Was This Generation Born To Rebel?

Boomers are proudly individualistic. They defy stereotyping, because they're ... well ...defiant. Always have been. They seem to have been born to rebel, but it might be more accurate to say that they were raised with a strong sense of entitlement.

Most researchers agree that Boomers value flexibility, enthusiasm, relevance, questioning, active participation, informality, optimism and personal autonomy. They may well value all those things and more, but individualism is their most stable, long-term value, serving as the guiding light for the decisions they make.

Of course, many other values can play a role in influencing Boomer buying behavior, but those values revolve in constellations around the core of individualism, radiating out from the most to least important. That means when it comes to how and what they buy, Boomers will have things their way, regardless of what the rest of the world may think.

The roots of this individualism were established during the '60s, when Boomers rejected traditional standards that limited the way previous generations thought and acted, and they haven't looked back. As a result, Boomers tend to place their goals and desires over those of the community or nation. And they won't tolerate being manipulated or meddled with when making decisions. Trying to dictate to them is worse than futile, because it can lead to a perceived lack of respect, which can result in the worst kind of word-of-mouth advertising imaginable. Diss the Boomers, and they'll let the world know.



Although much has been written about the relevance of Boomer values to marketing, it's still virtually impossible to predict the buying behavior of so large and diverse a group. The way that makes the most sense to me is treating the Boomer segment like "a market of one." This might sound like marketing mumbo-jumbo but, really, it's an easy, reliable way to remember that although Baby Boomers may share common values, the most important is individualism. Given their experiences during the '60s, typical Boomer values revolve around a strong ego that stresses independence and self-reliance.

And once you as a marketer embrace this simple truth, you'll be able to get inside the Boomer mind, see reality through their eyes, and understand how to motivate them to buy. Which can mean great things for your bottom line.

6 comments about "Was This Generation Born To Rebel? ".
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  1. Leah King from St. Joseph Hospital, February 3, 2011 at 10:19 a.m.

    Yes, I agree with you. We boomers are leaders, not followers. We risk going against the "norm" to experience life the way we want to. I have always been very proud of our generation because we were among the first to stand up for our beliefs and tell the government in no uncertain terms we weren't going to be stereotyped. We were making our standards according to the way we thought and felt. Boomers are still leading the way as far as marketing trends go. Big companies want our interest. I like this!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 3, 2011 at 11:36 a.m.

    Purchasing follows socio-economic paths. This is the generation that started the big path to buying on credit, credit, credit and taught their children well. Those who saved and invested well and who have been in a higher socio-economic advanges will spend wisely and can continue to do so. Others, not so much especially those who are in the generation and financial squeeze generation.

  3. Brent Bouchez from Five0, February 3, 2011 at 11:49 a.m.

    Anyone targeting this group would do well to remember that the trailing edge boomers were born as late as the only effect the '60's had on them was the introduction of strained peaches from Gerber. Personally, I was born in late 1957 which means that when Woodstock happened I was 11 and I had no idea that it was even going on. And the Vietnam war was something that only I saw on the news, the troop withdrawal started in 1969 and the war was over in 1972.
    My values and points of view on the world were formed in the '70's and '80's, a very different time than the '60's.

  4. Lisa Johnson from Public Radio Partners, February 3, 2011 at 12:39 p.m.

    Mr. Vassolo contradicts his assertion that Boomers have a "strong sense of entitlement," by then saying that their egos revolve around "independence and self-reliance." Which is it? As a Boomer (born in 1956), I do indeed have a fiercely independent streak. This independence propelled me to pay my way through college, and hold down 2 jobs, when necessary, to make ends meet. I have many friends who did the same. I disagree with his statement about the tendency of our generation to place our own goals and desires over those of the community/nation. Perhaps he may be thinking of our collective reluctance to fight an unnecessary war. Yet he fails to realize that many of us would gladly pay higher taxes for the general welfare of our fellow citizens. I digress--but before one makes such forceful statements about a very large demographic segment, one should carefully consider what's being said. I'm not sure what the intention of the article is, but Mr. Vassolo risks alienating the audience on which he depends.

  5. Vincent Vassolo from Vim, Vigor & Vassolo, February 3, 2011 at 6:49 p.m.


    It's entirely possible to have a "strong sense of entitlement" and also have your ego revolve around the idea that you are "independent and self-reliant." Not sure where you find the contradiction.


    You raise some good points. The generation is large and diverse. But I think you would agree that just because you don't remember the 60's there were some seminal moments that affected all of us for decades to come.

    Protests of Vietnam changed the way our country fights wars. We now fight with an all volunteer army. Who would stand for a draft nowadays?

    The Civil Rights movement changed the way this country does just about everything.

    And last but not least, the Women's Movement and Sexual Revolution.

    All these causes may have their roots in the 60's, but they have an impact throughout history and you didn't have to be directly involved in them to feel their effects years later.

  6. Barbara Crowley from Snabbo, Inc., February 3, 2011 at 6:56 p.m.

    In reference to the title of Mr. Vassolo's article, I think what Baby Boomers are about to rebel against is the continued caretaking of their adult children both financially and emotionally. Boomers have felt "entitled" since advertisers began marketing to their parents in the '50's. Now ads geared to Boomers encourage us to re-claim the independent streak we developed in the '60's and paved the way for our later-born cohorts to enjoy. However, in order to get our "groovy" back, we have to start a new revolution which might require letting our grown children fend a bit more for themselves. What advice would Dr. Ben Spock give to this aging generation of boomsters he helped raise??

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