Commentary

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."

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(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?"

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