"Most of the boomers are over 50 now, and so far businesses haven't paid much attention to the over-50 crowd," said AARP Services' Dawn Sweeney. "Believe it or not, in over half of the Fortune 500 companies, targeting those over 50 doesn't even rank within the top 10 company priorities. And even when companies do target boomers, the marketing often misses the mark. Nearly one quarter of boomers say that they are insulted by advertising that's aimed at them. There's a gap between the huge market offered by older Americans and the sleepy ways that many businesses go after them."
Author Gail Sheehy tweaked marketers' predilection for depicting "silver heads walking into the sunset, with the wife holding the hand of her tired, gentle husband.
"Do you ever see a gray-haired woman dancing on a tropical beach with her younger lover?," she challenged attendees.
Sheehy's core message to marketers was to be highly attuned to the attribute that most sets boomers apart from previous midlife-to-older generations: "the need to constantly reinvent ourselves."
By now, "it's clear that we're all leading cyclical lives that demand starting over and over again," she said. "Serial marriages, second and third families, periodic job retraining, survival from diseases once considered a death sentence are all commonplace now. And they make it possible, or even compulsory, to live three or four different 'lifetimes' within one's lifespan."
The marketing appeals that work, Sheehy emphasized, "are not about age, but about our stage of life. And there are many different ways of inhabiting those stages. A first-time mother at age 49, which is not unheard of now, needs a stroller that's easier to fold up. The new student at age 49 needs comfortable school shoes."
Sheehy also emphasized that younger marketers, in particular, need to understand that boomers are mentally delaying classifying themselves as being "old" for as long as possible.
"I would encourage you to try, at least in your work life, to cross that line in your mind...to look at the lives that so many boomers are living, and see the excitement and how differently they're approaching [growing older]," she said, mentioning vibrant and sexy role models like Susan Sarandon. "Try to put your mind into that mindset, so that you'll be able to develop products and services and marketing messages that will connect with them and make you more profitable."