Not OK: Why Counting Out Boomers Could Cost You Billions

Not OK: Why Counting Out Boomers Could Cost You Billions

In a terrific piece of marketing from Australia, a man goes ziplining from a cruise ship to a bar, a woman shows her black belt skills by blasting a man through a glass wall, and another man enjoys a snack while floating upside down in a spacecraft. Each of them is over 55 years old and proudly declares, “I have a life!”

The ad, by SunLife, is exactly how we should see Baby Boomers presented more often in marketing efforts across the globe. Unfortunately, ads appropriately targeting this key demographic remain all too rare.

Baby Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—spend a total of $548.1 billion annually. So it’s little wonder Nielsen calls them “marketing’s most valuable generation.” This demographic has more money than any other and is not afraid to spend it. Their business, according to Nielsen, is both “winnable and losable,” but marketers “are lured by the prospect of a younger consumer who is ripe with lucrative, long-term potential.”

As a result, Boomers are all too often left out of marketing efforts. A recent study by AARP—the nonprofit organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons—analyzed how people ages 50 and over, which also includes some older Gen Xers, are represented in marketing and found, “While 46% of the U.S. adult population is age 50-plus, only 15% of images containing adults include people this age.”

And even when people in the Boomer demographic are depicted in ads, the study found that they’re much more likely to be stereotyped as in need of medical treatment and dependent on younger people.

“Somebody that wastes my time showing me something that I don’t need or I don’t want, I don’t like. And that’s becoming increasingly important,” said Damian Cano, a Baby Boomer who participated in a recent Adobe-sponsored panel discussion about how different generations view digital advertising.

These cliches can be huge turnoffs to millions of consumers, often leading them to give up on brands that portray them in a way they don’t see in themselves. It’s time for marketers to re-examine their efforts to both attract and retain the business of people 55 and older. Following are four considerations.

Start By Looking Within

It takes a diverse staff to reach diverse audiences through marketing campaigns. That applies not only to race and gender, but to age as well. Ad agencies and marketing teams inside companies should make sure they include these demographics as part of the team, helping to drive better, more realistic, and positive campaigns.

Unfortunately, our industry is replete with stories of people being pushed out the door after the age of 40—or being prevented from entering the door in the first place. As Ad Age explained, “In advertising, and at agencies in particular, it’s rare employees ever reach retirement age. They’re often squeezed out long before.”

Forget What You Think You Know

People over 55 aren’t all about settling into retirement, visiting their grandchildren, and taking river cruises. In fact, they’re working in high numbers—at rates not seen for that age group in more than half a century, according to Pew. And they make up a rapidly growing number of entrepreneurs launching new businesses. Many are also raising children, and some are even first-time parents.

Boomers are also buying a wide range of products, from clothes to cars to entertainment. If you think they’re not interested in your product, prepare to be surprised.

Focus On The Journey Ahead

In ongoing research for my agency, Flipside, we ask people over the age of 55 about where they are in their life’s journey. They consistently tell us they feel as though they’re starting a new adventure, full-speed ahead.

For millions of people, it’s a second coming of age. “All the roles that have been imposed upon you by society since you were born … start to fray at the edges,” said actress Emma Thompson shortly before turning 60.

When I speak with companies about marketing to the 55-plus crowd, I often share images of Thompson, as well as other celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, and Denzel Washington. It’s not to encourage them to put celebs in ads. It’s to help them realize that this age group should be viewed as confident, knowledgeable, and as I like to put it, “experientially endowed.”

Marketers should tap into the excitement and sense of independence many people in this age group feel in making their own decisions about the world of possibilities in their future. Tell stories that highlight and celebrate that feeling.

Extend Your Reach

People over 50 aren’t just exposed to marketing on TV and in newspapers. In fact, “there has been significant growth in tech adoption since 2012 among older generations—particularly Gen Xers and Baby Boomers,” Pew Research reports. More than two-thirds of Baby Boomers and 40% of Silent Generation members (people born between 1925 and 1945) now have smartphones, and their use of social media is on the rise.

By targeting people in these demographics on a variety of channels, including social and mobile, brands can build new relationships with them and win loyal followings.

Of course, for some brands it makes sense to put more of their focus—or all of it—on the younger crowd. But those brands are more in the minority than you may think. Just ask Nike, which had one of the best ads I’ve seen marketing to older people.

In it, 86-year-old Sister Madonna Buder, the so-called “Iron Nun,” is seen entering an Ironman competition. As the narrator warns that it’s “a real bad idea” and “she won’t make it,” Buder responds, “The first 45 didn’t kill me!” The ad helped garner Nike some great publicity.

Of course, most of us over 55 aren’t entering the Ironman. But we’re starting off on our own adventures. After all, as every one of us can tell you, we “have a life!”