Boomers Ignored or Misunderstood

Discussion
Feb 07, 2008

By George Anderson

Sometimes all it takes is a headline on a web page to spark one of those soundtrack-of-my-life moments. That was the case coming across The Misunderstood Generation on AdAge.com. Eric Burdon was in good voice as he sang his plea, “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good.
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

Anyway, moving beyond that 1965 moment, the Ad Age piece touched on a new study from Edelman’s StrategyOne market research group, which concluded that marketers don’t really understand baby boomers even though many of them are part of the generation themselves.

The study found that marketers make a number of mistakes from treating boomers as some sort of homogenous group to downright ignoring them. The result is that marketers often tick-off a generation of consumers with $3 trillion in buying power.

“It would behoove marketers to consider that boomers are not a widespread demographic,” Marilynn Mobley, senior VP-strategic counsel at Edelman, told Advertising Age. “Baby boomers have always been considered the ‘me-generation,’ and that doesn’t change with age. We’re still just as self-centered and we want things very customized.”

Boomers definitely want attention and many are feeling a bit ignored at present. According to the survey, the majority of boomers felt they were being either misrepresented and/or ignored by the media (54 percent), the entertainment industry (91 percent) and politicians (76 percent).

“This is a generation — because of the sheer size of their demographic — for which the world has always changed to meet their needs,” said Laurence Evans, president of StrategyOne. “They’re feeling a little left out by political campaigns, media and TV that are focused on younger groups.”

One of the interesting aspects of the study is that 29 percent of respondents who fit the age demographic do not consider themselves to be part of the baby boom generation.

Boomers, big surprise here, are often different based on gender.

Male boomers, it seems, tend to be more optimistic about the future and “consume media with their heads,” turning to talk radio and news sources in print and on the web.

Women, according to the Ad Age piece, “seek information with their hearts” preferring to read home, food, fashion and travel features in print rather than straight news.

To succeed, Edelman recommends that marketers focus on “bull’s-eye boomers.” These are wealthier, influential individuals who are often heavily involved in social and community activities.

“It’s really important for a brand to understand who my brand’s bull’s-eye boomer is,” Ms. Mobley said, “and the way to do that is to determine what those ‘bulls-eye boomers’ consume from a media standpoint.”

Mr. Evans said, “Good marketing is ultimately about targeting segmentation, [so] just recognize that boomer is a description of a birthday, not a generation.”

Discussion Questions: What mistakes do you see in how marketers communicate with members of the baby boom generation? What do marketers, particularly retailers, need to do if they wish to be successful with this large and diverse demographic?

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14 Comments on "Boomers Ignored or Misunderstood"


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Janet Poore
Guest
Janet Poore
14 years 3 months ago
Boomers, from 44 to 62 this year, are a diverse group. Boomers under 50 identify more with Gen X. If there is one thing Boomers over 50 have in common, it is our attitude on aging with the cry of “Hell, No, We Won’t Go…” Boomers are responsible for all the anti-aging products from creams and supplements to plastic surgery. Boomers were the first generation to grow up with TV, Rock and Roll and the freedom of the 60s. We lived through 3 assassinations and the first War the U.S. didn’t win. Those things all helped shape us and make us different from previous generations. I, and my friends, would never live in a 55+ community. We like to associate with younger people who we see as more like us. Having said that, portraying Boomers, even those moving toward retirement, as gray hairs, is the wrong way to go. Gone are the days when granny looked like granny. Even if granny does look like granny, she doesn’t see herself that way. These days you can… Read more »
Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
14 years 3 months ago

About the only thing the Boomer “generation” truly has in common is appreciation of some iconic music, which is why the soundtracks of ads using golden “oldies” is often effective and ear catching.

For print, knowledgeable placement of ads in media frequented by Boomers so they will see your product, is much more important than the actual content of the ad. Most people know instantly when they are being patronized by advertisers–whether it is Teens, Boomers or Seniors and they hate it.

Anne Howe
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

I know a ton of people who are living the phrase “50 is the new 30”–and that same group is also participating in very disciplined financial planning and health management–point being that age classification truly is old school.

All of my boomer cohorts want health, access to money, AND to be able to say “60 is the new 40” and “70 is the new 50”

It is incumbent upon marketers to learn what is really driving attitudes and behaviors amongst sub-segments of target consumers.

Generational segmentation alone is not enough.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
14 years 3 months ago

Baby Boomer consumers look in their mirror-mirror on the wall and see someone rather special who believe they should be customized to. Their justification for feeling this way is dubious but their spending power isn’t. And as the economy becomes uncertain, Baby Boomers have more of the discretionary income every retailer and supplier needs.

Thus to extract bucks from their wallets and purses, employ a marketing strategy that focuses on them as individually as possible and then create the most efficient tactics that compliment that strategy. It’s like aiming directly at the bullseye when you only have a few arrows.

lee berenbaum
Guest
lee berenbaum
14 years 3 months ago

As a 50 year old consumer, I would like to ask marketers and ad agencies to consider that people my age do eat at fast food restaurants, go to movies, buy cars, etc. Thus, try to not create ad campaigns that annoy or leave an unfavorable impression with us after seeing the advertisement. Example, Ford Motor Company: consider showing families or “middle age” couples driving your Fusion.

Anyhow, one Boomer’s opinion.

Karen McNeely
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Yes, Baby Boomers are a large and varied demographic. Typical marketing wisdom says you can’t be all things to all people, so you pick your target customer and market to them. Quite frankly, sometimes it isn’t all about the Boomers.

I think it makes sense for someone like a soft drink manufacturer to target a younger generation to get them to become a loyal consumer. I doubt a boomer who has been a “Coke” person their whole adult life will suddenly switch to Pepsi because of a catchy marketing campaign.

I do think this time offers an interesting opportunity for marketers to blur the lines between the generations since many Boomers like to think they are younger than they are and because retro is cool. If you truly do have a broad ranged age demographic, that is certainly a way to approach it.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Maybe I’m just one of the Boomers that marketers are targeting, but I find them more or less on point.

Even the AARP is trying to reach out and touch us–with a newer, glossier magazine to replace their old newsprint. At least I read through it now….

Of course we’re not a homogeneous group. The commercial where the financial adviser tells the Boomer, “You can start spending all that money you’ve saved now” sure doesn’t apply to me. I never quite got around to saving much. But it doesn’t offend me. I’m not in that target sub-segment.

As for being ignored…maybe I’m naive, but I feel a lot of things that people take for granted now (melding of races and ethnicities, women working, the acceptance of complementary medicine, an overall looser, more casual society) were put in place by the boomer generation. I feel very good about that.

Joy V. Joseph
Guest
Joy V. Joseph
14 years 3 months ago

I completely agree with the above comments–age is just one dimension of segmenting consumers and just because Boomers represent a large consumer base that are ‘sort of’ clustered together in age, it doesn’t mean that they have the same needs and preferences. If their needs and preferences are not homogeneous, how can there be one marketing formula to appeal to them?

Acxiom’s Personicx segmentation has split Boomers into several subgroups like Boomer Singles (largely spending on personal consumption), Mixed Boomers (low to mid-tier jobs with limited incomes) and the money powerhouses of all Boomers–the Boomer Barons (luxury homes, luxury autos international travel and so on).

Other segmentation schemes may have further split Boomers into more sub-segments based on backgrounds, tastes and preferences. With so much diversity, it is both naive and a poor strategy to think of them as one segment.

Max Goldberg
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Good marketers invest time and effort into understanding the needs, desires and hopes of their target demographics. Some companies, particularly those in wealth management, have done a good job of this with Boomers. Others have not. Contrary to past experience with Boomers’ parents, Boomers have shown a willingness to try new products and change brand loyalty. If a product can be sold to Boomers, smart marketers will study how to reach this audience and will not approach it as a homogeneous group.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Interesting article about Baby Boomers. Why don’t we just change some of the examples and then write the same article about Generation X?

The one point that all of these articles stress is that in today’s world, you can no longer classify people just by age. There are too many sub classifications. Everyone thinks they are different and even if they are not, they want to be treated like they are different and important.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

This just doesn’t feel like a problem to me. I like Mobley’s blog (particularly some cutting comments on LinkedIn, check it out), but I don’t feel misrepresented or ignored very often. Of course, since I turn 60 next month, my fuse is much longer (I get upset less easily, and rarely need customization anymore) and I care increasingly less about fashion and “things,” thank God. I’m more into throwing stuff away, streamlining and building closer and more loving relationships. Because this last part is important to me, I’ve become fanatical about my health, since I’d like to live to see my grandkids get married. The opportunity to sell me healthier food and more exercise equipment is being met to my satisfaction, thank you. Based on surveys I’ve read and just informal observation, I am far from alone.

Alison Chaltas
Guest
Alison Chaltas
14 years 3 months ago
Taking a group of people with an age span of over 18 years and putting them into one labeled group is bound to be the first source of confusion. Boomers this year can be anywhere from 44 years old to 62. Those bookends in and of themselves speak volumes to why this group is so often misunderstood. Having said that, according to FMI, Boomers account for over 50% of total spending power in the U.S., so it is critical that we get to know them. Every marketer and sales person in the industry is searching for better ways to connect with Boomers, and at the store seems to be hottest conversion point. Getting to know Boomers is critical in understanding how to reach them, so we have seen great industry efforts already underway. Press from last year would support that the starting segmentation of “Boomers” must be further dissected to incorporate attitudes and behaviors. A great example is Unilever’s Trip Management study on Boomers, where they not only identified 4 distinct shopper groups today, but… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Dumb marketers miscommunicate and ignore important audiences. Smart marketers don’t make those mistakes. Marketing is so uneven that it’s easy to find examples of both. The most tragic: marketers whose messages aren’t aligned with the products. Or the reverse.

Department stores’ bread and butter customers: Boomers. Macy’s ads and coupons have lots of print whose font Boomers can’t read. Same with almost all car lease ads. Ever go to an upscale restaurant with soft lighting and menu fonts too small to read? In A Thousand Clowns, Murray’s in an upscale restaurant and asks for a flashlight.

John LeBlanc
Guest
John LeBlanc
14 years 3 months ago

Just happened to stumble in…very interesting discussion.

I am currently in the process of creating a web site which will cater to Baby Boomers…and beyond, which includes the 46 million post Baby Boomers.

My research is showing the same gap between the 50+ group and the younger “boomers”–which some call Generation Jones.

Our concept is a site offering topics and information relevant to the issues most important for the next thirty years in the lives of the Baby Boomers. Not social networking, but valid information.

This need to distinguish between the different ages within the target demographic is key, as they are neither monolithic in their attitudes, their stage in life, nor their wants/needs.

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