Is That 'Boom' the Sound of Your Ads Falling Short?

Time to Tell Your Clients to Target Boomers Smartly

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John Barker John Barker
Boomer Marketing has finally come of age. Yes, the game-changing, paradigm-shifting, neologism-inducing sea change has indeed arrived and is actually living up to the hype. Marketers of all kinds are waking up to the largest, wealthiest, most tantalizing market in history.

Now, nearly everyone is trying to crack the boomer market. And why not? There are fortunes to be made.

Or lost.

And therein lies the rub. Because not only are boomers the holy grail of target markets, they're also one hell of a tough sell. These savvy, sophisticated, self-reliant fifty and sixtysomethings are collectively sour on advertising and cynical of authority. So caveat venditor (Seller beware).

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the National Council on Aging/American Society on Aging Conference in Washington. I was there at the invitation of my co-presenter Steve French, Managing Partner of NMI, a strategic resource for Barker/DZP and, for my dollar, one of the best research firms anywhere.

The statistics Steve shared with the audience were startling and refreshing, even for those of us who have already embraced the critical difference between getting older and "getting old." Some 75% of boomers believe their best years are ahead of them. Sixty-five percent like to be connected by phone, email and/or IM at all times. In the past 3 months, 15% of boomers have blogged. And 93% of boomers have sex twice a day. Okay, that last one is phony, but the others are real -- and Viagra is hard at work on the final stat.

The point is that marketers need to stop treating boomers like the retirees of yesteryear. In many ways, they are far more vital, optimistic, vibrant and pro-active than the browbeaten, middle management Gen-Xers or ambivalent entitled Gen-Yers who somehow still define the two "key demos."

So how then do we connect to these strange creatures who, based on NMI's insights, revere personal independence, question authority, challenge the status quo and have disdain for traditional advertising? The answer, to the extent it will fit in 5 bullets, lies below.
  1. Celebrate their generation. These are the individuals who collectively marshaled the greatest social upheaval in modern history, meaning Anno Domini. Give them some props. My favorite examples of marketers getting it right? Cadillac had the big cohones to embrace Led Zeppelin. Ameriprise launched its brand around the seminal iconoclast/marvelously loony Dennis Hopper, presumably because Lenny Bruce was unavailable.

  2. Don't preach and don't push. Boomers don't buy it. Instead, give them ways to find out more about you. This is the generation of Jack and MLK and Bobby; of Vietnam and Kent State; of Apollo 1 and Watergate. They've seen their dreams trampled, their leaders disgraced and their nation dishonored. What makes you think they'll believe you?

  3. Don't be so damn serious. Yes, they have aches and pains. Yes, they worry about finances or healthcare or not being ready "when the moment is right." But don't be so earnest. They're likely to have a sense of humor about your ads whether you want them to or not.

  4. Be inventive in your "choice of voice." Especially in the celebrity category. Dennis Hopper? Brilliant. Valerie Bertinelli? Sheer genius. But Sam Waterston? No comment.

  5. Aspire down. Most of us are familiar with the concept of "aspiring up", or targeting younger consumers by aiming older (for example, Seventeen magazine is read by whom?) But for Boomers, it's the opposite. Aim your creative a bit younger, at least stylistically and emotionally. Bluntly, you need to be the answer to who they want to be.
In short, to connect most effectively with Boomers, it's time for advertising to act their age.
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