[Ad]vantage: Boomers Mean Business

There I am, just hours after landing on St. Thomas for a few days of vacation, enjoying dinner and drinks with a group of friends at the Toad and Tart, a local pub. As the last of our group arrives, a friend pulls out his newly purchased iPhone and begins to rave. A few moments later a second person pulls an iPhone from her pocket and joins in the praise. The group hovers over the devices as the proud owners share their favorite features.
I hear someone say, "It's like having the Internet in your pocket." Score one for the Apple marketing team. From Web browsing to pictures to music, the technology show-and-tell goes on for more than 30 minutes and remains an ongoing subject the rest of the night.

Was this just another typical conversation among the young and technically advanced hipster crowd? Not exactly. These iPhone owners were actually among the oldest in the group and likely on the high side of the baby boomer generation.

Having been involved in advertising and technology development for more than 14 years, I've watched the marketing emphasis slowly shift away from those 45 and older and toward those 25 and younger. Although we've enjoyed the benefits of the computer and information age, this new age appears to have an age limit. Common advertising behavior hints that the more "cutting edge" a product, service or technology, the more likely it is intended only for the young - as if to imply a required level of knowledge previously unavailable, and now unattainable, to older generations.

In a way, this shift may be self-fulfilling. Focusing only on the younger generations has left others in the dark as to the latest innovations. While waiting in line at a local AT&T store to purchase my iPhone (yes, I stood in line), a woman, most likely in her late 50's, approached the store to buy a replacement phone. She asked why we were standing in line, to which someone replied, "To buy the new iPhone." After listening to the crowd's excited description, she replied, "Maybe I should get one of those."

Although there once may have been some truth to the idea that older generations were less likely to engage in and use developing technologies, today's older demographics are different and in need of a fresh look. Nowhere else is this change more apparent than with the boomer generation.

Unlike their parents, boomers have grown and evolved along with the advancements in personal computers and technology. Not only are most comfortable with today's digital world, they see it as an integral part of an empowered lifestyle that has come to define the generation. Despite this, according to Age Lessons, a consultancy focused on the boomer generation, over 45 percent of boomers feel overlooked by today's marketers. Yet a Deloitte & Touche survey shows that boomers own an average of 5.9 high-tech devices ranging from iPods to DVRs to BlackBerrys. Hardly a sign of technical ineptitude.

The irony is, although the under-25 demographic may appear to be a better strategic audience for many brands attempting to stay young and relevant, that strategy may come at a cost. Boomers still hold more than 75 percent of the country's wealth, and statistics show they aren't afraid to spend it. Current estimates indicate boomers will outspend the younger generations by as much as $1 trillion a year by 2010!
A growing number of savvy marketers and entrepreneurs are noticing opportunities, and expanding their market to include boomers or creating unique products and services aimed directly at this dynamic demographic. If done right, it could pay off. A recent study reported that 45 percent of boomers say advertising influences their brand purchases.

There's always been advertising targeted at older generations. However, unlike their parents, boomers don't care about marketing that simply plays the age card. They don't view age as a defining or limiting characteristic. Rather, you're more likely to find them wielding the latest BlackBerry or iPod while sailing off the coast of St. John - something I witnessed first hand.

The takeaway? Innovation can be for everyone. Just think, if the boomer doesn't think your product or service is right for them, they may think it's perfect for their children. You win either way.

Kirk Drummond is a digital advertising and technology veteran and emerging media consultant. (

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