Monday, June 25, 2007

Boom Town: Marketing to the Baby Boomers

The Marketing Profs had a recent piece on marketing to the Boomers. Which I didn't see, other than the headline, because it was premium content which I don't - but should, they're very good - subscribe to, and which I was too rushed to do the other day, but it did get me thinking about marketing to Baby Boomers. Of which I am one, and, as I do know a bit about my generation...

Here's the first think I would do if I were marketing to The Boomers:

  • Keep in mind that Boomers are not a monolith. By most definitions, anyone born between 1946 and 1964 is a Baby Boomer. Lumping them all together from a marketing perspective makes no more sense than it would to lump together everyone born between 1928 and 1946. If nothing else, it probably makes sense to break the group up into sub-cohorts. The first wave might be the 1946:1952ers, then the 1953:1959ers, then the 1960:1964 tail enders.
  • Did I mention the point about keeping in mind that Boomers are not a monolith? Contrary to the general portrait, every Boomer didn't go to college, dodge the draft, and delay marriage. Even among those that did go to college, there were plenty who took accounting rather than sociology, drank beer at frat parties, and got married senior year.

I actually think that a lot of marketers have already pretty much done this, and the sub-cohort that most seems to be in play now is the first wave, the 1946-1952ers who have started (yikes!) to turn sixty. So, I'll focus on this group. And, since it's the sub-cohort that I fall into, I'll call us "we" and "us."

Whether we spent our 21st summer at Ton Son Hut Airbase in Vietnam, hitchhiking through Europe with a copy of Let's Go! in our backpack, dreaming about life outside the steno pool, rolling in the mud at Woodstock, or working with the old man as a plumber-in-training, we're all getting on in years. There's more behind us than's ahead of us and, for all our ridiculous narcissism and frivolity, we know it.  Whether you can tell by looking at us or not, we've all got gray hair. And that's okay. Like our parents, we earned those gray hairs honestly.

So, you want to appeal to us, and you don't want to slice the demographics too thinly, here are the push buttons that should work pretty well across our subcohort, whatever version of a Boomer we are:

  • We're nostalgic: Howdy Doody, Mouseketeer ears, Beatles on Ed Sullivan, man on the moon. We like remembering that stuff. TV made us a shared experience generation like no other up to that point. Bring it on. Fun references to our past are welcome.
  • We care about the future: Sure, as self-centered, spoiled narcissists, the future we most care about may well be our own personal futures, but we're getting to the point where we're all starting to think about just what we're leaving behind. Green is good. Grandchildren are good. Legacy is an "l" word you can start using.
  • We've done good: We may not be the Greatest Generation but, sorry, don't make us fall guys as the worst, either. On the downside, we've contributed to our share to promoting crap-consumption as a way of life, and all the ills that entails. On the upside, while we can't take all the credit, of course, we've made our share of contributions to technology, medicine, science, etc. The young geniuses making today's breakthroughs are working off our base, just as we worked off the base of those before us. That's how it works. And while we're giving credit, life is economically, politically, and socially better for women, African-Americans, and gays than it was when I was a kid. No, this is not all "us", but we helped it along. So, don't be afraid to give us an occasional compliment or word of thanks.
  • We ain't dead yet: For all our creaky knees and bifocals, most of us are still, in fact, going strong, with a lot of energy and intelligence to contribute to work, family, and volunteering. What we've learned from observing our parents, pretty much the first generation where so many of them lived well into their 1980's, that the key to life is staying active. So, no porch swings for us quite yet. We may not be running the show for much longer, but we ain't over 'til we're over. And, while I haven't done a nose count, I can't help but notice that a lot of the folks running for president are in that first wave Boomer cohort. Make sure you let us know that we're still relevant.

Pretty much my favorite Boomer oriented ad is the one in which Dennis Hopper plumps for some financial services firm. Okay, it may not be such a great ad if I can't remember exactly what company it's for (Ameriprise?), but it hits my hot buttons pretty well.

Having ridden a chopper in Easy Rider, Hopper is iconic. The ad thumps the drum that Boomers aren't going to fade away into some retirement village just yet, but can have active retirements in which they do something else. Sure, some of this is subtext for 'you're all going to have to work longer than you thought', but promising that you can still dream at sixty is the right note to play.

Again, I don't know what the Marketing Prof's said about marketing to the Boomers, but I do want to thank them for prompting me to think a bit about it.


Mary Schmidt said...

Hear! Hear! (heh, what did you say?)

But, those GEICO commercials with Burt Bacharach are just plain scary! Do we look that bad? Yikes!


Rhea said...

I never understand why all of the boomers are thrown together. The age range is too great, and the demographic contains tens of millions of people!

Maureen Rogers said...

Mary - I haven't seen the Burt Bacharach ad yet - does he play a cave man or a geckko?

Rhea - You are absolutely right. I tried to keep focus on the first waver boomers (my sub-cohort) - born between 1946 and 1952. The age range - and sheer numbers - are just too great to pull it all into one package.

Brent said...

My colleagues and I have been promoting the idea of two separate generational cohorts within the baby boomer demographic. The Leading-Edge Boomers were born between 1946 and 1955; they commonly share early adult experiences with the Vietnam War era. Generation Jones is the group born between 1956 and 1964, and this cohort shared the post-Vietnam War era early in life, including stagflation and Reaganomics. Boomers are the most politically liberal of ALL living generations; Jonesers are the most politically conservative. For more discussion on cohorts versus demographics (and the sociological theory that informs these insights), you're welcome to check out my ongoing discussion: See especially the October 2006 posting.