For almosta quarter of a century we’ve advocated the wisdom of David B. Wolfe author of Serving the Ageless Market, Ageless Marketing, Firms of Endearment and Brave New Worldview. In June, I published the first of a series of articles reflecting David’s thinking. This is the second article.
The Coming of the Age of Aquarius II
by David B. Wolfe
Who would not jump at the chance to know the mind of the market for an age cohort, or even more broadly, the market at-large, twenty years into the future?
Pushing aside concern about sounding immodest, I framed the mind of today’s Baby Boomer markets nearly 20 years ago. I did so in my book “Serving the Ageless Market” (McGraw-Hill 1990). Subsequent to that, I predicted that the behavior of consumers in virtually every age group would be influenced in major ways by the worldviews, values and behaviors that are characteristic of aging Boomers today.
My predictions in 1989 about how Baby Boomers would handle their own aging sharply conflicted with what was then conventional thinking. With some editing for brevity and clarity, here is a sampling of what I wrote then:
“Many observers are predicting that in later life Boomers will be frozen in a kind of adolescent stage of self-absorption. Widely quoted gerontologist, Ken Dychtwald, said in an Advertising Age interview, "There is every indication that most generations grow up and out of the 'me generation.' Boomers don't."
Like a reformed scarlet lady, Boomers are finding it hard to live down their "me first" reputation. No allowance is made for personal growth into higher levels of maturity. “Many “experts” predict a dark and selfish old age for Boomers. No generation in history will be as filled with angst about aging as Boomers will be.
The idea that Boomers in the early years of midlife don't like the idea of "old age" is not unique. It happens that way in every generation. But people generally get beyond their midlife anxieties about age as the years pass.
Most Boomers are not destined to experience relentless regret over spent youth in their later years. Predictions to the contrary fly in the face of a large body of research into adult psychological development, and deny the work of such luminaries in adult development as Carl Jung, Erik Erikson and Abraham Maslow.
As Boomers troop into the Fall and Winter of their years, many are revisiting the idealized views life they had in their late adolescence and early adulthood. They have begun asking themselves perennial midlife questions such as, "Is this all there is,” and “what is the meaning of my life” and “how will I be remembered (legacy)?”
The same generation that generated great upheaval in traditions in the 1960s and 70s has led us into a neo-traditional movement. Boomers are taking us back to "basics" after they led society away from them in the Age of Aquarius I. We are now in the beginning stages of its sequel: The Age of Aquarius II, which turns much of what was once put down as “New Age” nonsense into mainstream convention.
The New Age movement is not a fad that Boomers will grow out of. It is an approach to life that many will get into deeper as they age. Optimal marketing success in aging Boomer markets depends on understanding this.
New Age thinking revolves around the idea that all things are of a piece, that no one thing is separate from all other things. This imposes on us an obligation to regard our place and time on earth as an office to be filled with a sense of responsibility to all life and the planet we live on.
I asked Nancy Peppard, about what Boomers are going to be like in the future as members of the maturity market. "I think New Age thinking is something marketers interested in older markets need to take a long look at” she said. I don't mean the Shirley MacLaine kind of thing. The so-called New Age movement of today began 20 years ago . . . and has become part of our culture and it has grown with time. In both subtle and overt ways it now affects many facets of our daily lives.”
From Peppard's point of view, Boomers are projecting unique behavior. In some regards, I agree with her, but in a larger sense, Boomers are not unique. They are traveling the same path toward maturation that people in midlife have done for millennia. In comparisons with previous generations, Boomers are unique mainly in the opportunities they have for developing themselves toward the Maslovian goal in later life of "being all you can be."