Boomers Turn 65 -- Does It Matter?

We knew it was coming, and the Jan. 1 front page of the New York Times didn't let us forget: "Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65."

Expect to see a full year of stories that begin with this announcement, some of which make no sense whatsoever. My hometown paper started one recent story with the following sentence: "Fueled by aging baby boomers, a growing number of Kentucky's elderly residents are falling victim to physical abuse, neglect and financial exploitation -- with no end in sight."

Can anyone make sense of this sentence for me? Are Boomers changing the face of elder abuse because they have suddenly become abused elders? Or are they fueling the problem as elder-abusing caregivers as their own parents pass age 90?

The sentence makes no sense, and simply reminds us that when the mainstream media focus on Boomers, they often make generalizations that are either wrong or irrelevant.

Boomers all Share the Same Stage of Life



What is important about Boomers in 2011?

In 2011, the average Boomer turns 54, and the generation that still spends more dollars on more products than any other is now firmly and completely embedded in middle age.

Not old age -- middle age.

What matters about Boomers is not that they are old (even assuming that people feel old at 65), but that no one in this famously youth-obsessed generation can still pretend that she is young.

Before now, marketers had been in denial about how to reach these consumers, assuming either that Boomers can be taken for granted to follow ads targeting their younger peers, or that they won't resent being treated like seniors. Now that Boomers are so clearly neither young enough to justify the former nor old enough to appreciate the latter, marketers need to find new words and ways to engage the 78 million consumers who are in their own unique stage of life. How to start?

Lifestage marketing

To speak directly to Boomers, you need to find words and images that acknowledge this unique stage of life between being young and old (at we sometimes call this stage "post-minivan but pre-retirement"). People who find themselves in the unique life stage between 45 and 70 won't listen to messages written for either 35-year olds or 70-year olds.

There are some marketers who are doing this well. Here are a few examples I can think of.

  • Not Your Daughter's Jeans. I've always admired Not Your Daughter's Jeans for a brand name that says: "You aren't defined by the same goals (or body) you had in your 20s, but you're still cool enough to deserve good-looking jeans." That's an example of life stage marketing that acknowledges there is an important and lengthy stage between being a young mother and "mature."
  • Depends. A brand that has been a tagline for jokes about old age showed how to engage Boomers this year with a campaign targeting people in their 50s who also experience temporary incontinence. A television ad targeting women showed a respected orchestra conductor who also experiences post-menopausal incontinence. Kimberly-Clark did a great job acknowledging that age-related health problems and finding yourself at the prime of life are not inconsistent conditions.

And, finally, in a tech gadget survey we conducted in anticipation of this month's Consumer Electronic Show, 13% of Boomer women told us they own e-readers, suggesting that Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble should be paying particular attention to consumers whose life stage gives them the time, discretionary income, and interests to buy these new devices.

No matter what the media say, spend more time in 2011 thinking about the 54-year old Boomer than the 65-year old Boomer. You'll gain more business with her, and you'll be better positioned to serve Gen X when its first member turns 50.

5 comments about "Boomers Turn 65 -- Does It Matter? ".
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  1. Kevin Kane from DMW Direct, January 17, 2011 at 10:44 a.m.

    Steve, congrats on an excellent, insightful post. The lifestage marketing commentary is spot on -- we have to speak directly to the Boomer target, not simply try to include them in an overly broad age band segment.

    Thanks also for sharing the insights from your tech gadget survey. At DMW Direct, we too are seeing a broad adoption of technology and Social Media by the Boomers, to serve both their personal and professional needs.

    Best regards,
    Kevin Kane

  2. Volker Mendritzki from CF Marketing Group, January 17, 2011 at 11:22 a.m.

    As a boomer, I agree the opportunity is there to target the Plus 50 market. But it is important to avoid making the mistake of assuming this demographic is one mass market.

    The recession impact has really highlighted differences in this market. While a high percentage of boomers are well off (relatively), an equal or even higher percentage have had retirement plans delayed due to the recession, delayed spending on travel due to needs of parents and adult children, or need/desire to continue working.

    A lot of the advertising I've seen targeting this group assumes it is one large, single demographic with the same needs. It's not.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 17, 2011 at 2:43 p.m.

    There are more differences in socio-economic stratas than small age differences.

  4. Kern Lewis from GrowthFocus, Inc., January 17, 2011 at 7:15 p.m.

    Sez here that I am an average Baby Boomer (turning 54 this year.) I am not average, I am ABOVE average, and about 40 years old in my outlook along with the rest of my generation.
    At least, that is what my press releases say!
    Thanks for the continuing coverage of this strangely neglected (and richest) third of the population.

  5. Alex Luken from Humana, January 25, 2011 at 7:09 p.m.

    I feel like I have finally pinpointed the turning point between "young" and "old." If you die at age 73, people tend to say, "Wow! He was still young." If you die at age 83, people say, "He had a full life."

    That makes the 50+ market between 50 to 75 as big as the market between 25 to 50. Unquestionably, 25 to 50 is a time big span. The needs are perhaps different in terms of aquisition of goods vs. purchasing of services.

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