Who Are The AlphaBoomers? NBCU's Alan Wurtzel Explains

I have written articles on the value of targeting Baby Boomers, and now NBCU’s Alan Wurtzel goes one step further. He says that it is not specifically Baby Boomers that advertisers should target, it is the AlphaBoomers, a valuable subset of adults aged 55-64.

Who exactly are the AlphaBoomers and why are they so important? I sat down with Alan and he explained it all in a series of videos that can be viewed here

He considers this group a subset of the Baby Boomer population because they are freshly minted Boomers. He explains: “Every 7 seconds someone in the U.S. turns 55, which immediately puts them outside the monetize-able Nielsen demo – basically forgotten but not gone. “ And yet they behave exactly as they did a year before – same purchasing decisions, same media choices – but they are no longer considered a part of the monetize-able advertising and television viewership ecosystem.



This is an issue not just for ad sales but also for measurement. Alan cited the example of CNBC, whose 25-54 ratings inexplicably plummeted from one month to the next. Nothing in the schedule changed. But what happened was that three Nielsen panelists, all heavy viewers of CNBC, celebrated their 55th birthdays that month. They were no longer in the 25-54 demo but they were still in the sample. Happy birthday, panelists! Now you are no longer valuable consumers.

Alan describes it as like “a canary in the coalmine” when he began to understand that the demography of the country is shifting. This demographic shift would not only affect news networks like CBNC, but any network that falls in the latter end of the 25-54 target demographic. The march of time will have a monetary cost for many content providers and advertisers.

So what Alan decided to do was conduct a research study to measure Baby Boomers aged 45-64, dividing the group into adults 45-54 and 55-64. The study consisted of 1,500 online questionnaire interviews, as well as some in-person ethnographies. The results confirmed a distinct difference in the two age groups. Adults 55-64 were more likely to be empty-nesters. And because their family structure was changing, they had more discretionary income, experiencing a life transition that likely resulted in manyi more purchasing decisions. They also tended to be starting new homes or refurbishing their current home to be more to their personal liking rather than a compromise to children’s needs.  

Alphaboomers who are 55-64 confound all the myths we hear about older adults. Alan calls them Urban Myths, and they are as follows:

Myth: Boomers are Winding Down. That is simply not true. There are a substantial number of Boomers who keep on working. Some do it for economic reasons but most define themselves through their work and enjoy what they do. They are not prepared to go quietly into that good night.

Myth: Boomers Have Less Income, So They Spend Less. Just plain wrong, says Alan. Yes, Boomers may   be out of their peak earning year,s but income alone doesn’t predict purchasing power. Discretionary income does and Boomers have more of it than any other age group -- and they need instant gratification. That is a powerful consumer combination.

Myth: Boomers Are Set in Their Ways. Alan says that this myth goes way, way back. The idea that established brand loyalties last through one’s life is no longer true. AlphaBoomers are, by nature, more cynical about brand advertising. They say, “Show me your value or I will go to someone else.” Yes, there are iconic brands but the notion that all brand loyalty is unchangeable is simply not true.

Myth: Boomers are Technophobic. No. In fact, they are more likely to spend on electronics because they have the money to spend.

Myth: Boomers are Easy to Reach. Alan’s study found that this is no longer true. The respondents were given a choice of 35 of the top channels – broadcast and cable networks - and were asked to rank their top three favorites. The result: 40% said some combination of one broadcast and two cable networks and another 40% chose three cable networks. Just as other age groups are fragmenting under the large amount of viewing choices, so are Boomers.

Will the NBCU’s AlphaBoomer study change perceptions? Let’s see what happens in this next upfront season.

11 comments about "Who Are The AlphaBoomers? NBCU's Alan Wurtzel Explains".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 20, 2013 at 6:31 p.m.

    Did it occur to you that when three 54-year-old panelists left the panel after their birthdays, another three 24-year-old panelists joined the panel after their birthdays? Without replacement, the 25-54 cohort would have died out completely many years ago. I left the demo many years ago and recognize that the only complainers are those who head the skewing-old broadcast networks. I'm happy not to be counted.

  2. Stu Rodnick from Three Screen Nation, March 20, 2013 at 9:19 p.m.

    It's amazing how much press this trend has received, while change has been real slow to transpire, despite it making good business sense.

    Ironically, the good fella who made NBC Must See TV - the one and only Seinfeld is now in the exact age bracket we're speaking of being ignored.

  3. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant:, March 20, 2013 at 10:03 p.m.

    Hi Douglas, an interesting point although I am not sure it's always an even migration. In addition, the viewing habits of a 25 year old may be very different from a 54 year old.

  4. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant:, March 20, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.

    Hi Stu, Good point. I think it wold make far more sense to get away from age based buying and move towards more purchasing segments or even psychographics.

  5. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., March 21, 2013 at 6:10 p.m.

    I'm inclined to side with Douglas' basic point on this one. Of course the 24-year-olds who entered the cohort wouldn't have the same viewing habits as the 55-year-olds who aged out, but surely, the 53-year-olds who turned 54 would likely have been quite similar. I find it difficult to imagine Nielsen would use such poor sampling techniques that the aging of a few members of the sample would cause "plummeting" ratings. That wouldn't be very good science. And say what you will, Nielsen is certainly better than that!

  6. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant:, March 22, 2013 at 3:05 p.m.

    Hi Tim,
    In thinking about all the comments so far, here are my thoughts: I agree that 53 year olds might have similiar viewing patterns to 54 years olds, if you are stratifying by age. But the 53 year old is already counted in the 25-54 cohort and therefore does not negatively impact CNBC's rating, should they continue to watch CNBC. The loss of the 54 year old into 55 is a loss, even if set off sample-wise by the same number of 25 year olds entering the sample.

    Nielsen maintains a good, representative sample of total US viewing and audiences. So if that is true and if their respondents are aging out or their sample, could it possibly mean that the TV universe is also aging? While I am not an expert on Nielsen panel maintenance, I am not so sure that it is a one for one replacement for any parameter on a regular basis - only when the sample churn demands another recalibration and that might be once a year. But I could be very wrong would love a Nielsen panel expert to jump into this conversation.

  7. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., March 22, 2013 at 8:41 p.m.

    Charlene, I would welcome input from a Nielsen rep. I argue that any survey that produces clearly incorrect data because three members of the survey group age out of the group is a poorly designed survey. Again, I think Nielsen is better than that. It had better be!

  8. Anne-marie Kovacs from Boombox Network, March 24, 2013 at 3:40 p.m.

    Most of the comments here address the Nielsen measurement. I saw something much more telling in this article: "Alphaboomers who are 55-64 confound all the myths we hear about older adults".

    As a marketer in the baby boomer space, I can confirm that this is our biggest challenge as these myths are deeply entrenched and have been adopted for generations. And even though behavior of the 50+ group has changed immensely with the advent of the boomer generation, it's the 25 to 35 yr old crowd that is leading most marketing and advertising initiatives. They can't relate and it's no wonder that boomers - alpha or not - are being dismissed by advertisers. To everyone's loss...

    By the way, on the myth of "boomers are easy to reach", there is so much to be said (for another time), with one comment being that, again, most media is not creating content with boomers in mind. Though the tide is changing ....

    And, I should add, our company does an excellent job at reaching and targeting boomers through social media, to debunk yet another myth: YES, boomers are active on social media platforms! And they are much smarter and strategic about it. As with most things! ;-)

  9. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant:, March 26, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.


  10. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, March 27, 2013 at 5:59 p.m.

    I've long felt that lumping all baby boomers together as one demographic was due to either ignorance or laziness. Identifying 'AlphaBoomers' is a start, but it still comes up way short in my opinion. Using such broad strokes such as 'AlphaBoomers have more discretionary income' is no better than a half truth. Some do. But a lot don't. Some got so wiped out in the recession that they have to work a lot more years than they were anticipating, and that 'carefree retirement' they were looking forward to is but a pipe dream now. Yet nowhere in any of this analysis is a way to acknowledge this.

  11. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant:, March 29, 2013 at 2:14 p.m.

    I agree that no age group is monolithic. Same for 25-54s who are in all sorts of lifestages. It would be so much more accurate to dispense with age and go with psychographics. But I don't see that happening any time soon.

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