Making Advertising Relevant To Boomers

In a national study called "The New Generation Gap Study" done for TV Land in 2007, consumers of all ages were asked if they agreed with the statement: "If it is done right, advertising definitely influences my purchases."

Some 55% of younger adults, those under age 45, said they agreed. But so, too, did 55% of Boomers. (Wow, only 55% agreed to that? Well, that must mean John Wanamaker really was speaking the truth when he allegedly said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half.")

Nonetheless, we'll take this as good news: Advertising can influence purchases.

The bad news is that, in study after study, Boomers tell us most advertising is not even intended for them. Last summer, Google and Nielsen fielded a national study among adults of all ages to learn more about online activity and media usage. They asked if we wanted to include any questions in the survey to update information we had published in our book, Boomer Consumer, in 2007.



Two questions we added to the study were about the intended target of advertising. Sure enough, Boomers told us the vast majority of advertising they see on TV or on the Internet is intended for "someone younger than I."

Our question: Advertisers communicate with consumers in a variety of ways. In general, who would you say most advertising is intended for?  

Google/Nielsen Consumer Study,
Summer 2010
On the
Someone YOUNGER than I 79% 84%
Someone MY AGE 19% 15%
Someone OLDER than I 3% 2%

As you have read here, this is a demographic cohort that spends over $2 trillion annually on consumer goods and services. Yet, 8 out of 10 Boomers tell us they think the advertising they see -- presumably on shows they watch and Web sites they visit -- is intended for younger consumers.

It's no wonder the average tenure for a chief marketing officer is less than two years. Heads certainly need to roll if advertising dollars are so poorly deployed.

Make it Relevant

The fix for this problem is easy to spot, but perhaps difficult to pull off. First, you don't have to double your advertising budget and develop a completely separate marketing program to reach Boomers. All you have to do is make your current programs relevant to consumers across all age groups and generations.

That means look for ways to make your product, packaging, pricing, messaging and distribution relevant for more than simply your traditional advertising or marketing sweet spot -- adults 25-54, or moms with young kids. Take a look at your advertising over the last several years. Do you always show the "ideal" target consumer enjoying your product or service? Do that year in and year out, and you will effectively communicate that is the only person who should use your product.

Instead, use messaging techniques that cut across age groups or generations. We work with clients to find the attributes and benefits that are universal -- appealing to a broad range of consumers and relevant to all.

Two examples: There is universal appeal in the Dove brand's Campaign for Real Beauty approach, and it is relevant for women of all ages. The new Old Spice campaign may appear to be for young, virile men, but the underlying message that this brand is for a "man's man" is universal.

The goal is advertising that isn't targeting young adults or Boomers, but more consumers.

8 comments about "Making Advertising Relevant To Boomers ".
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  1. Nancy Padberg from Navigate Boomer Media, October 25, 2010 at 11:49 a.m.

    Hi Matt, Thank you for addressing this issue. Great article. I also believe Marketing VP's could have their jobs longer if they addressed the 78 million boomers spending MORE than Gen X and Gen Y as well as spending 2 -3 X more online. Our firm and staff of 9 at Navigate Boomer Media is currently in conversations with Technology, Health Care, Pharmaceutical, Automotive, Travel, Financial Marketers and Ad Agencies to reach boomers online. We have implemented many great campaigns this year in these categories.

    Boomers spend 15 hours per week online per Harris Interactive (teenagers 13 hours) researching issues, connecting on social media and enjoying their passions on sites for golfing, crafts, fishing, auto, money, travel, health - some of the 121 web sites we represent. We deliver 112 million unique visitors per month across our sites and over 1.4 billion page impressions through four IAB standard advertising sizes. We only focus on boomers. Your point that the advertising message should be relevant and engaging is right on, when it is the marketers will increase their share of the boomer wallet.
    Nancy Shonka Padberg, CEO Navigate Boomer Media
    Santa Monica

  2. Brent Bouchez from Five0, October 25, 2010 at 12:01 p.m.

    Matt and I agree on many things, including pink socks. But this is one area where I must step-in as a creative director and suggest that, while creating "ageless" marketing is a good idea in principle, in todays world it might not be effective.

    I humbly, and with all due deference and respect for my young friend Matt, offer the following as a counterpoint not to Matt's thoughts about appealing to the older group,
    but about trying create universal appeal:

    There have been several studies in the past few years suggesting that there is a new generation gap emerging in America. In fact, a 2009 Pew Center study found that the gap between older and younger today is higher than it was in the middle of the Vietnam war. "79 per cent of people believe there is a major difference in the point of view of younger people and older people - the highest number since 1969, when 74 per cent saw a significant generation gap."

    Now, there are also studies which show that boomers and their children have many things in common...which they do, but the fact is, they view the world and their lives very differently. For more on this, see The Social Network by David Fincher.

    A Stanford School of Business study, also from 2009, looked at age and the idea of happiness. They studied 2600 blogs and the way people wrote about their lives and the events or things that brought them happiness. The results were markedly clear. People in their 20's, 30's and even their 40's tended to relate happiness to "excitement"..."I went to this rockin' club last night". People in their 50's and beyond, on the other hand, generally related happiness to "peacefulness", as in "Great weekend, my wife and I had the house all to ourselves."

    To me as someone who creates advertising, the above would suggest two creative briefs for two vastly different, almost polar opposite audiences.

    Lastly, today we live in a whole new world of media options. Never in the history of marketing, has it been easier to reach narrow targets. In fact, today it is almost a mandate for any media buy that it be laser focused by age, race, culture, neighborhood, likes, dislikes and attitudes. This new world creates an incredible opportunity for marketers to create messages that are spot-on relevant to the viewer. Most already do it every day, for the younger target, the African American target, the Hispanic target, the kid target, etc.

    I agree with Matt, it's not an either or situation. Savvy marketers must include the boomers in their plan by adding them, not by taking away others.

    I just think a group that spends $2 trillion annually might warrant messages tailored to them.

    Like I said, I agree with Mr. Thornhill on almost everything when it comes to boomer marketing. But he is only 50, he still has some things to learn from his elders.

  3. Tony Nino from PADV Pasadena Advertising, October 25, 2010 at 3:14 p.m.

    What a wealth of funny!
    Where to start? How about that 55%/45% split in those who say advertising affects their purchasing. Let's bring this into focus just a bit. I can easily see where 55% of any and all audiences, at any time in the history of advertising might admit to being influenced by advertising. The other 45% wear advertised clothes, drive advertised cars, eat advertised snacks and almost certainly bought their first house after scouring the classified ads. What John Wanamaker probably meant is that he didn't understand how half of his advertising worked... and I think he might have been off by half.
    And speaking as a boomer, albeit at the higher end of the python, I don't need marketers to specifically target my age group so much as my all-too-universal wants and needs. My computer should be easy to use. My dog food should keep my pet healthy. My smart phone shouldn't get dumb when I'm in the "wrong" area. And my car should have a balance of power and gas mileage - and I don't care if a sexy young blond drives it in the commercial (in fact I approve) - even though I am long past young, and was never very sexy OR ever blond.
    As I see it, my job as an advertiser is to know all my audiences, be sure to speak their languages, and explain my messages wherever they happen to live, work or play. But it's little more than common sense that you don't advertise Medicare plans at a rave, or roller blades at the senior center, but even at 2.5 trillion, "if you prick us, do we not bleed?"
    And that's useful even beyond the Band Aids market.

  4. Brent Bouchez from Five0, October 25, 2010 at 6:43 p.m.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, stand for something or you'll stand for nothing. Advertising that tries to appeal to everyone rarely appeals to anyone. Why? Homogenization is good for milk and bad for creating desire. People see the world differently, especially when there are large differences in their ages. It sounds to me like you want your advertising to inform you about a product and it's benefits, me too. But guess what, many people in their 20's would rather an advertiser simply entertain them instead of selling them. I'll find my own entertainment thank you. I remember a line that Mark Fenske spoke in Subaru ad from long ago..."I've got the money, tell me what to buy." Millennials hate that approach, boomers tend to appreciate.

  5. Matt Thornhill from Boomer Project, October 25, 2010 at 11:06 p.m.


    Not sure we agree on the pink socks, unless you are against them as a male fashion statement.

    Other than that, you make excellence points and nice apple martini.

    I'm afraid I'm not smart enough to follow the follow-up comments. In the end, my point is simply that there are ways to engage Boomers (clever, huh) that are not exclusive to Boomers, but inclusive of everyone.

    That doesn't mean there aren't important differences between younger adults and Boomers that can't also be exploited. I mean, leveraged.

    Overall, my advice to marketers is not to panic and think it's an "either/or" choice. It's a "more" choice.

  6. Scott Brewitt, October 26, 2010 at 4:28 p.m.

    Nancy, I agree. I run a boutique ad rep firm for basically Boomer websites. All day I watch ads for 'tweens and 20-somethings. With all the behavioral targeting, I'm surprised more Boomer related content isn't appearing. and the Boomer are often turned off by the ads that run across the sites if we don't keep a tight grip on what appears.
    The tech and the targeting are lagging behind.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 26, 2010 at 5:57 p.m.

    Just the other day, one of the 95 year old women from the gym was running off to her classes at Apple before her luncheon appoinment.

  8. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine, October 27, 2010 at 1:34 a.m.

    GREAT comments all! I know that THIS boomer spends waay more time online and engaged in social media than my 16 yr old son!

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