Are retailers failing to keep up with the Joneses?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Dec 09, 2022

No demographic group is monolithic, and this is particularly true of Baby Boomers whose generation stretches nearly 20 years (1946 – 1964).

Early or classic Boomers, as they are called, were born between 1946 and 1954 (ages 68 to 76). Classic Boomers were teens in the 1960’s, making them witnesses to and oftentimes participants in events taking place in Selma, Dallas, Vietnam, the moon, Woodstock and more. Today, many, if not most, are retired or downsizing. Some are in the market for second homes. This group is typically the target of ads promoting reverse mortgages.

Late Boomers (AKA Generation Jones) were kids in the sixties and teens in the seventies when they saw the end of the Vietnam War and the draft, the disgrace of President Nixon, the energy crisis, the Munich massacre and Three Mile Island. The moniker Generation Jones, according to a post on Kizer & Bender’s Retail Adventures, came from Jonathon Pontell, who used it as a sarcastic nod to “keeping up with the Joneses.”

One thing is certain. Marketing to early or late Boomers in the same manner is likely to fall on a large number of deaf ears. That’s a big mistake considering that Boomers as a total group have an estimated $70 trillion in household wealth, according to the Federal Reserve.

“Baby Boomers aren’t who you might think they are,” writes Georganne Bender. “They are doing things over in style, they know what they want and they actively seek retailers and brands who are willing to give it to them. Regardless of what you see on TV, Boomers are physically active, mentally astute and socially engaged both in person and online. Facebook is still their social media of choice, and not because they are keeping up with their grandkids.”

Michael Korsunsky, CEO, MGID, North America, in an Advertising Week piece writes that Boomers digital connectedness extends to commerce, as well. He points to statistics that show that consumers 65+ became the fastest growing group of digital shoppers during the pandemic.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree with the frequent claims that retailers ignore Baby Boomers in their marketing efforts? Do marketers fail to consider the differences between early or classic Boomers and Generation Jones?

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Braintrust
"In an age when we can present online shoppers with a list of only those items that will fit them perfectly, it's close to silly that we're even still talking about generations"
"It is no longer the 18-54 demographic that’s driving retail spending and advertisers and retailers need to get that."
"Does Generation Jones get underrepresented in the mix? Definitely. It’s always hard to be on the trailing edge of a wave."

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17 Comments on "Are retailers failing to keep up with the Joneses?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I think there is a general tendency for retailers to chase younger consumers and, further, to put effort into new technologies that many younger people favor. This is why we hear a lot about things like the metaverse. However retailers should not forget that older consumers have enormous purchasing power and deserve to be understood and served well. This means getting the basics right – like ensuring signs and labels are legible (and not in incredibly tiny fonts), that styles are appropriate, and so forth. And none of this is about “old.” My parents are Baby Boomers and they are young at heart and young in outlook: I expect the same is true of most others in the cohort!

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

The marketing and advertising industry has always been fascinated with younger consumers. Once the target hits 54, they are tossed on the “senior” pile and all communication is for pharmaceutical products or Medicare upgrades. Since the vast majority of wealth is held by this cohort, it’s far past time for the ad world to educate itself on who these people really are and what they want. Hint: it’s not what you think.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

My mailbox is filled with offers from AARP and home health companies these days. I get mountains of spam for hearing aids, walk-in tubs, power chairs — and yes, I’m in the Boomer category. I also get ads for river cruises and retirement account advice. Clearly they’ve got me in several segments. Good marketers work to reach the customers who are most likely to react and convert to their offers to get the most from their marketing spend. The more they understand their customers, the more precise and targeted their recommendations are.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
In an age when we can present online shoppers with a list of only those items that will fit them perfectly, it’s close to silly that we’re even still talking about generations. No retailer should be marketing to a “generation.” They know their customers well enough to sell to them based on specific wants and needs. I believe marketers ignore us (so-called “Baby Boomers” as a wide-net demographic) altogether in most instances, and it is a big mistake. Restaurants and retailers treat us like children. They change their voices, talk loud like we can’t hear them and generally don’t listen at all nor engage via marketing. Furniture retailers do a good job as they know where the money is. Retailers should take a lesson from Willie Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks, he said, “That’s where the money is.” So, too, should retailers follow the money.  Just think about the term “Baby Boomer” itself. All it describes is a time span where there were lots more babies born than before. How does that help… Read more »
Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

As a Boomer myself I can say that I certainly don’t feel like I am hurting for choices when I go shopping. But I will also say that I certainly don’t feel like many marketing efforts are directed to me, unless maybe it’s the pain and joint relief commercials. Happily, I am not a customer of those products. Apparel marketing? Never. Food? Never. Electronics? Occasionally. Home products? Occasionally. But in all fairness, my spending habits are completely different than they were in my younger years. Back then I was susceptible to marketing. Not so much now.

Dion Kenney
BrainTrust
1 month 22 days ago

It would be hard to argue that Boomers have not been paid sufficient attention. They are arguably the most chased demographic in my lifetime. From an outsiders viewpoint, I think we have to realize that the products being marketed to them today, at the tender age of 65+, is likely to be different than the products marketed to them as young adults — so more financial advisory services, second homes, etc. and less sports cars, beer, candy bars, etc. Does Generation Jones get underrepresented in the mix? Definitely. It’s always hard to be on the trailing edge of a wave.

Scott Norris
Guest

Now that the election ads are out of the way, let’s turn on cable TV in the evening outside of sports channels and see what the ads are for — pharma, pharma, pharma, financial services, furniture, a little travel, a little technology and entertainment. Yep, that sounds like it’s still tailored to Boomers. (And Gen X gets left out in the cold again, but then we stopped watching cable years ago…)

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Absolutely failing – and not only here in the U.S. Dave McCaughan has been writing, posting, and presenting on the same phenomena in Asia – seniors appear to have a larger presence there. It is no longer the 18-54 demographic that’s driving retail spending and advertisers and retailers need to get that.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I just learned I’m a Late Boomer, and I am definitely not ignored by marketers. Am I stereotyped by marketers, though? Definitely. Am I pigeonholed? Without question. Does it bother me? Oh yeah, it bothers me. And those who try to earn my loyalty by pandering to the stereotypes I spend much of my days striving to defy? They typically lose my business forever. But enough about me. George’s article highlights the importance — and business value — of personalized marketing that connects with each individual’s tastes, preferences and history, whether that history is short — or long(ish).

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

I agree with you 100%. And I am the guy who tosses the AARP stuff in the trash out of spite, even if I am right in their target demographic.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

…the free hearing test, also.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The biggest spenders are those in the 45-year-old to 65-year-old demographic. But then spending drops by as much as 25 percent in the next older demographic group. When people reach 75 years old, their spending is 50 percent of what it was a decade or two previous.

If we look at travel, however, the 65-plus demographic has the highest spending rate on vacations and travel. It is not surprising that at least once a week, I get offers for trips to different parts of the world from the universities I visit, Viking Cruises, and other trip operators.

The correct answer for marketers is to pay attention to what the demographic groups are buying. Their buying habits change dramatically with age. Except for travel, Baby Boomers are not the best bet.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Here’s the thing: no one wants to be called or treated or seen as “old” or “senior” or even “Boomer” anymore (maybe ever?), regardless of the sweeping generalizations that the term “generation” holds. We all want so many similar things, it’s more conducive to market holistically than ever before. It’s OK to have grandpa in an ad and it’s OK to sell grandpa really cool Supreme sweatshirts too, but don’t run ads or market to grandpa only. Don’t market or sell to only grandpas and grandmas, that’s a huge mistake. In the U.S. anyway, we all know we’re never going to get old — never. Keep the Supreme sweatshirts coming for Christmas, kids.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Simply put: no. Nor do I see any evidence presented here. I’ve never been fond of (what I perceive to be) artificial categories, and a group of people — as George notes — whose births stretch over almost two decades is a blatant example. OTC, I think the retailers who are making the mistake are the one who are recognizing them … but as a monolith.

ZoharG
Guest

Digital marketers “ignore” Baby Boomers for a few reasons: First, digital marketers tend to skew toward their own age group and younger, which is relatively much younger than Baby Boomers. Second, the big wave in D2C was started by young founders, selling products to their own age group, using targeting vehicles they were familiar with, such as Facebook, that applied to younger generations. Third, while they have mostly caught on at this point in time, Baby Boomers were lagging in the adoption of digital technologies in the past couple of decades. There is no doubt that Baby Boomers represent a golden opportunity for many brands that could create products for this demographic, as it is the wealthiest by far.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust
I think that purchasing is different for Baby Boomer/Gen Jones man than it is for women. Men’s sizing is more standardized, women’s is all over the place. A medium could be a 6 or a 10, there is no consistency. And I invite you to visit the ladies department at your favorite store. You are going to see a lot of animal prints and sequins, things that no woman wants to be seen in. This past Saturday I stopped in at the beauty counter at Bloomingdale’s, SoHo. There were no associates my age so I approached a heavily made up 20-something for help. She was horrified — yes, horrified — that she would have to help me. Instead of recommending products, she asked me what I wanted to buy. How should I know, that’s her job. I left and went to Sephora. This isn’t a unique experience, it happens all the time and not just to me. Retailers would be well advised to take a closer look at older customers and provide a pleasurable place… Read more »
Brad Halverson
Guest

I don’t see evidence today of most retailers ignoring Baby Boomers so much as them targeting to a younger audience, because that’s traditionally who is fashion forward, is hip, and is sensitive to the latest gadgets, trends. Surely ads for hearing aids, hair coloring products, anti-aging creams and healthcare has been and will be continued to be for an audience over 50, nothing new there. And I’d bet the same claims being made about marketers ignoring an age group could have been made by the Silent and Greatest Generations when the Boomers were young and being targeted.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"In an age when we can present online shoppers with a list of only those items that will fit them perfectly, it's close to silly that we're even still talking about generations"
"It is no longer the 18-54 demographic that’s driving retail spending and advertisers and retailers need to get that."
"Does Generation Jones get underrepresented in the mix? Definitely. It’s always hard to be on the trailing edge of a wave."

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