Ford Takes A 'Bold' Step To Reach Boomers

A colleague of mine spent summers as a young boy with relatives in Germany. One year his aunt and uncle took him on a bike ride to a small lake just outside of Bad Toelz in Bavaria. After a day of fun, he was determined to be the first one home. He raced ahead alone. Unfortunately, he made a wrong turn and wound up standing on a small rise completely lost. He could see the city, but had no idea how to get there.

We at the Boomer Project see a similar pattern repeated frequently by companies trying to target an aging demographic. They rush ahead to break through, then wind up staring at the opportunity without reaching it.

Case in point: Ford Motor Company's recent announcement of a new innovation. It has made font sizes on its dashboard controls and displays bolder. (I know, I know. The headline is a bad pun!)

Okay, seriously, we suspect older Boomers with aging eyes are appreciative.

But a bolder font size doesn't help consumers of any age deal with an overly complex navigational system. The Wall Street Journal recently reported, "J.D. Power and Associates revealed something many critics already knew: It isn't Ford's fonts that give people trouble, it is the company's MyFord Touch, Sync and other recent electronic interface systems. The Power survey said complaints about these systems helped drive Ford's quality rating below the industry average."



(Psst: Maybe someone at Ford should borrow a page from Apple.)

Ford does get credit for announcing exciting font news for older consumers, but we hope they are also working hard to address the larger opportunity of the impending "age shift."

The not-too-distant future is an older America. For example, right now, one in seven drivers in America is over the age of 65. By 2030, it will be one in four. Watch out for the other guy, indeed.

Now, 2030 may sound like a long way off, but we still see cars on the road today built in 1991. That year "The Silence of the Lambs" swept the Oscars. See, 20 years can fly by.

We tell clients a significant shift in thinking is required in order to start getting "Age Ready." Being Age Ready is not about older people in ads or bolder font sizes (which do help, by the way). Being Age Ready is about realizing the products and services you will sell in the future will have to work for people of all ages, not just the young. In other words, if a Boomer can program a Ford, we're willing to bet an 18-year-old can, too.

Speaking of bets, we bet no one at Heinz regrets the decision to create the upside-down plastic squeeze bottle. Now consumers from ages 4 to 84 can anticipate getting their ketchup out quickly and easily. Applying the rules of universal design to their iconic glass bottle probably did wonders for their volume.

Ford still has the potential to re-write the rules when it comes to cars in the same way the Model T rewrote history. On its web site, in fact, it reports it is "accelerating development of intelligent vehicle technology that in the near future will allow vehicles to talk wirelessly with one another to reduce crashes and traffic congestion." Technology like that really could help in a world with as many drivers over 65 as under 30.

One hope, then, is that it knows this first step certainly isn't enough. Sure, bolder fonts are better than skinny fonts, but the long-term vision is still miles away.

What is your brand or organization doing to get "Age Ready?"

5 comments about "Ford Takes A 'Bold' Step To Reach Boomers ".
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  1. Martin Gertler from BoomerHead, Inc., June 30, 2011 at 10:11 a.m.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for being one of the first to espouse what we are telling our clients also. Making brand modifications that address the Boomer market is almost always going to result in brands that do a better job in addressing a younger demographic also. So, it's great to see that Ford bumped up font size (helps everyone, right?). Less great to see that they are announcing it as something they did to be Boomer-friendly (as we all know, Boomers want to be a part of the conversation but not singled out or made to feel old). But the bigger issue, as you so clearly state, is what are companies doing to connect with and capture the Boomer consumer and bring them along the lifecycle continuum? This is an enormous and powerful demographic that will shape markets, thought, politics and culture for several more decades. We've identified the key trends at play that we believe predict Boomer behavior for the next decade or more. And almost nobody is really "getting" this audience. They are the bucket, not the drop in the bucket.

  2. Brent Bouchez from Five0, June 30, 2011 at 10:33 a.m.

    I really wanted to read this article...but the type was too small.

    I think it was about selling cars though. And any car marketers who read it and agree, should contact Agency Five0. The partners there have worked on BMW, Mercedes Benz, Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Porsche and Harley Davidson. One of the founders actually helped to launch the Acura brand in the US.

    In other words, no agency of any kind, let alone a boomer-focused agency, has the kind of automotive marketing experience that the team at Five0 has.

    Two things Matt didn't mention:

    In 2010, people 50+ accounted for 63% of all new car sales and leases. Up from 56% in 2008.

    The average American household buys 13 cars in it's lifetime. 7 of them after the head of household turns 50.

    Yes, more than half of the cars we buy in our lives, we buy
    after the age of 50.

    And yet, we have heard car marketers say (truly) "We don't target consumers over 50 because they don't have a lot of buying cycles left."

    I can tell you that the person who said that doesn't work at
    Ford, so maybe Ford should run it as a quote in a full-page
    ad with a credit for the person at their competition who did say it.

  3. Matt Thornhill from Boomer Project, June 30, 2011 at 10:42 a.m.

    First, Martin, thanks for your triple "thank you."

    We can't take credit for "being one of the first to espouse..." We've been at this since 2003, and others long before that. The future of marketing belongs to those who figure out how to tap into the 50+ market -- not at the expense of the younger demo, but in addition to.

    Brent, you're right to point out the salient facts about car buyers today (I had a 600 word limit for the article, hence the omissions).

    I recall one of your previous points to marketers that it "takes one to know one." Boy, does that really apply to car manufacturers and their marketing efforts. It is so clear no one over 50 is involved in their efforts.

    Except perhaps the CMO and CEO who approve it all. Knuckleheads.


  4. Stephen Reily from IMC/Vibrant Nation, June 30, 2011 at 2:36 p.m.

    Good insights, Matt. Increasing font size may turn out to be, for marketing-to-Boomers, what turning products pink is in marketing-to-women: a sure sign that the company doesn't really want to do the hard work required to understand what makes older consumers (or women) love their products. You're right to cite Apple, whose products and stores prove that it's actually possible to design products and stores that delight everyone from millennial hipsters to their vibrant grandmas. Ford should be able to do this, too.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 30, 2011 at 7:41 p.m.

    Playing with electronic interface systems while driving at any age is not such a good idea.

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