Potential Remains For Exploitation Of Boomer Market

The Baby Boomers' reality is far different from the perception that they're graying technophobes who don't know how to work anything more complicated than a VCR clock, according to the latest research from JWT Boom.

"Boomers are online at nearly equal rates as Gen Xers and Gen Y," Lori Bitter, senior partner of JWT Boom tells Marketing Daily. "But they're using it differently."

According to the agency's fourth annual "Boomer Heartbeat" survey, Baby Boomers are using computers and the Internet for e-mail, shopping and searching for information, particularly for health-related information. In addition, about 50% of Boomers are using their computers to play games and download pictures.

The primary difference between Boomers' computer use and that of younger generations involves social networking, Bitter says. Only 32% of Boomers are visiting online communities, and only about 10% have ever written a blog. Bitter expects the latter number to increase as Boomers adjust to blogging as a way to stay in touch with far-flung friends and relatives.



"Where you don't see Boomers blogging is in the younger Boomer market," Bitter says. "But as they get older and they have more time, they definitely have opinions and they definitely are interested in creating conversation."

With an estimated $2 trillion in annual discretionary spending, Bitter says Boomers are an untapped market for advertisers, and they are a bit bitter about feeling pushed aside for a younger demographic when it comes to marketing. "Boomers are the first generation to create the consumer culture we now have in this country," Bitter says. "Every lifestyle they've passed through they were catered to. The idea that no one [cares] about them kind of pisses them off."

But Boomers aren't totally ignored, points out Blaine Branchik, an associate professor of marketing at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. A wide range of products such as cars, GPS systems and pharmaceuticals are targeted squarely at the Boom generation. "I don't think they're ignored at all," Branchik says. "Everything from erectile dysfunction drugs to Botox--these things aren't targeting the Greatest Generation; they're targeting Baby Boomers."

A November 2007 survey of 1,700 senior-level marketing executives also revealed that 88% of marketers believed Baby Boomers were their most important demographic, according to the Marketing Executives Networking Group. However, Generation X, Hispanic, women and Generation Y were also cited as increasingly important demographics, according to the group.

Elsewhere, the survey found that nearly two-thirds of Boomers (defined as people ages 4 -62) are still employed, with 75% of them working full-time and another 18% working part-time. Many of them didn't expect to fully retire, but instead were thinking about transitioning into a phase of working while in retirement, Bitter says. "Basically, they plan to retire from what they're doing now to do something else."

Previously pessimistic about their financial future, Boomers are also feeling more secure, with 18% of them feeling their personal retirement savings was higher than the average. (Previously, 13% of Boomers felt that way, according to Bitter.) Moreover, Boomers are more optimistic about their futures than previous generations had been, feeling that it will somehow all work out, she says. "Boomers as a generation tend to be an optimistic generation," Bitter says. "They're not planners. They're forever youthful in their heads. They've carried that into their middle years."

And they're looking forward to the "Empty Nest" phase of their lives, when their children will be grown and self-sufficient. Of those experiencing an Empty Nest lifestyle, only a third were sad that their children were out of the house, while the majority cited more freedom and the opportunity for a closer relationship with their spouse as benefits.

Targeting new Empty Nesters is a huge opportunity for marketers, Bitter says. "It's such a provocative time in people's lives," she says. "There's a lot going on. They have a bump in disposable income, and they're thinking about where they want to live for retirement."

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