Are marketers really overlooking Baby Boomers?


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I have a feeling this post is going to ruffle the feathers of more than a few ad bloggers and critics.

These voices are quick to chastise major marketers for failing to target Baby Boomers with their advertising, despite the fact that in many categories Boomers are the biggest spenders. Boomers account for more than 70% of all discretionary spending in the U.S., they’ll correctly point out. And despite the fact that Boomers buy more than 60% of all new vehicles, automakers insist on putting twenty- and thirty-somethings behind the wheel in their ads.

To be fair, these critics do have a point. Major marketers should be targeting Boomers. And I believe most of them are. So what’s all the griping about? Reading between the lines, it all pretty much comes down to “we don’t see Boomers in the ads, therefore marketers aren’t targeting them.”

Excuse me?

Just because you’re targeting Boomers doesn’t necessarily mean you have to show Boomers in the ads. It’s not like Boomers totally ignore communications that are clever, engaging, helpful or funny just because the actors are short on gray hairs or wrinkles.

I’d like to think Boomers, who grew up with mass media and are “experts” on advertising, are way more sophisticated than that.

This whole idea that you have to “show” your target market in your ads is a throwback to the ill-conceived thinking of the Mad Men era that dictated “you can’t sell a household product without a housewife in the ad.”

It’s not who you cast as actors that will spur involvement with the communications. It’s the idea. It’s the relevance of the message. It’s whether you managed to connect with a “universal truth” and built an emotional involvement with your product. No matter whether the actors helping tell the story are 25, 55 or 105.

As proof, I offer a few examples of advertisers in categories dominated by Boomers that have done just fine ignoring the “wisdom” of critics: Allstate Insurance’s “Mr. Mayhem” campaign. Volkswagon’s “Darth Vader” commercial. E-Trade’s “Talking Baby” spots.

As a Boomer myself, I can say I find these commercials way more entertaining and engaging than Boomer-heavy spots for Erectile Dysfunction meds or 401-K’s. A show of hands on who’s with me on this?

There’s one other thing to think about. The critics who are taking marketers to the woodshed about not seeing enough gray hair in today’s commercials are looking right past the idea that tying your product (be it a car, a vacation or liquor) to an aging market could blow back on you. By 2020, the Millennial market (now aged 18-34) will be deep into their prime earning years, and will supplant Baby Boomers as the dominant buying demographic. If their associations with a product is that it is “my dad’s beer,” you will have lost them.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating NEVER showing Boomers in an ad. I’m just saying don’t reject concepts out of hand just because the characters may not “mirror” your audience.

Advertising aside, there are ways where enlisting Boomers can definitely help a marketer whose sweet spot is the over 50 crowd. One example: by using them to fill customer-facing positions such as sales or customer service. We all feel a lot more comfortable doing business with someone who “gets” us. And if I come across a salesperson who happens to be about my age, I feel I have an automatic connection with that person. Not like when I have to deal with the twenty-something hipster at Best Buy.

At the end of the day, no matter who your market is, just be relevant.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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