In a recent Yankelovich monitor study completed on the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of baby boomers, 60 percent said they weren't "bothered" that "advertisers don't care as much about my generation as they did when we were younger." But even if boomers don't care, advertisers should. Ignoring boomers who are 50-plus is a mistake.
There are three reasons that consumers 50-plus get ignored in media buying, all rooted in outdated notions of the demographic's consumers. First, it is presumed that brand choices are pretty much fixed for the 50-plus group. So, marketing to older consumers is thought to be unproductive, if not pointless, because they are unlikely to switch or try anything new. Second, it is assumed that older people without children living at home won't spend as much because the needs of their households are not as great. Without kids to buy or save for, older people aren't thought to be shoppers worth the marketing expense. Finally, it is believed that the shopping interests of older consumers are narrower and focused mostly on products and services to fix the ills and ailments of old age.
Regardless of whether these reasons were true before, none are true for aging boomers today. Boomers have always been interested in novelty and experimentation. This is part of their generational DNA, so it will endure. Every survey of boomer attitudes confirms it unequivocally. Boomers will express this by shopping and buying in ways that go well beyond remedies for physical infirmities.
Certainly, some products are not relevant for older consumers. But for many products, this is changing. It's a phenomenon that at Yankelovich we call "age nullification," and already it is making a difference in the types of entertainment traditionally dominated by young consumers.
Music buyers 45 and older comprise the biggest part of the market for CDs, double that of older teens, and music buyers over age 50 account for nearly one-quarter of online music sales. Moviegoers 50 and older were 23.9 percent of the total audience in 2005 compared with 21.3 percent in 2001. This is in contrast to flat or declining attendance among younger moviegoers. One-quarter of video game players are 50-plus, up from just 9 percent in 1999. Half of the visitors to Disney World are adults who come for their own enjoyment, with no children in tow.
Viacom's TV Land cable network targets boomers with classic TV programs and related online tie-ins. The attraction is the nostalgic appeal, but what it taps into is the continuing interest of baby boomers in programming that resonates with their tastes. With the right content, boomers with the money, time, and enthusiasm to buy will watch.
Frankly, age is not a concept relevant to understanding baby boomers. Indeed, the active rejection of a traditional concept of aging is more reflective of what motivates boomers. The nullification of anything strictly tied to age typifies boomers. This is reflective of an underlying sense of youthfulness that has long been the defining generational essence of boomers. But age nullification is not about reverting to adolescence. Rather, it's about refusing to let age and its restrictive stereotypes hold back or repress a spirited, continually evolving approach to life.
Age nullification means a felt sense of permission to do anything one is interested in and capable of without worrying about age appropriateness. Age is not a barrier that defines or restricts alternatives. Age is not a source of embarrassment. Age is simply not relevant. Boomers just take it for granted that age doesn't apply.
Advertisers do a great injustice to their bottom lines by ignoring boomers just because they have crossed some age threshold. Indeed, the most unproductive aspect of media today is letting demographics such as age drive targeting and media buying. The only reason demographics are used is that historically demographics have been the only information available with which to buy media. This need not continue, though. The tools to add attitudes to media-buying databases are now in hand.
Attitudes drive purchasing, so advertisers should target them - not demographics. Nowhere is the absurdity of buying solely on demographics more apparent than when it comes to boomers. They will reinvent what it means to get older and, in the process, reward advertisers savvy enough to reinvent what it means to buy media in smarter, more productive ways.
J. Walker Smith is president of Yankelovich, Inc. and the coauthor of three critically acclaimed books, including Coming to Concurrence: Addressable Attitudes and the New Model for Marketing Productivity (2005).