn't appreciate your exposing their posteriors for a hard and well-placed kick.

  9. Bennett Zucker from Ziff Davis Inc, March 15, 2010 at 1:59 p.m.

    Uhhh ... maybe we're all just tired of being stereotyped as "the 50+ target," which "is no different than ... the Hispanic target, the African American target or the gay target."

    I have more in common with many young adults than I do with fellow consumers over 50. Same goes for racial and other social science classifications, which perpetuate segregation and breed resentment of media and advertisers that promote these ideas.

    Playing up certain attributes that we may share with others doesn't necessarily make for good advertising content. We all have individual attitudes, needs and interests. Isn't it obvious yet that stereotyping by age is as dumb as assuming that all African-Americans and gays are the same? Quoting The Elephant Man and the great sociologist Jerry Seinfeld, "I am not an animal!"

  10. Kay Marikos, March 15, 2010 at 2:08 p.m.

    I am not amazed at the anger. I first heard in the 80's from young employees. Boomers have apparently ruined the world. I wonder how they would react to the world of the 1950's with the restrictions and rules. We changed but ruined their world. At the risk of widening the generation gap. If they don't like it change it, we did.

  11. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 15, 2010 at 2:41 p.m.

    There is meanness in those comments and that's the rub. Those whipper snappers will be over 35 and 50 before they know it and they will be older longer than they will be young. Remember, presently we are living longer than ever before in history. It's the next, fatter (Check out some assistant living and nursing home facilities. Rare fat people.), generations which has a potential shorter life than their predecessors. As far as messages, there needs to be more balancing. All ages wear jeans. And most of those young twits forget what they are twitting before or if they bother reading what all the other twits wrote.

  12. Gerry Myers from Advisory Link, March 15, 2010 at 3:42 p.m.

    Great article. I write an annual Super Bowl ads critique as they apply/appeal to women. Advertisers continually miss the mark with both women and people over 50. I try many new products each year, even though I am a Baby Boomer. If it has a value-added feature, is more convenient, easier, more beneficial or just a new idea that I might find beneficial, I would try it. However, like every segment, women have differences and life stages within their own gender, so one size doesn't ever fit all. For more insight on women consumers, check out my website at

  13. Ginger Daughtry from SF Media Resource, March 15, 2010 at 3:59 p.m.

    For years I was the oldest person in the media dept of my agency. I didn't care to go out to the bars after work as often as I did when I was younger, but aside from that, I felt the day-to-day differences only slightly. I attribute this to two things 1) I was there first, so the culture that had developed had grown up around me and 2) I'm a gay woman with no children. In many situations, I had more in common with the 20/30-somethings than did the 30/40-somethings who were married with children.

    The point is, as at least one reply mentioned, that even age, gender, race, and sexual orientation can't truly encompass the lifestyle/purchasing preferences of any demographic. Anyone living today has so many choices and so many different platforms where they can be reached that good advertising has to reach beyond all the preconceived "the 18-49 demo is the prime target" thinking.

  14. Kevin Plate from Continuum Solutions Group, March 15, 2010 at 4:27 p.m.

    As a "self serving" boomer I would admit to poisoning the world by creating a generation (or two) of 20-something, A.D.D. ingrates whose expectations and realities of the world are immediately out of touch upon graduation. It will be interesting to see how their attitudes change with age and experience while taking a look at the historical scorecard to find out which generation was actually more productive.

  15. Diane Dzurochak from NONE, March 15, 2010 at 11:51 p.m.

    Thank you for acknowledging us! I think the challenge of advertising to 50+ boomers is the breadth of our differences (as one poster noted) and the fact that such a large number of us don't follow a certain definable set of 'norms' that marketers can grab onto.

    I run the gamut of hippness and squareness all rolled into one. I "get" and embrace 90% of new technology, but I use it differently and it is a part life -- it is not my ENTIRE life. I still like to read a book, to listen to the better quality of CD and the way the artist intended the entire package to be experienced, and so on, but I don't need to compete and keep the same pace as the 18-34 crowd. I feel perfectly fine defining my own special life that works for me. I think that is just a normal part of growing up (er, older).

  16. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, March 16, 2010 at 3:40 a.m.

    The Roissy in DC blog is starting to talk more about this issue: that of younger males hatefully trying to tell older males "you've had your day now get out of here" (the latest article is about how a hateful young woman tried to convince her 28 year old friend to abandon the 50 year old man she was in love with). From an evolutionary biology pov, younger males will often try to undercut those with more status than they have and, we can be sure that in prehistoric times, younger males often waited until the older alpha male showed an age-related weakness before striking at him.

    Of course many of us Boomer males are "35" for as long as possible. Some compete for the same women as many of the younger males as well. Status, education and experience often win.

    Smarter youngsters will show respect and try to learn from those older than they are. They will also clearly see that they will be 50 before they've finished enjoying being young and, therefore, should be working now to combat ageism and the idea that 50 is "old".

  17. Robert Mayer from Just Good Songs Inc., March 16, 2010 at 10:50 a.m.

    I'm a Boomer. I've had the opportunity to do some consulting work with some of the hip digital agencies and attended a couple of conferences on social networking etc.
    The bitter comment from the person that believes that boomers have poisoned society illustrates the larger issue of division going on in the marketing world today.
    There is a language that the tech/marketing youth use that virtually eliminates anyone over 40 from being considered for meaningful positions in the new world order of advertising.
    Now, advertising has always been a young person's game, but sprinkled quite liberally with creative and strategic wisdom from those who have been around for a while.
    SEO, SEM, etc are no different from the acronyms of generations past that are nothing more than insider language.
    However, a good creative insight remains the same today as it did yesterday. Maybe the proof that there is cross generational admiration for good work came in the Super Bowl, which I watched with a multi--generational group of fans who in unanimity decried the sophomoric humor, lack of product connection, and general decline of any real creativity.
    In this era of ethical confusion, we all can still learn from each other. Nothing replaces a great idea wonderfully executed.

  18. Priscilla Wallace from, March 17, 2010 at 1:40 p.m.

    Even when I was a 35-year-old creative director, I'd tell my creative teams to keep in mind that advertising is a business, not a free-expressing art form. As long as you are employed in an ad agency, your job is to sell your clients' products and services. And the fact of the matter is, Boomers either buy or influence the purchase of a vast majority of those products and services. It's also worth keeping in mind that selling to an age group won't get you very far. The key is to sell to lifestyles and attitudes. And guess what? Boomers play a big role in a wide variety of attitude and lifestyle groups that also include 20-to-30-somethings.

    So if you have any interest in elevating the effectiveness of your advertising, you would be well-advised to spend less time ranting about your ill-informed prejudice and a bit more time learning about how to woo, rather than snub the group that has a lot to do with keeping you in business.

  19. Kim Walker, March 21, 2010 at 3:06 a.m.

    I applaud your observations Brent. Here are my thoughts in a recent post:

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