Boomers Don't Want Your Pity, but They Do Demand Your Respect

The Early-Evening News and Syndicated Game Shows Are Not Media Solutions

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A lot of people get depressed when they turn 40. For me, it happened five years earlier.

That's because in passing the magic age of 34, I was officially falling off marketers' radar screens. After 17 years of being cradled in the most coveted and coddled of all demographics, I was thrust into no-man's land. Useless and washed up at age 35. Forget the pitches for premium liquor and Lexus: From here on, all my dedicated marketing would be for arthritis medications and hearing aids.
Advertising Age managing editor Judann Pollack | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
Advertising Age managing editor Judann Pollack | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

So imagine my surprise some years later (no, I won't say how many) when marketers suddenly began seeing the light. The $2 trillion stuffed into my pocket and those of my fellow baby boomers had inexplicably drawn the attention of everyone from Unilever to Martha Stewart and Ann Taylor, who have curiously developed a keen interest in courting my generation.

And I say: Now you want me? Too damn bad.

"You've got to continue to think about this target," Eileen Kozin, director-consumer futures at Unilever, told Ad Age's Jack Neff, who was one of the first to write about the change of heart among the corporate titans. "It's a huge target, and they're not going away. They're still going to be influential as they get older, and they've got the money to spend."

That last bit is indisputable. There are an estimated 78 million boomers in the U.S. (born between 1946 and 1965), and we are retiring later and working more after retirement. And even before those golden years, we're shelling it out. Information Resources Inc. estimates boomers spend $46 billion annually on package goods alone, while Unilever's research shows that we buy a disproportionate 60% of all package goods.

But my point is this: These statistics have pretty much always been true, so it's kind of galling that just now marketers have woken up to boomers' value.

"We've definitely seen changes in the last two years," Larry W. Jones, president of TV Land, told Ad Age's Abbey Klaassen. "Three years ago the preponderance of advertisers out there were targeting 18-to-49. Today more and more have started buying into the 25-to-54 demo because [that demo] has the biggest pile of money, and it is growing faster than the 18-to-49 money."

Not only do they suddenly now want us, they are going about trying to reach us in a similarly insulting ham-handed manner. You're not going to find me reading publications for the "aged," watching syndicated game shows or the early evening news -- the common media solution. For one thing, I'm still at work well past early news broadcasts and more likely to be catching up with news online. And while I can appreciate not having to shop in stores where Hello Kitty midriff shirts are the rage, I also don't want to be cornered in Chico's or a similar shop for "older" women. What's wrong with the average department store?

"There's this preconceived notion that the so-called baby boomers are older than they really are," said Mr. Jones. "Baby boomers don't even identify with the term."

You can say that again. Which is why Unilever appears to have hit a bump in its marketing campaign for Dove Pro-Age products. "For so long, the idea has been that people who are aging want to be young again," said Patty Bloomfield, VP-account director at Boombiz. "Boomers are saying, 'I'm aging, but I'm going to do it in a way that's graceful and still about who I am.'"

I don't think boomers want to be young again -- I don't think they feel old in the first place. One thing this generation isn't about is giving in to anything gracefully. Its hallmark has been forcefulness, decisiveness and strength. So if you insist on reaching out to us now -- years after you so cavalierly threw us away -- your communication better be honest and thoughtful.

And you know what? An apology wouldn't hurt.
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