Holding Out For A Hero: Average Joes & Josephines

As we cross the threshold into 2017, it seems like a good time to let consumers speak for themselves. Much has been made in the last few months of the “voice of regular people” and those who are disenfranchised. Let’s be honest, most of “those people” aren’t the targets of campaigns. Many categories in the boomer marketing space target the mass affluent consumer. But there is a real sweet spot in a segment we call “Average Joes & Josephines.” They are neither rich nor poor. They are articulate, smart consumers. As they age, they need brand heroes. 

“Our sandwich has been smashed” 

When the term “sandwich generation” was coined, it referred to providing care and support for elderly parents while still raising a family. Since the recession, the sandwich is no longer bite sized. Care and support have come to include elderly loved ones, adult children, and now grandchildren.



As one woman aptly reported, “We are just a regular family. We moved my mom and dad into the first-floor master bedroom of our house after Dad’s stroke. My daughter’s husband lost his job right in the middle of her maternity leave, so they moved into her old room and put their kids in our TV room. My husband had an accident at work and just went on disability. I know about the ‘sandwich.’ Someone sat on mine. It’s smashed. I’m suddenly the breadwinner and I have no idea how to help everyone, be a loving grandma and not collapse.” 

Data from Pew Research Center (2013) indicates that nearly 50% of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or are financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). And about one in seven middle-aged adults (15%) is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child. Our research in 2016 would put this number at closer to 60%, as older members of Gen X join the Baby Boomers in this life stage. 

Caring = People (not technology)

This message was on repeat in all of our research in 2016. When Joes/Josephines need help in providing care, they aren’t looking first to technology solutions. Less than one-third had found an online platform to help them find care. They talk to their friends, co-workers and family member. They consult with their loved ones’ health care providers – frequently to no avail. Most have no idea how home care or nursing care is paid for, though nearly all have the belief that it is very expensive. Most have not considered home monitoring solutions or cameras as part of the solution. 

Joes/Josephines could use help (in this order) with housekeeping; scheduling – Dr. appointments, children’s sick days, school holidays, and deliveries; meal shopping, planning/preparation for different dietary needs and wants; understanding Medicare and Supplement plans; counseling, coaching, assistance in job hunting for several generations of family members; transportation. 

Many of the current offerings – subscription meal plans, Uber & Lyft, and scheduling apps – are perceived as great for other people, but not right for me. They cite meals needing to appeal to the entire family and their health issues; not really understanding how these offerings work, and not knowing anyone who has used these services as key issues. 

Who takes care of me?

To be sure, not every average household is a multi-generational household. But that doesn’t change the spending/caring pattern. Even if those people aren’t under the same roof, basic daily needs are being covered by older adults. In our latest research, expenses older adults assumed as a result of the recession – particularly for their adult children – didn’t revert to those children once they found jobs or moved out. These include items like insurance, car payments, cell phones, and student loan debt. 

All of this begs the question that was hard to get our respondents to talk about – who will take care of me? For most, it seemed like a frivolous consideration. Most had no answer other than to say they will be working into their 70s and paying their own bills. The idea of moving in with their children, going to a long-term care center or need in-home care isn’t on their radar. They are worried about their future, but are not articulating it this way. About a third consider getting through their day-to-day hard enough without worrying about the future. 

Most don’t have a financial advisor. They know they need to be saving more. They consider a financial planner/advisor to be above their income bracket. The majority cast themselves as 3-4 on a scale of 10 on financial literacy. They work hard and have savings; many have 401ks. Most say they don’t have a vision for paying for their retirement. 

What can brands do? 

You can speak their language and reflect their values. More than 80% don’t see themselves or their lives represented in advertising. And here is where the subtlety comes in — these average Americans believe their lifestyle and values are being confused with some stereotype of middle America as rednecks, uneducated people, or stupid. They are very clear that their choice of geography doesn’t make them less sophisticated consumers — but their lack of exposure and access may make them seem that way. That’s a job a brand hero can solve.

3 comments about "Holding Out For A Hero: Average Joes & Josephines".
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  1. Jim Gilmartin from Coming of Age, December 19, 2016 at 1:47 p.m.

    On target, as usual, Lori. Marketers that only focus on age, income, and so forth, are not connecting with a significant portion of these populations. They should pay attention to the first sentence of the last paragraph.

  2. Lori Bitter from The Business of Aging replied, December 19, 2016 at 1:52 p.m.

    Thank you, Jim!

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 19, 2016 at 6:07 p.m.

    True, when there is no money to spend, it doesn't matter what you are selling. People are not buying. Assistant living facilities are $4500 - $5000 per month to start plus other expenses like personal needs such as toothpaste, additional adult diapers (expensive), Keenex, etc. A 5 year proof of affordability is necessary before medicare takes over. Nursing homes are a lot more. And if anyone thinks $50,000/yr or less can take care of all these needs, go ahead and try it for a few years. Brands, schmands. No money = no buying.

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