There is a noticeable momentum shift in the marketing of mainstream brands to Boomers. Using innovative ad campaigns, big brands are making bold statements about the value of Boomer consumers, and brands that have been neglecting Boomers are looking to step up to the plate. We are nowhere near critical mass, but enough strides are being made to support the notion that Boomer spending power is forcing a profound and potentially lasting disruption in long-standing marketing norms.
This year, I’ve had conversations with more than a handful of brand folks who have expressed concern over declining sales for some of their companies’ leading brands. Upon closer inspection, they’ve discovered a significant loss of Boomer consumers that has not been made up for in the acquisition of new Millennial brand users. Having believed that Boomers’ brand loyalty was set in stone, many had hyper-focused on Millennials, only to learn that Boomer customers were more than willing to migrate to competing brands. As has long been predicted by Boomer marketing experts, these brands have paid a heavy price, and now some are looking to reverse their fortunes.
The Decline of Boomer Brand Loyalty
Recent trend research from GfK MRI indicates that literally hundreds of CPG brands have lost 20% or more of their Boomer business over just the past five years. This isn’t a minor trend; it’s an epidemic. To be fair, not all of these losses have been troublesome. Some smart companies have invested in new brands or offshoots to appeal to evolving Boomer needs. Dannon’s losses to its Activia and Light & Fit brands have more than been made up for by gains in users of its Activia Greek, Light & Fit Greek and Oikos brands. Yet, many brands do not fall into this camp.
Similar losses can be seen across a multitude of categories (e.g. restaurants, automotive), as stalwart brands have seen their user bases eroded by new alternatives. When it comes to brand loyalty, Boomers have proven they are more akin to younger generations than previous generations were after age 50 in their willingness to try new brands.
Reclaiming Boomer Loyalty
The challenge for brand managers that have ignored Boomers—and now need to act quickly to win them back—is a lack of experience in activating Boomer purchase triggers, along with the task of convincing their management to invest in a consumer base they'd previously characterized as a done deal.
The good news is that appealing to Boomers is, in many critical ways, the same as appealing to any consumer. It requires building knowledge about the interests, needs, priorities, and emotional triggers for the target market; using this knowledge to develop communications that speak to and validate the target market; delivering these communications across broad-reach platforms to generate awareness; and utilizing targeted platforms to move drive mid-to-lower funnel activity. It’s also essential for brands to maintain a constant market presence, not only to win new customers, but to remind existing ones they have made the right choice.
Brands That Are Leading The Way
Several brands are boldly doing many or all of these things well in 2017, and brand managers seeking to do the same would benefit from studying their efforts.
1. Geico’s Long-Term Commitment
For years, Geico has directly courted Boomers through both traditional and digital media platforms. Notably, in 2015, it launched a well-timed TV spot (“Peter Pan Reunion”) targeted to Boomers on the verge of turning 70. Additionally, Geico continues to run ads in print and online in Boomer-focused editorial environments. The result? In the past five years, the company has gained more new Boomer customers than any other auto insurance company. They are the third largest provider of auto insurance to the Boomer generation, having narrowed the gap between their brand and #2 Allstate from 19% to 2%, and having stretched their lead over #4 Progressive from 9% to 30%. Perhaps seeking to mimic Geico’s success, earlier this year Progressive launched a TV spot featuring 70-year-old Susan Lucci.
2. P&G’s Outreach to Boomer Women
In 2017, P&G has sought to increase business for its Everyday Brands products by targeting empty-nester Boomer women. The company has strategically utilized multiple high-impact ads in traditional mass media to generate awareness. They’ve also bolstered the potential sales impact of this effort with an online strategy designed to engage empty-nester Boomer women through an online community. Both the traditional and digital communications offer a significant savings opportunity and combine product promotion with content that speaks to the priorities and interests of Boomer women.
3. Volkswagen’s Cross-Generational Strategy
Volkswagen recently launched a cross-generational effort for its 2018 Atlas using several TV commercials, including “America,” a 90-second spot telling the story of a multi-generational family traveling across America. Related spots include “Sleeps Six” and “The Switch.” Says Hendrik Muth, VP of product marketing and strategy at Volkswagen, “We have a very strong heritage and very iconic models… We want to be a full family brand.” The brand has brilliantly integrated cross-generational images and interests alongside product images, uses and benefits. It’s a strategy that is likely to resonate well with Boomers who are at a stage of life when family and family experiences are at the top of their list of priorities.
When companies such as Geico, P&G, and Volkswagen spend significant budgets to openly target older consumers, it’s time to consider if we’re in the midst of a marketing sea change. These pioneers are helping to disrupt the enduring tradition of ignoring consumers of a certain age, and in doing so, are moving the entire marketing industry in a new direction. They are acknowledging that people don't suddenly stop being people after a certain age, and they certainly don't stop being consumers. Their strategies appropriately reflect the realities of the consumer landscape of 2017 and raise the bar for others bold enough to join them.