For Millennials 35 Is the New 50

According to the crystal ball that adland dusts off every couple of decades, Generation Z will – yes, you guessed right – change society and brand destinies for ever. 

Sure, half the Zers have yet to enter high school, but guru groupthink claims America’s grownups can’t wait to be guided by their juvenile take on what’s hot and what’s not.

If the memes sound familiar, they should: just a few years ago they were used to describe Millennials.

The problem is that real-world Millennials – i.e., those who live, work and consume out beyond the confines of the cloistered commune in which so many brand strategists fantasize – are selling out embracing adulthood and proving the so-called experts wrong.

In fact, the idea that youth-fixated Madison Avenue’s former disruptive darlings are settling into midlife conformity – opting for strollers, suburbia and SUVs no less – is beyond subversive.

It’s just so disconnected from Lyft/loft nirvana … so retro-normal … OMG, it’s almost Boomer-ish.

Dude, face it: 35 is the new 50

Despite their clickbait cachet – now being recycled for Gen Z – Millennials did not “change everything,” they just enjoyed a few more years of youth than their Boomer parents. 

  • In the 1960s, the median age at first marriage was 20 for women, 23 for men; today the data reads 28 and 30 respectively.

But stretching the boundaries of youth did not repeal nature’s laws.

By the time 35 rolls around, Millennials find themselves on the brink of middle age – dad bods, mom bods, kitchen table budgeting, mortgages, car pools, preschool, day care. Who knew?

Amazingly, they actually enjoy it. Somewhere, Mother Nature is smiling.

The upshot is that spending patterns of households headed by consumers age 35-44 are far closer to those of the 45-54 cohort than the fancy free 25-34 they recently left. As new midlife priorities come into focus, subconscious socio-cultural imprinting is triggered to drive unexpected brand decisions in previously low interest categories.

Some of the silent software behind new decision-making after age 35 is generationally unique, however, the role of received history is also huge – the influence of the Millennials’ older Gen X siblings and, especially, their Boomer parents cannot be overstated.

However, in the politicized era of OK Boomer and Karen, rather than learn the real inner-mind dynamics of the 50+ arena that – often without their conscious knowledge – helped shape real-world Millennials, most brands deal in stereotypes and caricatures.

Big mistake.

Influencers over 50: unseen hands in the Millennial economy

Running quietly in the background of the Millennial operating system are lines of code laid down over the years by the fast-changing consumer society within which most brand decisions are made. For better or worse, the past determines the present.

Consider the grandma effect.

What new mom does not turn to her own mother for advice on everything from detergents to food to home appliances when those cute little critters arrive to take control of her life?

And when it comes time for a lawn mower or dishwasher what new homeowner can forget the colorful curses overheard back when mom, dad or uncle Fred damned Brand X to all eternity?

What’s more, consumers over 50 are not only crucial as Millennial influencers but incredibly valuable in their own right.

After the U.S. itself and China, the 117 million Americans age 50+ represents the 3rd largest economy on Planet Earth (AARP).They own 75% of U.S. household assets (Federal Reserve) and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, were responsible for 51% of all consumer spending in 2019, including:

  • 51% of new vehicle expenditures
  • 53% of grocery store food expenditures
  • 53% of household furnishing, equipment and appliance expenditures
  • 67% of home repair and maintenance expenditures

Brand lobotomies

You’d think that brands would be fighting tooth and nail in this enormous, influential marketplace. You’d think wrong.

Only 10% of the U.S. ad spend goes to proactively targeting consumers over 50 because, allegedly, they no longer adapt and creep out younger buyers when depicted in advertising.

These myths persist because ad agency/marketing department culture is out of step with consumer culture: most advertising is created by hip 21-34 year-olds who have yet to personally enter adult realworld. And of ad/marketing professionals who survive to age 40 almost all (90%) are out by age 50.

It’s like having a brand lobotomy.

Just as everyday consumers enter their high-spending midlife, their generationally-aware  adland counterparts disappear and empathy evaporates.

Amazingly, this has been going on for decades. It’s time to unthink groupthink.

Out beyond the trendy 18-49 demo, America’s best customers still dance to their own beat.

And to succeed in that unfamiliar world, marketers must drop silly stereotypes, cringe-worthy caricatures and Mad Men era myths.

Here at VizioNation we teach the hidden socio-cultural imprinting and silent languages of the Boomers and Gen Xers who exert so much hidden power over brands – both as consumers and as Millennial influencers.

Like or not – and no one ever liked it – we all morph into middle age; more often than not we belatedly discover our parents and grandparents are a lot smarter than we thought.

Funny how that happens every generation …

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SUV Country Is Still Somewhere West of Laramie

Gen X shares the blame for Millennials’ love of SUVs

Boomers set the pace in the 1970s and ’80s, but their Gen X kid brothers and sisters happily tagged along for the ride in the ’90s, Livin’ la Vida Loca.

By 2000, light trucks took half (51%) of U.S. new vehicle sales.

So when the Boomers’ own children, the Millennials, began driving they had been thoroughly imprinted: SUVs and trucks were undisputedly cool. Game over. The “car” share of the U.S. new light vehicle market in 2019 was just 28%, barely one third of the 1970 level (82%).

It all began somewhere west of Laramie.

Bucking conventional wisdom

It was 1923.

somewhere-west-of-laramie_blueCar guy Ned Jordan was introducing his flashy new model, the Jordan Playboy and making automotive advertising history with his breakthrough campaign Somewhere West of Laramie.

Long after the Playboy was gone, Jordan’s revolutionary approach would set the standard for emotion-based auto advertising down to today.

Focused on the personality of the car and its driver, he provided no stats, mechanical data or specs. Instead, he let that lean and rangy, steer-roping girl thrill prospects into showrooms.

Jordan sure wasn’t afraid to buck convention. He wasn’t afraid to use the word “girl” either: when he bucked convention, he really bucked it.


Why Laramie?

Because in 1923 Wyoming was part of a Wild West still vivid in the public memory, as close in time as the 1970s are today.

The last of the train-robbing James gang, Frank, had died just eight years back, Buffalo Bill Cody only six years ago.

Marshal Wyatt “OK Corral” Earp was now consulting in Hollywood, teaching silent screen cowboy idols William S. Hart and Tom Mix how real gunfights actually go down.

What Jordan understood was that the West symbolized adventure, action and, above all, freedom – so too did automobiles.

A century later, this symbolism still plays out in the auto arena, running in background as the socio-cultural programming of truck and SUV world.

Boomers and westerns: enduring imprinting  

Boomers were the last generation to grow up with westerns.

Wildly popular since The Great Train Robbery (1903), they had both super-sized to wide screen color movie epics and shrunk to fit mid-century television sets before which little Boomers sprawled, wide-eyed, on shag carpets.

In the late 1950s/early 60s over twenty western TV series ran weekly. The top-rated grabbed 30-40% of the total viewing audience. Only the Super Bowl does better today.

Gunsmoke (1955-1975), Bonanza (1959-1973) and The Virginian (1962-1971) kept the TV trail open; at the movies John Wayne ramrodded twenty blockbusters from 1960 through 1976, winning an Oscar for True Grit (1969).

Older Gen Xers caught the tail end of things, but by the late 1970s the rise of sci fi pushed the genre into a retro niche and new sensibilities rendered overt yee-hahs unfashionable.

But that Somewhere West of Laramie spirit did not disappear – it went underground.

Western wheels take over

How better to indulge the embedded frontier myth than with an SUV or maybe a burly pickup? After all, they could be easily rationalized as sporty, outdoorsy, practical and even necessary in snow country.

Most Boomers settled for a used car as their first set of wheels, but many hankered for a brawny 4X4 pickup, a sporty Land Cruiser, a dashing Bronco or a cool Jeep. This was especially so in the West, where household truck ownership was already 23% in 1974.

After all, Boomers were the counterculture. In a world steadily growing more settled and conformist, they would kickstart a move away from responsible sedans and sensible eco-boxes to embrace more venturesome, youthful personas.

Together with Gen X, as the new millennium arrived they had driven truck/SUV growth to the point that even the most suave import car brands could join the escapist fun.

U.S. vehicle buyer decisions are still shaped by hidden socio-cultural dynamics in the Digital Age. Passed down to Millennials, and now Gen Z, adventurous, active western imagery lives on in the names automakers select for trucks and SUVs.

Mosey down automobile row and lasso your ride: Ford F150 Lariat, Jeep Wrangler or Laredo, Chevy Colorado or Tahoe, Dodge Durango – even the imports offer Tacoma, Sedona, Santa Fe or Tucson. Heck, there’s hardly a place left out west to name a truck for unless some greenhorn wants to throw a rope on Last Chance or Tincup.

Pioneers dissed in auto advertising

Consumers age 50+ buy over half of all new light vehicles sold in America – in fact, more than the three top EU markets, Germany, France and Italy combined.

So why don’t auto advertisers specifically target their best customers? Fact is, they see them like the backward old coots who showed up as comic relief in westerns of yore.

The usual excuse is that older buyers are stuck in their ways, won’t switch brands and their grizzled decrepitude creeps out younger prospects.

Reality check: the average ad agency creative is 28; fewer than 10% of all staffers survive to 50.

Talented as they are, 20/30-somethings are not sufficiently fluent in the socio-cultural imprinting of Boomers and Xers to engage them authentically.

Still, we figure there must be a few mavericks out there willing to quit the adland herd and head for the 50-plus range. Just holler, we’ll help you blaze a trail to Laramie.

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published in 2017, we up-dated to welcome the 12 million more Gen Xers who have joined the Boomers in the 50+ space since then.

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U.S. Brands Bungle a Huge 3X Brexit Economy

Brexit as a teachable moment for US brand strategists

With a GDP of $2.86 trillion in 2018, the UK has the world’s 5th largest national economy.

But after midnight on January 31st, 2020, in Brussels and Strasbourg “the Union flag will be lowered overnight, discreetly” (UK Guardian) and this enormous marketplace will up for grabs.

Keeping calm and carrying on, Old Blighty will have officially exited the European Union.

But it’s not as if EU marketers will give up on British consumers – they’ll just hustle harder to win their business.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic too many brands lack the courage, craft or creativity to compete in a booming economy three times that of the UK – the $8.3 trillion GDP created by Americans aged 50-plus.

It is the world’s #3 economy, driven by some 120 million people who account for 52% of all U.S. consumer spending.

Just one example: Americans 50+ buy more new vehicles every year than the EU’s top three post-Brexit markets – Germany, France and Italy – combined.

So, why is this vast audience ignored by so many CMOs and ad agencies?

Look no further than weary old Madison Avenue myths.

Madison Avenue’s most myopic memes

Fixated on the 18-49 demographic, advertising orthodoxy clings to three flimsy memes about consumers in the 50+ space. Allegedly, they are:

  • Easy to reach and easy to engage via conventional media and messaging
  • Set in their ways, reluctant to change and resistant to switching brands
  • Toxic to image because young prospects reject “old people” products

This dated dogma has been kicking around for well over half a century; in fact, apart from vinyl records, it’s about the only thing over 50 that group-think Adland openly embraces.

Okay, it made sense back in the 1950s/60s, when the Mad Men ruled and “we’ve never had it so good” confidence drove consumption.

The Boomers’ free-spending parents, the 18-49 demo of the day, made ideal targets versus cautious grandmas and grandpas who feared another Great Depression might appear at any moment.

But it’s silly to pretend today’s Boomers and Gen Xers – who adapted decade after decade, driving innovation and invention on every front – become their own grandparents at the stroke of midnight as they turn fifty.

Refuting Myth #1: Easy to reach and engage 

In general it’s true that the over 50 audience indexes high for media consumption.

Nielsen reports the median age of live television viewers is 56 and, while adults 18-49 watch around 3 hours of television daily, those over 50 watch about 6.5 hours.

Also, although viewing TV on digital platforms skews to the 18-44 demo, those 45 and over (older Gen X and Boomers) still make up almost half the audience for connected devices (45%) and digital viewing via computer, tablet or smartphone (43%).

However, brands need that extra viewing tonnage to get Boomers and Gen Xers to pay attention – not just recall, but really pay attention. C’mon, they’ve been advertised to all their lives. They’ve been around that track.

And as for “easy” engagement, when not turning off older prospects with clichés and caricatures, advocates of allegedly age-agnostic messaging often forget there is no such thing as age-agnostic perception – see Boomers and the Age-Agnostic Advertising Trap.

Takeaway: consumers 50+ may be easy to expose to advertising – but they far from easy to engage.

And with good reason:  VizioNation research finds 94% say as they have grown older, they have become wiser too.

Refuting Myth #2: Set in their ways, reluctant to switch brands

One word: Tesla.

The most valuable U.S. auto brand delivered its first units in 2008. Barely a dozen years later its market capitalization is $100 billion – twice that of General Motors and almost three times that of Ford.

Credit venturesome Boomer, Gen X and Silent Generation visionaries who waited all their lives for viable EVs and were eager, not just willing, to adapt.

The median age of Tesla buyers is 54 for the Model S, 52 for the Model X and 46 for the Model 3 (Hodges & Company).

Which means a solid 100,000+ of Tesla’s 2019 U.S. sales of 223,200 went to the 50+ consumer space. And every one of those 100,000 vehicles was conquested from another premium auto brand that took their older buyers for granted. Still do.

No, Tesla is not a special case.

Boomers and Gen Xers  created the health food movement, got the athleisure wear industry off and running, jumped aboard global travel, deserted Detroit for import brands and brought digital technology across the chasm.

And they haven’t stopped adapting yet. Far from it.

An amazing 86% of consumers in the 54-73 age group tell us they enjoy learning about and trying new brands and products (VizioNation Brand Courtship Study).

OK Boomer, what about “slow” adoption of smartphones?

It bears repeating, the 50-somethings who took Apple and Mac products to the pinnacle of cool are also older and wiser.

A gazillion mobile formats had come and gone before the iPhone debuted – each one was the latest and greatest, naturally. So they held back, confident that between Apple and its competitors, products would only improve.

And they did.

Over 90% of Boomers and Xers now own a cellphone, three-quarters of them smart (Pew). And holdouts get to enjoy cameras, Internet, email and even Bluetooth on a flip phone budget.

Clearly, adaptation runs deep in the world’s 3rd largest economy: brands that fail to access its hidden histories and socio-cultural dynamics end up as followers, not leaders.

Refuting Myth #3: Toxic to brand image

Don’t misunderstand, we’re not singling out marketing Millennials for short-sighted targeting strategies – advertisers have been embarrassed by “old people” for a long time.

Back in 1988 the 30 year old Boomers who then populated creative departments were only too happy to diss their dads and ruin an iconic brand with the incredibly clumsy “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign.

The goal was to arrest a sales slide triggered by previous missteps but registrations fell from 715,000 in 1988 to just 403,000 five years later.

It seems old fogey loyalists didn’t react well to being insulted: prospects out beyond Adland’s self-centered matrix groaned at the condescension. 

Nevertheless, like Myths #1 and #2, the idea that targeting the over 50 and worse – ugh! – featuring them in ads scares off young prospects is, well, just a myth.

In reality, the toxicity problem lays with marketing industry culture: the challenge of advertising to “old people” is more scary to marketers than it is to young prospects.

  • Of the almost 300 occupations surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only hotels and restaurants have younger workers than the advertising and PR field (39 years of age). Fewer than 10% are over 50; the average ad agency creative person is only 28.
  • With a horrendous 80% attrition rate between 40 and 49, the pressure on marketing’s 40-somethings to go along with risk-free conventional wisdom is overwhelming.
  • Sadly, just as their life experience aligns with that of the world’s 3rd largest economy, almost all of marketing’s most valuable employees have already been shown the door.

Add the findings from a 2018 poll that found 51% of Millennials say Baby Boomers made things worse for their generation versus better (13%), and the likelihood of empathy plummets.

Is it any wonder that so many clumsy, uninformed strategies and executions result from this devastating congruence of negative forces?

Brexit times three demands smarter, more sensitive attitudes

Brands cannot Google or Big Data their way into Boomer/Gen X world; no matter how sophisticated the metrics, at some point they must persuasively engage its inhabitants. And to do that, they must learn the hidden, socio-cultural imprinting that created the silent symbolic language still driving brand destinies.

VizioNation’s training seminars and publications teach these skills and train brands to expand in the 50+ consumer space; at $8.3 trillion, triple the size of the Brexit economy, the dividends are enormous. Contact us and win where the incurious fear to tread.

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Three Boomer Icons We Lost in 2019

Shepherding Boomers to adulthood

Do you remember your first Happy birthday! You’re not old, you’re a classic card?

The sender thinks you see the funny side, but you wince and wonder where the time went and why your high school classmates seem to be doing better than you.

But one mellows over time. New life stages open new doors and a steady flow of new brands, products, technologies and modes of entertainment imprint a new context that will drive your decisions in the years ahead.

Doors not only open, they close: 2019 saw the passing of three icons who helped shape the Boomers on their journey from kids to counterculture rebels to grownups: Alfred E. What, Me Worry? Neuman, Peter Easy Rider Fonda and Valerie Rhoda Harper.

Peter Fonda: February 23, 1940 – August 16, 2019

Peak counter-culture arrived in 1969 as Woodstock was followed by the largest anti-war demonstration ever – 250,000 marched in Washington, DC.

But it was Easy Rider that captured the essence of anti-establishment Sixties youth. Conceived and produced by Peter Fonda, like sister Jane, a real-life Hollywood rebel, it resonated so powerfully 30 years on that it was enshrined in The Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1998.

Backed by a hard-driving rock soundtrack, memorialized by Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild, the movie follows two bad boy bikers, Wyatt and Billy (Fonda, Dennis Hopper) as they roam the southwest flouting just about every societal norm in their search for personal freedom.

Whether brawling, drug-dealing, dropping LSD, hanging out in hippie communes or sampling the wares at the House of Blue Lights in New Orleans, Wyatt and Billy were seen as cool outsiders doing their own thing, living by their own rules, looking to be left alone by The Man but standing up for the underdog.

This was not just another biker flick. It was both a metaphor and a capstone for the turbulent times in which the oldest of the Boomer generation (born 1946-1964) entered adulthood. No one knew it at the time, but 1969 would be the counterculture’s last hurrah.

That year, the Moon Landing gave a divided nation a reunifying sense of pride and the Vietnam war intensity began to cool – 81% of the 58,193 U.S. casualties were suffered before 1970. Public attention switched to events at home.

But Boomer rebels refused to rumble off into the sunset. Deeply imprinted by Easy Rider, they became the progressive vanguard in succeeding decades; Fonda would remain true to his outspoken bad boy persona until the last.

Valerie Harper: August 22, 1939 – August 30, 2019

If Peter Fonda symbolized rebellious youth, Valerie Harper, in her role as wise-cracking Rhoda Morgenstern, represented the adult phase of Boomer life in which managing work and relationships takes center stage.

Her sitcom, Rhoda (1974-1978), tracked Morgenstern’s ups and downs, a whirlwind marriage with silky charmer Joe, their breakup and her re-entry to the dating scene.

The show paralleled mores that were changing rapidly in the wake of the sexual revolution.

Rhodas coast to coast discovered that too many silver-tongued Sixties dudes had aged into self-absorbed Seventies duds, less interested in commitment than “finding themselves.” Like her onscreen character, Valerie’s own marriage broke down, synching with a national divorce-to-marriage ratio that doubled between 1960 (25%) and an all-time high (50%) in 1981.

However, external events of greater importance than counterculture fallout nagged at the nation’s self-confidence during the Seventies.

Energy crises disrupted the economy, ending the era of cheap fuel, shocking America and throwing Detroit into a tailspin. A president resigned in disgrace, the Vietnam War ended in stalemate, climate experts warned a new ice age was here and television slid into an unprecedented pattern of societal examination and recrimination.

Despite the angst, Boomers remained buoyed by youthful optimism. They mooned over muscle cars, swapped Beetles for Toyotas, went gaga for granola, were taken with technology and reshaped America for succeeding generations.

Chipper Valerie Harper handled it all in style, reinventing her career and enjoying a 32-year 2nd marriage that ended only with her passing. So, thanks Rhoda, for helping Boomers put their lives into an adult perspective.

Alfred E. Neuman: November, 1954 – August, 2019 … or?

Alfred E. Neuman, MAD Magazine’s mascot, eternal optimist and all-around goofball, arrived in November, 1954. Since then, generation after generation, he successfully polluted gave an irreverent voice to the truculent teenager lurking inside us all.

MAD mocked everybody. It gave lefties and righties alike plenty of snarky material to yuk it up at the expense of the other side. Sleazy Riders was a perfect example.

Although Boomers grew up embracing change, dropouts and druggies were a tiny fringe group – good for hand-wringing headlines but far from typical or, truth be told, admired.

Neuman had a field day, both ripping Easy Rider for its unrelenting hipness and putting down the small-minded bigotry of those who cannot handle dissent.

So, when, in mid-2019 – with 50th anniversaries coming fast and furious – the magazine announced the end of its print edition, we could almost hear the chorus: what, me worry? Alfred E. Neuman will live on, rent free, in the minds of people of all ages as long as the presumptuous, the pompous and the privileged need to be taken down a peg.

Spawning the superhero industry

In terms of socio-cultural imprinting, comic books became the catalyst for a Boomer-driven tipping point after rivals DC Comics and Marvel Comics established superhero sci fi as the dominant genre in the Sixties. They couldn’t get enough after Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk segued to television.

In the Seventies and Eighties, Gen Xers found resistance is futile; Millennials were colonized in the Nineties and Aughts, and Gen Z is now saving the universe, one galaxy at a time.

Along the way, the enterprising Boomers who founded San Diego Comic-Con in 1970 saw it explode to supernova scale – 135,000 fans from 80 countries attended in 2019 – and inspire hundreds of similar events in cities around the world. Over 50 are scheduled in January 2020 alone.

Oh yes, wandering the halls among the costumed throngs, you’ll be sure to see an Alfred E. Neuman or two – laughing with them or laughing at them? Well, who knows?

Boomers and Gen Xers: still crazy after all these years

Advertising to those what, me worry kids hidden inside the Boomer and Gen X consumers who control the destiny of million dollar brands, billion dollar industries and trillion dollar economies is tricky business.

Contact us to learn how VizioNations workshops and publications inspire creative marketers to win in the 50+ demographic while incurious competitors flounder.

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OK Boomer Jumps the Shark as the Boomer Economy Rides the Wave

Grownups hijack cute Generation Z meme 

We’re all for young entrepreneurs. But the sad reality is that many – maybe most – of their Big Ideas are co-opted by interlopers.

So it is with OK Boomer, the Generation Z meme of the moment. After teenagers launched this cute pouty put down, adult arrivistes quickly hijacked it as a platform for personal agendas, pontification and PR.

In addition to millions of TikTok and YouTube views, Googling the term yielded over 12 million news site hits in the first two weeks of November as media and marketing players piled on.

MadAve’s fig leaf fix for Millennial mistakes, Boomer bungling

The OK Boomer barb is fading, but for the next dozen years or so Gen Z will remain the go-to grabber for news outlets, brands, pollsters and ad agencies recycling old headlines: Millennials Zers will disrupt (INSERT TOPIC HERE) and nothing will ever be the same again. Etc. Etc.

Z-boosting reflects Adland’s eagerness to divert attention from failed past predictions now that Millennials are selling out to normalcy

Crossing the 30th birthday threshold, they adopt conventional lifestyles, marry, have children, buy homes in the burbs and opt for family-friendly vehicles.

In short in short, they become like their Boomer parents who, despite buying half of everything sold in America, are deemed too old to adapt and too destructive to brand image to openly target.

So strategists, prognosticators and opinionizers are hustling to change the generational conversation.

Their challenge is to sell C Suites on the importance of 13-year-olds whose buying power derives mainly from taking out the garbage and walking the dog.

The suits, eager to appear hip, will likely go along.

Generational revisionism: ample precedent

When it comes to throwing out old memes and replacing them with new memes, Madison Avenue has been there, done that.

Except for Baby Boomers, memorialized as born 1946-1964, generational labels and birth year ranges skittered around for decades as unexpected events forced constant revisions.

Mostly, these gyrations came at the expense of Gen Xers. In some cases they barely transitioned from Barbie and Ken before passing their sell-by date:

  • 1965-1974 (New York Times)
  • 1965-1976 (J.D. Power)
  • 1965-1976 (Pew Research Center, 2010)
  • 1965-1981 (Strauss and Howe, authors)
  • 1965-1984 (The Harvard Center)

With history as a guide, trend-makers began to dislodge Millennials from their perch atop the pecking order: Job One was to dethrone them as America’s largest generation.

Easy peasy.

Although in 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau defined Millennials as people born 1982-2000, The Pew Research Center stripped them of their bragging rights in 2018 by switching to born 1981-1996.

Overnight some 16 million Zers entered the 18-49 demo and, under the radar, America’s largest generation honors bounced back to the Boomers.

Full disclosure: VizioNation uses Census Bureau definitions – keeping score is so much easier when the goalposts stay put.

Boomers already know they are OK 

When The Washington Post asked AARP senior vice president Myrna Blyth about the OK Boomer surge, she zinged back “we have the money.” Ouch! 

“Blyth’s point is that ad and marketing execs routinely pit generations against one another and overlook older people, especially older women,” said AARP’s media relations editorial manager, Colby Nelson, in a statement.

In fact, after the USA itself and China, Americans over 50 represent the world’s 3rd largest economy. Dominated by Boomers and boosted by older Gen Xers arriving at the rate of 4 million annually, it is the most powerful purchasing group on the planet.

What’s more, Boomers have a strong sense of cohesion: they know who they are.

In 2015 Pew found 79% of Boomers correctly identified their generational age range: only 58% of Gen Xers and 40% of Millennials did so correctly.

The Boomer label is so powerful that  15% of Gen X claimed to belong to this hip in-crowd.

Even more (34%) of the Silent Generation described themselves as Boomers, tracking with real-world socio-cultural overlap. Many iconic “Boomers” were actually born in the late Silent era, including all The Monkees, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross, Jerry (The Grateful Dead) Garcia and Peter (Easy Rider) Fonda.

A 2017 VizioNation study (Brand Courtship©, 2017) asked 500 people aged 50-71 what Baby Boomer means to them; we found they bond over when they were born/their shared age group, the wars and the music that punctuated their youth and a sense of optimism and confidence.

And they consistently referenced hard work, responsibility and playing by the rules as Boomer attributes – values that Pew, Gallup and others say younger groups do not strongly associate with their own generations.

But perhaps the most important trait Boomers assign themselves is wisdom: 94% feel they have grown wiser as they have grown older.

It is a finding of great significance for marketers, advertisers and – most of all – for the brands they represent.

The brand/Boomer disconnect

Awash in Big Data, metrics, surveys and statistics, brand strategists are well-aware of the Boomers’ incredible purchasing power. But they flounder when it comes to the inner mind decision-making of the 50+ space. It’s understandable.

The average agency creative staffer is 28; over half of ad/marketing professionals are gone by age 40; only 5-10% are 50-plus.

A 55-year-old knows what it is like to be 30 – the reverse is not true.

So, although incredibly talented, young marketers have few authentic connections to the socio-cultural imprinting of people who have already transitioned through several life stages that they have yet to experience.

Even so-called age-agnostic advertising falls short of optimal engagement because there if no such thing as age-agnostic perception. Consumers over 50 have been advertised to all their lives: they really are older and wiser.

Upshot: according to AARP research, 83% over 50 feel advertisers make mistakes when trying to appeal to their age group,

And our own Brand Courtship Study found consumers use highly negative terms to describe how they see themselves depicted in advertising.

Perhaps the most powerful barrier to winning brand share in the world’s 3rd largest economy is that consumers themselves cannot fully express their embedded perceptions. Boomers and Gen Xers communicate in subtle, highly nuanced silent languages, the syntax of which they barely remember.

Without a true understanding of how to navigate these hidden dynamics, advertiser outcomes are stereotypes at best, caricatures at worst. OK Boomer is a prime example.

Fortunately, authentic guides and interpreters are on hand to bring astute Adlanders across the chasm that separates them from the 50+ space.

High on our own reading list are Advertising to Baby Boomers (Chuck Nyren), Boomer Reinvention (Brent Green) and Barry Silverstein’s superb primer on Iconic Brands that Shaped Our Childhood, Boomer Brands.

Barry illustrates how lifelong attitudes are imprinted more powerfully by the routines of everyday life – from food to clothing to automobiles to entertainment and, yes, to memorable advertising – than by big events in the outside world.

About VizioNation

VizioNation conducts creative seminars and publishes innovative reports that stinspire managers to brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

Contact us learn how generational imprinting and the silent languages it creates still drive brand destinies in the world’s 3rd largest economy.

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Americans 50-Plus: the Engine of EV Success

Major motor shows spotlight EVs as the future. Again. 

The reassuring news from the 2019 motor shows in Frankfurt and Tokyo – the first major auto expos on the 2019-2020 circuit – is that electric vehicles are still “the future.”

Thrilling new concepts wowed auto journalists and bloggers, typically hedged by caveats that these BEV bombshells are not really scheduled for production or that Americans will not be able to buy one.

Too bad. Audi’s Trail Quattro is gonzo to the max.

Meanwhile, automakers fight for sales and profits by pumping out as many ICE models as the market will bear – around 98% of US auto sales in 2019.

This is not to minimize the future of EVs for personal mobility. Forecasters say they could approach 30% to 40% of the US market by 2040.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (NEF), is even more optimistic, suggesting electrics  may hit 57% that year.

Where the rubber hits the real road

We wish there was as much excitement about the 120 million Americans aged 50-plus who represent the world’s 3rd largest economy after the US itself and China. They already buy over half the new cars, trucks and SUVs sold in the US – as many, in fact, as Germany, France and the UK combined.

Amazingly, auto advertisers routinely ignore this incredible audience in favor of 20/30 somethings: while the Boomers’ kids may be handy for tech assistance and a ton of fun to hang out with, the 18-34 cohort represents only 16% of US new vehicle expenditures.

Still, Madison Avenue is convinced that “old” people, yearning to be 25 again, crave ads starring ingenue influencers du jour and that the young can be coaxed out of old beaters they can barely afford now to blow the down payment on their starter home on glitzy new wheels instead.

Witness the strategy behind Cadillac’s decision to launch its new CT4 sedan on Instagram; “the CT4 target customer is 25-35 years old with high engagement on social media” (MediaPost).

VizioNation adviser and author, David Allan Van Nostrand recently revisited the writings of Ad Contrarian (Bob Hoffman) 0n the topic and offers the following take:

There is an irresistible urge for marketers to target young people despite convincing evidence that older people have far more money, are far easier to reach, and all-in-all, make better customers.

The rationale for always showing young people in ads is the stale canard that older people want to be like younger people.

In fact, studies show that half of older people tune out ads pitched to young people and a third actively tune out products whose ads are directed to younger people.

The worst and most pervasive rationale for targeting young people is the notion that if you get them while they’re young, you will have them for life. This is the idiotic “lifetime value” argument.

In addition to all this, Adland persists in the bizarre delusion that consumers over 50 no longer adapt, plod along with familiar products and are the kiss of death to brand image.

Winning against the current

When Croatian-born genius Nikola Tesla came to America in 1884 to pitch his ideas for transmitting electricity via alternating current, Thomas Edison, THE expert of the era, told him he was crazy.

After a more creative competitor, George Westinghouse, bought nutty Nik’s patents, AC became the world’s power grid standard.

Like Westinghouse, Elon Musk knew a good thing when he saw it, buying the Tesla electric car company. He may be eccentric and a clickbait magnet, but crazy he is not. In 2018 Tesla became the #1 domestic premium brand with sales of 182,400 versus Cadillac (154,702) and Lincoln (103,587).

Amazingly, at least to the herd, around half of Elon’s e-rockets – 90,000 – went to Boomers and older Gen Xers. You know, the people who are too ancient to adapt and too toxic to target: median buyer ages were 54 for the S, 52 for the X and 46 for Model 3 (The Hedges Company).

So far, EVs have been picking off the low-hanging fruit. According to IHS Markit almost half (47%) of 2018 U.S. plug-in EV sales went to California, where stringent regulations, affluent enthusiasts and highly paid young Silicon Valley techies – too career-savvy to commute to Google, Twitter or Facebook in an F250 King Ranch diesel – fuel the fervor.

But for truly mainstream-scale sales, the importance of older EV prospects out beyond the California bubble cannot be overstated.

From imports to SUVs to the lowly cupholder, Boomers and Gen Xers pioneered every major US auto industry disruption; they pined for EVs in the 70s, leased the EV1 in the 90s and dropped $100K a copy for Tesla’s sportscar in the 00s.

And since they are already responsible for 55% of US new passenger vehicle expenditures, by what stretch of the imagination could they not also be vital to the success of mass-market electric models?

More to the point, how can brands conquest future EV sales in an arena they barely understand or dare associate with? Sadly, they’d rather settle for whatever drops into their laps than overtly pitch the 50+ demo.

Cracking the authenticity code in the 50+ space

Obviously, auto brands and their super-smart ad agencies are well aware of the huge market beyond the 18-49 arena, but they are boxed in by uncomfortable realities.

Advertising is a youth-oriented industry; the median age of employees is 38. Less than 10% survive past 50. So most flounder with Boomer and older Gen X consumers, lacking fluency in their secret silent dialects that – formed by decades of hidden socio-cultural imprinting – still drive brand destinies today.

VizioNation does not create advertising or design products but our expert seminars, workshops and reports guide brand decision-makers to greater insight and innovation in the 50+ space. Contact us to cross the chasm ahead of the competition.

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50 Years of Woodshtick

Generational stereotyping: catnip, clickbait … a crock

Finally, it’s over!

The 50th anniversary of Woodstock Woodshtick has come and gone – the endgame of five long decades of punditry and pontification over a messy 1969 mudfest in upstate New York that, supposedly, defines the Baby Boom generation.

Like most shiny marketing and mass-media objects, the Woodstock rock festival was more important for catnip  and clickbait than for the event itself.

Great music and iconic performers? Sure.

Nudity, rain-drenched debauchery and drugs? You bet.

The Boomer metaphor? No way!

Fast forward to the 1980s and those counterculture young rebels, who, BTW, left acres of trash – and other debris too offensive to list – in their wake at Yasgur’s Farm, were back in the headlines. This time as greedy corporate yuppies globalizing fast food, SUVs and embarrassing leisure wear.

Fast forward again. It’s 2019.

Schizophrenic editorialists and columnists now bemoan “aging” – i.e., OLD – Boomers as either [a] wealthy elites who force house prices beyond the reach of their Millennial kids or [b] pathetic, penniless and headed for senior living on a shoestring.

Catnip, eyeballs and clickbait: it’s just generational stereotyping. Like Woodshtick.

For starters, in 1969, two-thirds of Boomers were still in high school, grade school or even kindergarten. Bubble gum, Barbies and bikes were boss, not protests, pot or the Pill.

Half of Boomers over 18 were already married (at a median age of 21 for women, 23 for men), and half a million more were serving in the jungles of Southeast Asia with more to worry about than whether Hendrix or Santana was the greatest guitar player on the planet.

Whatever else they may be, Boomers are not one-size-fits-all.

The generational name game

Back in 1969, the Baby Boomers weren’t even named as such.

The first recorded use of the term was in a 1970 Washington Post article, codifying something economists had been observing for a while – the massive surge in  births after WW2.

When millions of lonely GIs returned to millions of lonely sweethearts, they had more than home cooking on their mind. So much so that the US Census Bureau decided to monitor the resulting birth boom in order to assess its impact on America’s roaring postwar economy.

Graphed as  a bulge in the fertility rate curve, these new arrivals were dubbed The Pig in the Python by demographers – who says statisticians don’t have a sense of humor? Fortunately, when the Census Bureau set the generation’s birth year range at 1946-1964, it also decided that Baby Boomer would be a catchier, more PC label.

As always, the private sector was way ahead of the government in spotting – and monetizing – trends.

From the early 1960s, “youth” was already a hot target for marketers, movies, the music industry and the media. The notion of a counterculture generation gap was well-established when Woodstock came along to wrap things up in a grubby hippie stash bag.

So what if 95% of Baby Boomers never came any closer to a hippie than at the movies, on TV or in a magazine? A nifty new name and a groovy meme was all that was needed to freeze them in time, take the idea of socio-cultural generations viral and send gurus scrambling to name, rename, discover, rediscover and profit from defining the generations that would follow the Boomers.

It’s still a work in progress, or a train wreck in slow motion, take your pick. We gurus know a good thing when we see it.

Only last year, the prestigious Pew Research Center lopped off 16 million Millennials, previously ballyhooed as America’s largest generation, and re-assigned them (for now) to the nifty, newsworthy Generation Z, born 1996-20TBD (Pew).

Consequently, adland is falling over itself to shove “aging” Millennials aside now that they are ditching lofts, Lyft and lattes for suburbia, SUVs and Similac. Gen Z may be broke, but it’s way cool.

The penalty for misunderstanding Boomers

Brands that mistake Swingin’ Sixties mythology for how the Boomers’ inner minds really work are headed for trouble.

Even back in the day, hippies, free love and the drug culture were not held in high esteem. Guilty fantasies, perhaps, but also associated with social disruption and division: a 1968 Harris Poll reported almost three-quarters (72%) felt hippies and protesters were at least partly the cause of law and order breakdown.

And in 1971, three-quarters (75%) told Harris that hippies were harmful in some way, mostly to themselves (53%) but as many saw them as a threat  to society (22%) as not harmful to anyone (22%).

The problem for brands that rely on stereotypes in the 50+ space is that few in their marketing teams or at their ad agencies actually live there. The average age of creative department staff is 28; only 5-10% of all agency employees are over 50.

No wonder AARP’s mature marketing agency, infuent50, found 83% of Boomers feel advertisers make mistakes when trying to appeal to them.

As for reasons, VizioNation Senior Creative Adviser, Chuck Nyren, nailed it in his book Advertising to Baby Boomers

Ad agencies seem to have no idea what “The Sixties” meant to any of us.

Liberal, cultural progressives took the decade very seriously. They don’t enjoy seeing it trivialized, commercialized, reduced to hawking products and services. Conservative Baby Boomers never bought into The Sixties’ culture and ethos. Using it thematically to reach them insults and angers them.

Then there is a chunk of Boomers who were never particularly affected by it all, shied away from it, had quieter values. Another huge chunk were too young for Sixties Culture to really resonate with them.

None of this would matter except for an inconvenient little fact: the 120 million Americans over 50 represent the world’s 3rd largest economy after the US itself and China.

To prosper there, brands need VizioNation experts who inhabit that world themselves, steeped in its socio-culturing imprinting, fluent in its subtle silent language and smart enough to give Woodstock a cameo role, not make it the star, in the Boomer story.


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Times Square Drops The Ball Once A Year: Madison Avenue Drops It Every Day

Dropping the ball, adland style

A year from now, at the end of 2019, as the ball again begins its annual 60 second Times Square drop, some 95 million American Boomers and older Gen Xers – the Boomer-next Generation™ – will be living, working, playing, switching brands and spending (especially spending) in the 50+ consumer space.

It is the third largest economy on Planet Earth; only those of the United States and China are bigger.

Just a few blocks away from Times Square, Madison Avenue drops the ball every day.

It does so by failing to address this enormous market, the most miscast and misrepresented in history, because in adland’s view this is an unadaptable arena where buying behavior is so static that it is pointless to waste budgets.

No longer coolly cliched as rebels, hippies, yuppies, slackers, latchkey kids or grungy MTV zombies, as Americans exit the 18-49 demo at midnight on their 50th birthday they become irrelevant old-timers shuffling off to God’s waiting room clutching their pills and potions.

Silly, isn’t it?

Gone in 2018: grownups who mattered to young Boomers 

Daring brands willing to dump orthodoxy and get inside Boomer-next generation heads must first understand the socio-cultural symbolism of their influencers, the people who helped shape the journey from tots, tykes, teens and twenty-somethings to – wow, that was fast – full on adults.

Too many of those icons passed in 2018.

From war hero politicians George Bush and John McCain to music, movie and television favorites to Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee to scientist Steven Hawking to the incomparable Aretha Franklin they are remembered by Boomer-nexters for how they were back in the moment, not appreciated as the “vintage classics” they became to later generations.

Hey, nineteen, that’s ‘Retha Franklin (she don’t remember the Queen of Soul … she thinks I’m crazy, but I’m just growing old) Steely Dan, 1980.

Two TV stars whose seminal series served as complementary metaphors – the yin-yang of Boomer nostalgia – were Penny Marshall (Laverne & Shirley) and David Ogden Stiers (M*A*S*H).

Both shows revisited mid-century life through the eyes of comedy, one warm and wistful, the other ironic and introspective.

And both served different identities that emerged – and merged – during the Boomers’ young adult years and which still coexist in the generational psyche. Neither identity dominates all the time; there is ebb and flow.

Penny Marshall (1943-2018)

A talented and respected director in later life, to Boomers Penny Marshall is forever Laverne in the hit TV series Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983), a Happy Days spinoff set in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In fact, most Boomers only vaguely remembered the fifties – some barely, or not at all, because on New Year’s Day 1955, half had not been born.

However, the connections resonated because the generation’s 1946-1964 birth year span matched a national high point of optimism, confidence, technological innovation and upward social and economic improvement.

Despite injustices, inequalities and the threat of Cold War annihilation, the lasting legacy of the era would be Boomer expectation – and embrace – of progress.

So, after the upheavals and shocks of the Vietnam War, Watergate and oil crisis years, it’s perhaps understandable we would romanticize a mid-century world where no matter what, America cherished its young. Not just for our undeniable cuteness but also as a “built-in recession cure” (LIFE Magazine, June 16, 1958).

Since then, massive changes in technology, media and the globalization of products, services and cultures have played huge roles in the evolving Boomer experience.

But demographics too have been key drivers of their lifelong adaptability to change.

  • US population:                                                         1960: 179 million … 2015: 321 million
  • Median age at first marriage: 1960 vs 2015  Women: 20/28 … Men: 23/30
  • Births to unmarried women:                                 1960: 5% … 2015: 40%
  • Percent of US born adults 18+ who are married: 1960: 73% … 2013: 48%
  • Immigrant population:                                                 1960: 9.7 million (5%)  … 2013: 41.3 million (13%)
  • Median family income (in 2012 dollars):           1960: $28,000 … 2012: $62,000

(Data hat tip: US Census statistics aggregated by Pew and the Russell Sage Foundation).

While warm and fuzzy fun like Laverne & Shirley – eggheads said fluff but, well, some of them probably thought War and Peace was a laff-riot – was incredibly popular TV fare in the late 1970s through the 1980s; this was also a time for comedy as social commentary.

The most successful of the latter genre was M*A*S*H (1972-1983) …

David Ogden Stiers (1942-2018)

David Ogden Stiers enjoyed a long and varied career, with 168 acting credits (Internet Movie Database) from Winnie The Pooh to Star Trek and most everything in between.

But he lives in Boomer memory as TV’s Major Charles Winchester, the proper, pompous but consummately grownup counterpoint to the cast of cut-ups of M*A*S*H (1972-1983).

Ostensibly the story of army doctors in a forward hospital during the Korean War, it was an overt allegory of the Vietnam conflict – still winding down in 1972 – straddling the lines between lionizing the grunts, lampooning the brass and lambasting the gung-ho pols promoting “the war” from the comfort of home soil.

U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was mostly over in 1973, but its progressive and political sub-text was so powerful – and the cast so engaging – that after season one M*A*S*H was never out of the top 20 rated shows. Its 1983 finale is still the most watched episode of any series in TV history.

Stiers arrived in season 6 as Major Charles Winchester, replacing doofus-wimp Major Frank Burns whose main purpose was to spout patriotic pablum, racist rants and sexist slurs (hint, hint, we’re talking progressive here) only to be put down by the hip and witty anti-authority lead, Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda), and his posse.

Winchester presented a more balanced persona, one who accepted his drafted detour from civilian life as a grim duty to be endured as best as possible and who gave as good as he got from his cynical, war-weary colleagues.

David Ogden Stiers’ portrayal, although patrician, was actually closer to how most Boomers eventually came to see the Vietnam era – in shades of gray rather than with Hawkeye’s black/white caustic certainty.

 2019 is a 12 month touchdown opportunity, not a 60 second ball drop

Among the 20/30-something advertising and brand professionals whose creativity is fenced in by Big Data and research that is carefully crafted to meet management’s meme of the moment, the world beyond the 18-49 demo is not only mysterious but forbidden territory.

Recommending mainstream brand ad campaigns that target consumers over fifty has even less cachet than sporting a MAGA hat on Martha’s Vineyard in July.

Dealing with approved headgear issues is above our pay grade but we do help create authentic engagement in the complex and nuanced 50+ space, where half of America’s new car buyers, two-thirds of home-owners and 80% of household assets reside.

2019 is as good a time as any to make the right call, pick up that opportunity ball and run with it.

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Amazing News! Millennials ARE Driving. And Their Cars Are A Mess.

Dirty driving / mobile mayhem

New research from Vizionation looks deep behind the scenes of everyday Millennial and Gen X lives to reveal vehicle interiors that bear little resemblance to the pristine pictures in automaker advertising and on websites.

Despite the best efforts of product planners and interior designers, America’s younger adults treat cars more like mobile habitats – cafeterias, closets, kindergartens, even dumpsters on wheels – than mere transportation.

This is not surprising to their Boomer parents: if they wouldn’t clean their rooms as kids, why would their cars be any different today?

However, what is surprising to mainstream meme makers is that Millennials are driving at all.

We’ll share some survey findings a few paragraphs on, but, first, the bigger issue: how could such a disruptive reality – Millennials driving rather than Ubering/biking/walking – occur under the very noses of savants who constantly assured us this could not possibly happen because the M-crowd is so much more cool than their greedy Gaia-trashing parents?

Marketing meme makers morph Millennials into motorists

Definitions, definitions, definitions: who are the Millennials anyway?

We’ve covered this before but it’s worth repeating: if you are confused about generational definitions, it’s not your fault. For decades, marketing sages have vied for headlines, eyeballs and clicks by identifying, naming, revising and renaming America’s generations.

Here’s the Census Bureau take; heck, if we can’t believe the guv’ment, who can we believe?

  • Baby Boomers: born 1946 to 1964 – 19 birth years
  • Generation X: born 1965 to 1981 – 17 birth years
  • Millennials: born 1982-2000 – 19 birth years

OK, Pew recently revised (actually re-revised) the ranges, but we’ll stick with Uncle Sam.

At 83 million in 2015, when the Census Bureau made its announcement, the Millennials were confirmed as America’s largest generation. Adland had already been hyping their socio-cultural and economic influence versus Gen X (slacker latchkey kids) and the Boomers (irrelevant old hippies and yuppies) for years.

By 2010 the term “Millennials” was a metaphor for an enlightened new world whose inhabitants, many still clutching Happy Meals in sticky pre-teen fingers, had sworn to forsake the burbs (or mom’s basement) for loft-dwelling, latte-sipping lives free of old fogey ways.

Atop the fogey no-no list was driving in general and buying cars in particular. Say what? Extra! Extra! read all about it!

Excitement ran so high that, even when half the generation was still below the legal driving age, the august The New York Times and Washington Post pondered “the end of car culture” (2013) and “the many reasons millennials are shunning cars” (2014).

This remained guru groupthink and readership fodder until significant numbers of Millennials reached adulthood – a phenomenon that apparently does not occur before age 30 according to a CBS survey among members of the generation.

Now millions of newly minted adults are finding the Lyft-riding road to loft life, though paved with good intentions, detours through Realville where “aging” 30-somethings form households, have children, sprawl in new suburbs and – who’da thunk it – not only drive but buy cars.

Kudos to self: we’ve thunk it ever since the silliness about hipsters ditching cars first surfaced years ago. Helped many a client see past the hype as well.

Millennials in used cars are not as newsworthy as new car buyers

Emboldened by a recent Federal Reserve report that found the 18-49 demo delaying but not dissing new cars, and hard-headed analysis from auto media experts (see Mark Rechtin’s take Motor Trend, 2017), mainstream marketing meme makers are scrambling to catch-up and “discover” Millennials are motoring after all.

Reality check: there’s always a catch … most first, second and maybe even third cars are used/hand-me-downs not bought new. It was true for Boomers and Gen Xers and it’s true for Millennials too.

  • The 18-35 age group share of the U.S. new vehicle market is still only 15% at most
  • Those “irrelevant” old timers age 50+ account for at least half of the total.

So for now, most Millennials rely on used cars; think of them as automotive training wheels.

For better or worse, experiences at this life stage, when priorities and responsibilities change rapidly, will drive eventual new vehicle decisions for years to come.

Disorder degrades the driver experience

With job security, home prices and residual college loans weighing on many Millennial minds – especially if children are involved – careful consideration of interior practicality sits high on the priority ladder when they can finally afford a brand new vehicle.

After peering into hundreds of their current cars, SUVs, CUVs, minivans and trucks, Vizionation and photo-ethnography partner PayYourSelfie found most interior storage and storage features fall short of ideal.

The overwhelming majority of owners either struggle to maintain a semblance of order or have just given up altogether.

  • Half said their interiors were dirty and/or disorganized most of the time
  • Nine-in-ten suggested interior design improvements to make life easier
  • The most frequent “cargo” (85%) is the debris of daily life – some type of trash, shoved into cupholders, door pockets, the way-back, onto floors and (yuk) under seats

The upshot of all these grungy habitats – some too gross for polite conversation – is that fully one-third of Millennials are too embarrassed to give anyone, including family, a ride.

Until solutions are found, good luck with that car-sharing thing … unless maybe Boomer moms come to the rescue. As usual.


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Gen X Marketers: Older Now, But Still Runnin’ Against The Wind

Adland blacklists 17 million Gen Xers – including clients. Oops!

With summer almost gone and pumpkins poised, the marketing media will soon be prepping for January 2019 and its annual look back/look forward ritual.

January, as trivia mavens, scholars and smarty pants in general know, is named for the Roman god Janus who, equipped with two heads, looks both to the year just ended and greets the year just beginning.

As usual, Madison Avenue will celebrate 2018 winners and losers with 20-20 hindsight and make bold – but safely hedged – assertions for 2019.

With Millennials now being rapidly displaced in adland by Gen Z as the poster child – key word child, since most have not yet entered middle school – for all that is hip, cool and on-trend, we (boldly) predict click-bait headlines such as:

  • 12-year old Gen Z creative director rewrites rules for … (whatever)
  • Marketing departments offer free Pull-Ups as perks to tempt toddler talent
  • Agency CEO: our Gen Z pre-schoolers are smarter than their Millennial has-beens

The irony is – facing a median ad/pr biz employee attrition rate of 90% between ages 40 and 50 – older Millennials will soon follow on the heels of the Gen Xers they shoved aside as they clawed their way to an early midlife crisis.

Not only did Millennials sideline their Gen X managers and mentors (thanks a bunch, kids) in the scramble for the corner office, but they also blacklisted 4 million Gen X consumers annually as they exit the 18-49 demographic.

How can this be? For starters, don’t blame the Millennials – or even the Gen Xers who came before. No, not the Boomers either. Each generation simply followed the well-worn safe path to advancement on Madison Avenue – cry creativity but practice prudence.

In this case, prudent policy was laid down way back in the 1960s when 3-Martini lunch Mad Men strode the earth, preaching that consumer adaptability shrivels at the stroke of midnight on their 50th birthday.

After that, the Solons decreed, they won’t try new products, switch brands or adopt new buying behaviors. So don’t waste ad dollars on them unless to peddle pills, potions or portfolios as they cruise off to Florida and Sun City in their Packards and De Sotos.

Don Draper’s rules / Don Knotts’ smarts … what could go wrong?

Janus_The Two DonsOne thing is certain; combining Don Draper’s 1960s rules with Don Knotts’ 1960s smarts is as dumb as it is dated.

When Janus looked back on 1964 and forward to 1965, only 3% of U.S households owned a color TV, American auto brands won 95% of the market, outside the Starship Enterprise no one had a cell phone and the typical 25-year-old woman was a married home-maker with two children.

Ground Control to Major Tom, your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong.
Can you hear me, Major Tom?

When the ball drops in Times Square on December 31st, 2018, thanks to weird old group-think, almost 17 million Gen Xers will have blacklisted from brand targeting since they started turning fifty in 2015. Of 383 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) only one, New York,  has more people.

It’s as if the populations of Los Angeles plus San Francisco disappeared overnight.

Hey, we heard that! No snarky jokes please, this is serious stuff.

We’re not just talking about the annual loss of 4 million Gen Xers.

The 50+ space they now join is home to 110 million Americans who control 80% of US household assets and account for 58% of retail sales (Video Advertising Board).

Once dominated by Baby Boomers, as the Xers pour in, the enormous U.S. fifty-plus market is the world’s third largest economy after China and the US itself. It is also the least understood by Madison Avenue.

Generation X, not Gen Z, will re-write the rules

Judging by a scattering of articles cropping up in the business media, at least some brand managers are reassessing Gen X world and are alarmed at what they see: those mid-century Mad Men myths are driving away customers.

Long dismissed in silly memes as the “slacker” or “middle child” or “grunge/MTV” generation, Xers are slowly gaining recognition on three fronts.

  • There are more of them than you thought
  • They have way more to spend than Millennials
  • They are taking over C-Suites nationwide

Don’t just take our word for it. The Washington Post has already re-written the narrative: We thought Gen X was a bunch of slackers. Now they’re the suits (March 1, 2017).

Here’s what we know about the coming Gen X bandwagon.

There are more of them than you thought

Forget what you’ve read about the “small” Gen X generation; Googlesphere is full of articles hyping the size/importance of the Millennials at the expense of Xers.

It wasn’t until 2015 that the U.S. Census Bureau stepped in to set the Millennial birth range as 1982-2000, thereby leaving Generation X 1965-1981 as their very own territory.

Bottom line: 66 million consumers aged 37 to 53 and in their peak earning years is not a “small” market.

Global brands that disagree should consider pulling out of the UK, France or maybe Italy, because each of these “small” markets has “only” 60-66 million people.

They have way more to spend at 50 than Millennials aged 18

Myopic preoccupation with the 18-49 demo costs marketers, big time. Of course, only if one considers a net annual loss of $117 billion in consumer expenditures “big time.”

In 2018, that’s how much replacing exiting 50-year-olds with 18-year-old newcomers will cost marketers in net spending power – billions with a B.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows the Q1 2018 U.S. workforce aged 50 earned 10 times as much as the workforce aged 18 … more workers and higher wages.

  • 2.6 million workers aged 50 earned an average $986 per week… $130 billion annualized.
  • Only 500,000 workers aged 18 worked, averaging $500 per week … $13 billion annualized.

They are taking over C-Suites nationwide 

Generation X is in the process of assuming power in business, industry and government; we can be sure they’re not about  to put up with any more disrespect from pundits and taste-makers. Least of all, their ad agencies’ incoming crop of Gen Z ingenues.

Good luck, adland, telling your new Gen X bosses they’re too old and unadaptable to target in their own ad campaigns:

Sorry, ma’am, people like you are unable to change with the times or learn about new ideas.

Good luck too in the face of survey data showing over 80% of consumers 50+ actually enjoy learning about and trying new brands and  products.

Welcome, Gen X to a familiar new world

As Gen Xers turn 50, like the Boomers before them, they find it’s not the end of life – despite disappearing from mainstream advertising except as silly stereotypes.

Happily, however, the idea of targeting the 50+ space is quietly approaching a tipping point, helped along by marketing’s own Gen X insiders and a business media that now chronicles them with revisionist respect.

But engaging – authentically engaging – this newly-discovered bonanza isn’t about Big Data or mind-numbing stacks of statistics.

To understand Gen X brands must also understand the Boomers, their older siblings. Although born several years apart, the two generations experienced dynamic Boomer world in shared moments. They were imprinted with different perspectives, of course, but speak similar hidden socio-cultural languages of the latter half of the 20th century.

And Madison Avenue’s forerunners are smart enough to know marketing to Boomers/Xers requires authentic interpreters who speak those complex dialects – patois that cannot be imitated and which evolved in a unique world that cannot be revisited.

We’re here to help.

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published in September, 2017, this up-date welcomes the 4 million Gen Xers joining the Boomers in the 50+ space in 2018.

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How Detroit And Boomers Killed The American Sedan, As Seen Through The Overton Window

After you’ve read this there may be no American sedans left 

Everywhere you look commentators are belatedly noticing the death of the traditional American 4 door sedan. It’s been a long goodbye.

The American family sedan has been the staple of U.S. auto sales for the better part of a century. But now it’s turning into an endangered species (CNN Money).

Ford Says Cars Lose Money, So They’re Gone (Automotive News).

The reason – the rise of SUVs and trucks – has been obvious ever since Boomer pioneers pushed them past the tipping point back in the nineties. But, since people over 50 are too embarrassing to allow anywhere near advertising depictions, industry “experts” only credit the product, not the buyers.

The American sedan is dying. Long live the SUV (Bloomberg).

Automakers shift to SUVs as consumers steer clear of sedans (LA Times).

GM and FCA have tip-toed around the issue, but Ford has come right out and shouted from the rooftop of its Dearborn headquarters that sedans are toast.

When Ford boldly announced it would finally address real-world consumer preferences by dropping all “cars” except for Mustang and the Focus Wagon, reactions were predictable. Spokesbots for the Gulag for Correct-Think scampered to the nearest NPR microphone to decry this as a sellout at the expense of climate-challenged residents of low-lying coastal regions everywhere.

It’s not as if the writing hasn’t been on the wall for decades.

In 2000, truck-based light vehicle sales surpassed car sales for the first time – but it was all the way back in 1980, as Boomers entered the new car market in force, they really took off among trendsetters.

The seeds were sown even earlier. Already, by 1970 many young Boomer suburbanites were mooning over cool off-roaders and trucks of all types, from Broncos and Jeeps to dune buggies to surfer vans to bad-boy pickups ferrying dirt bikes to the desert and sending fathers reaching for the baseball bat when Scooter came to collect Sue Ellen.

Look no further than the socio-cultural symbolism with which the Boomers were imprinted.

Every picture tells a story, don’t it

Until the mid-1960s, domestic car print ads often favored illustrations over photography. General Motors’ go-to partners for artwork between 1959 and 1971 was the team of Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman.

Fitzpatrick also created poster art; here’s an example featuring the 1971 Pontiac GTO, one of many Pony and Muscle cars inspired by the Ford Mustang’s incredible success.

Back then, cool 20/30-somethings could actually afford fun 2-door cars like these. Just take a look at the symbolism: the dude sports a Beatle hairstyle, the gal-pal wears a cowboy hat and – far out, man – this hip couple is hanging out in the desert with super-trendy off-roaders. Boss, man, boss.

Well before automakers fully realized the off-beat, counter-culture appeal of truck world, especially Out West and Down South, it was already calling to younger prospects in the form of groovy-grotty wheels The Man would be sure to disapprove.

Fast forward a few years and Fitzpatrick’s hip couple will be toting their young family around in a Ford Bronco. Born in the early years of the Boomer generation (1946-1964) they – and others who flaunted convention by fueling the import car surge – were already role models for youngsters who would not enter the new car market until the late 1980s.

By then, with compact-but-pricey Euro products embraced by Boomer yuppies, the conventional American 4-door sedan was beset by embarrassing failures to meet the challenges of post oil crises downsizing. The long slide towards a bland fleet car/airport rental status had begun.

Meanwhile, the hang-loose  authenticity of truck/van culture was co-opting Boomer imaginations coast to coast.

With recreational, outdoors and fitness movements taking off, truck-based vehicles complemented the back-to-nature mood of the era and re-energized Americana as a buying trigger.

4-Door symbolism: adult, sensible, authoritative and, um, dull

4-Door sedan symbolism goes way back to the Boomers’ parents, the Silent Generation whose buying decisions were greatly affected by their Depression and WW2 experience.

A thriving economy cajoled them to consume, and they sure did, but inner voices whispered cautions as well.

In the 1950s/60s – when America’s cutest generation (us) was being imprinted – glitzy convertibles, sporty 2-doors and high performance V8s enticed shoppers to dealerships. At which point good sense usually took over: mom and dad would drive out in a sensible family 4-door or a stolid station wagon, often equipped with a prudent 6-cylinder motor and a column mounted 3-speed manual shift transmission.

The money saved went for the optional garbage disposal or washing machine in their brand new tract home. Or maybe for the color TV the kids had been begging for. After all, nothing was too good for  America’s cutest generation (yes, we think it’s worth repeating).

Of course, not all 4-doors as were as squaresville as the ones mom/dad drove.

In the premium range, Cadillac and Lincoln reigned supreme as symbols of power, success and status – seen on network TV news and LIFE magazine ferrying presidents and corporate magnates to events of great moment.

In the 1980s however, thanks to Boomer yuppies, Euro-cool imports would dislodge these American icons to add a progressive patina of “intelligent choice” to their elite sub-set of the sedan category. These suave foreigners signaled affluence, authority, prestige plus superior performance and handling bred – according to the commercials – on autobahns and winding Bavarian mountain roads.

Over time, domestic 4-door sedans came to stand for, in descending order of positivity …

  • Sensible, responsible, prudent
  • Adult, parental … and, now, grandparental
  • Affordable for traditional budget-conscious families
  • Basic: sales reps, government fleets and rental cars

Unfortunately American sedans allowed themselves to be stereotyped as belonging in that last bucket.

Asian brands, however, offered smaller more fuel efficient models and avoided the geezerly grayscale sedan graveyard by projecting youthfulness, informality, zippy modernity and – above all – smart thinking based on bulletproof reliability.

American sedan seen through The Overton Window

It turns out The Overton Window – brainchild of think tank thinker Joseph P. Overton – reveals Detroit marketers and Boomer/Gen X innovators were in unwitting cahoots in bushwacking the American sedan.

Overton explained that in every organization, society and tribe there is a continuum of discourse that ranges between two extremes.

In the mid-range are permissible topics – the Overton Window. Outside the ruling policy, topics open for discussion extend towards opposing poles in steps:  popular … sensibleacceptable.

In this system, acceptable represents a frontier that allows for occasional exploration while safely tethered to convention. But beyond the border lay the forbidden badlands of radical and, gasp, unthinkable.

Overton’s theory also posits that the window can edge toward the forbidden zones but only if noisy, brave, outrageous and/or powerful enough voices force the issue or if more daring competitors show the way.

Case in point: boxed in by import cars and fun, active, rugged truck/SUV culture, the American sedan slowly slid from “accepted policy” to the no-go unthinkable zone among Boomer/Gen X taste-makers.

Hey, what could be more cool, sexy and prestigious than cars stripped down to win the low-bid approval of fleet buyers and purchasing department bean counters?

Sure, you bet, gotta get me one of those!

But The Overton Window opens both ways: how Detroit views their best customers – people over 50 – is just as devastating as the other way around.

Boomers/Gen X seen through The Automaker/Overton Window

The well-kept C Suite secret is that the median age of US retail customers for light vehicles is around 52. In fact, Americans aged 50-plus buy about as many new vehicles as Germany, the UK and France combined – 7.8 million versus 8 million in 2017.

However, except for occasional lip service, since the Boomers started turning 50 in 1996 and Gen Xers crossed over in 2015, auto branding gurus have been turning their backs on their best customers.

No kidding.

Marketing world – especially Madison Avenue, where the average age of creative department staffers is only 28 – is a myopic youth-oriented ecosystem steeped 18-49 demo group-think.

The Overton-style policy/popular delusion is that after age fifty consumers no longer switch brands or adapt. Also, they need their kids to help them figure out Instachat and Snapgram. Whatever.

It’s no surprise that managers over age 40 are terrified to suggest brand teams make serious investments in understanding the Boomers. With hotshot 30-somethings on the prod for that corner office, touting the 50+ space is the fast track to leaving to pursue other interests.

So, in automotive branding circles, advertising to customers over 50 is radical and unthinkable on steroids. Make that OMG RADICAL! and WTF UNTHINKABLE!

Ford – the fringe-radical auto company?

It’s worth noting that Ford, in addition to making the “acceptable” decision to dump sedans, has also dipped a cautious toe in the fringe-radical zone.

At this year’s Chicago Auto Show, the company introduced its 2019 Transit Connect Wagon as targeting active Baby Boomers who might not be able to afford a traditional minivan or large crossover (Automotive News).

Ford has done its left brain homework on basic design features likely to appeal to a certain segment of Boomers, and the company’s official statements cite familiar AARP statistics.

But it remains to be seen whether the Connect can, er, connect with emotional side of the buying equation – you know, the pesky consumer right brain that can sink a whole market segment like 4-door American sedans.

Frankly, Ford’s hamfisted Swingin’ Sixties references to this neo workhorse as the new Magic Bus leave one wondering, however. Sounds more like a Millennial’s avatar fantasy than Boomer reality.

Not only that, but the new model was displayed alongside its tradesman sibling splattered with signs for Joe’s Plumbing or 24 Hour Lock & Key or some such.

Perhaps reminding downmarket oldsters of the limited options they face in their declining years was just a glitch.

But, well, radical is as radical does.

One thing is for sure: brands looking to grow share in a vehicle market the size of Germany, France and the UK combined will need generational experts and socio-cultural professionals who think the unthinkable for a living.

But then, maybe we’re immodest. Try us and decide.

Sign up for the free newsletter and contact Boomer / neXt for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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Boomers/Gen X Win As Millennial Members Shrink

The “America’s largest generation” ping pong game

For a few years at least we knew the birth years that define the Millennial Generation.

In 2015, after a decade of confusion and conflicting opinions, the U.S. Census Bureau stepped into the debate and settled on people born 1982-2000. That made the Millennials America’s most numerous generation. The press release sent sales of celebratory avocado toast and soy lattes soaring …

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JUNE 25, 2015 –Millennials, or America’s youth born between 1982 and 2000, now number 83.1 million and represent more than one quarter of the nation’s population. Their size exceeds that of the 75.4 million baby boomers, according to new U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today.

But earlier this month, along came The Pew Research Center with a new take.

Instead of 19 birth years the Millennials were reduced to 16, now pegged by as Pew as born 1981-1996. Like other generation trackers, Pew uses seminal events as touchstones to derive definitions – awareness of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (2001) was an important factor in their new assessment.

After grabbing former Gen Xers born in 1981 and lopping off those born 1997-2000, the Millennial Generation shrank by 12 million members.

For Boomers, this was a cowabunga! moment: at 74-75 million, they now outnumber the Millennials (71 million) and reclaim their bragging rights as the largest U.S. generation.

Yo, Windsong, put a shot of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill  in the Maalox tonight. Make it two, we’re celebrating.

Generation X defined: at last

These gyrations have important implications for Gen Xers; although the Boomers birth years have been long set in stone (1946-1964), they were allocated constantly changing names and age ranges.

Broadscale media and marketing use of generational labels didn’t hit a tipping point until the mid-1980s; the youngest Boomers had just entered their twenties, those at the midpoint were around thirty and the oldest turned forty. Boomer star power was – still is – so strong, so cool and/or so annoying that it hogged the national conversation for decades, throughout what should have been Gen X’s time to shine, right up until their rebellious Millennial kids shoved their way into the clickbait spotlight.

Trapped in a definitional no man’s land, until the Census Bureau’s 2015 pronouncement, the only Gen X certainty was that they arrived in 1965, the year after the last Boomers were born. The generation’s end point skittered around, determined by the various birth ranges du jour allotted to the trendy Millennials by a small army of competing gurus hustling for headlines.

There was so much confusion that even the name “X” was a cop out after creepy placeholders such as Latchkey, MTV, Grunge and Slacker served up by rival “experts” failed to stick.

Here are a few previous Gen X age ranges lurking in Google’s attic; in some cases they barely transitioned from Barbie, G.I. Joe and training wheels to a Stingray before being canned:

  • 1965-1974 (The New York Times)
  • 1965-1976 (J.D. Power)
  • 1965-1976 (Pew Research Center, 2010)
  • 1965-1981 (Strauss and Howe, authors)
  • 1965-1984 (The Harvard Center)

The bottom line in this checkered history is that, thanks to Pew, Generation X finally has clarity: born 1965-1980 they are allocated 16 birth years, the same as the demoted Millennials (1981-1996).

But victory is fleeting.

Just as they achieved their own place in the socio-cultural timeline, Xers are being kicked off brand targeting schedules as they turn 50. On Madison Avenue, where the 18-49 demo is golden and barely 5% of agency staffers survive to 50 themselves, they are officially “too old” to adapt and too scary to feature in advertising.

But they can take comfort in the fact that the Millennials who elbowed them aside in the past are also being shoved to the sidelines.

A new squad of enfants terribles has arrived. All hail Generation Z.

Millennial men: Generation Alfie as cute new Z kids arrive?

Its youngest members are still spraying Lucky Charms across the breakfast table, but Generation Z is fast-becoming adland’s shiniest object. Already, the business press has profiled precocious pre-teens, hyped hip high schoolers and slobbered over college sophomores for their alleged adolescent acumen.

A fig leaf of rationality for this silliness is that at least some of these ingenues have entered the 18-49 audience. Thanks to Pew reassigning 16 million former Millennials born 1997-2000 to Gen Z,  in 2018 there are around 20 million of them age 18-plus.

That’s a lot of clickbait.

Maybe it’s time to rename “aging” male Millennials as Generation Alfie after the movie of the same name (1966, remake 2004).

When freshly dumped 30-something Alfie confronts his affluent older, er, patron about her new toy boy flame with what’s he got that I haven’t? she lays it on the line: he’s younger than you.

It’s a familiar scenario to Boomers and Xers. Alfie’s comeuppance is nothing new. It’s nature’s way.

The penalty for dumping 50-year-olds for low income newbies

Brands pay a heavy price when they drop 50-year-olds from targeting in favor of cute 18-year-olds on a shoestring budget, saddled with college debt or struggling to become established in low-paying jobs.

And it’s not as if this is a unique Gen Z discovery: the same is true – and continues to be true – of the Millennials since the 2008 recession took hold. In The Next America (2015) AARP’s Paul Taylor points out:

“As the national economy has begun to recover, Millennials have led other generations in shedding debt … but even this happy statistic has a dark side. The biggest reason the Millennials have less debt is they have fewer homes and cars than their same-age counterparts had in the past. They downsized their lifestyle.”

Now that Gen Z is following in the Millennials’ footsteps, its worth noting college debt isn’t the only barrier to consumption: the truth is they don’t earn much money.

Swapping out 4 million peak-earning 50-year-olds every year in favor of 4 million of cash-strapped kids 18-year-olds makes no sense except on youth-obsessed Madison Avenue.

The annual tab for romancing 18-year-olds versus 50-year-olds amounts to $120 billion in lost wage-based spending power (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

It works like this:

Welcome, 4 million rock stars age 18 of whom 55% still live with their parents and only 39% are employed = annual wages $2B

  • 517,000 work full time for $408/week and 1,057,000 work part time for $200/week

Outa here, 4 million has-beens age 50 of whom 75% are employed = annual wages $122B

  • 2.58 million work full time for $866 weekly (median) and 400,000 work part time for $302 weekly (median) = annual wages of $122.46 billion

Upshot: incurious conventional, comfortable wisdom costs incurious conventional, comfortable brands access to $120 billion in consumer wages every year.

They believe smarter competitors won’t grab market share from them. And their ad agencies believe smarter more creative shops won’t steal the business.


Now, about that bridge in Brooklyn that’s for sale …

Boomer World – far from the madding crowd

Too many brands have forgotten that the 50+ demographic is the sweet spot in virtually every category. Thanks to Madison Avenue’s fad-focused fixation on youth, it is a quiet and uncontested place where curious and persuasive brands prosper under the radar.

The 110+ million consumers who make up this huge market represent the third largest economy in the world. They own two thirds of U.S. homes, buy over half the new vehicles sold in America and generate around 60% of the nation’s retail sales.

  • Dominated by the Boomers, the 50+ space is also home 12 million members of the Boomer-Plus generation™, the Boomers’ older sibling born 1940-1945 and 13 million Gen Xers who grew up in vibrant Boomer World.

We are here for brands willing to learn the hidden socio-cultural pathways of the generations that live and consume in the immensely profitable 50-plus arena.

For the rest, there’s always those cute, penniless Z kids.

Sign up for the free newsletter and contact Boomer / neXt for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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The Frozen Dead Guy Cure For Creative Snow Blindness

Advertisers in the winter of discontent

Anyone in adland worth their paycheck knows Americans aged 50+ represent the world’s 3rd largest economy, hold 80% of US household assets, own two-thirds of the homes and account for 55-60% of the national expenditure on new vehicles. This is beyond Big Data, it’s humongous!

Nevertheless, over 90% of mainstream product ad budgets target the 18-49 demo instead (Nielsen). The go-to excuse is “our marketing is age-agnostic.” C’mon, folks, let’s get real: there is no such thing as age-agnostic perception.

There are a few exceptions – for example, the travel industry does a good job of romancing older Gen Xers, Boomers, older Gen Xers and the Silent Generation. This is especially true in the luxury segment, where 80% of spending is generated by travelers aged fifty and up (HT Grace Creative, Los Angeles).

One high end destination absent from most 50+ vacation lists is a ski resort. It’s unfortunate, because so many young brand decision makers are on the slopes at this time of year and the lack of “old people” only reinforces their creative snow blindness.

Seen thorough their pricey ski goggles, everyone who matters is active, cool and – especially – under 50.

So well-heeled young adland movers and shakers can schuss, slalom and stem christie their way through the powder without worrying about slamming into grandma and grandpa as they stop to search the trail map for a bathroom.

In fact, only a tiny, rugged minority (10%) of US downhill skiers are 50-plus.

A few more go in for cross country (14%), but their involvement in near-death freeski aerobatics or gnarly snowboarding is minuscule (5%, 3% respectively).

Colorado: where cool culture lives on – thanks to cryogenics

For upmarket fun in the snow, Colorado is the place to be. According to a survey by  Colorado Tourism/Longwoods International the state is the nation’s top winter sports destination, with a 19% share of America’s overnight ski trips.

The survey also shows that skiing is the big dog of the state’s tourism economy, accounting for 38% of Colorado’s overnight visitor expenditures in 2016. But with an average 4 night ski vacation and a daily spend of $1,306 per person, we’re not exactly talking Mike and Missy Mainstream here.

However, Colorado offers plenty of affordable trips too.

Dude, we know what you’re thinking, no, not that kind of “trip” … we mean camping, hiking, biking, rafting, touring, exploring frontier history and downing buffalo burgers in Old West hangouts.

With all this on offer it’s easy to see why the number of leisure tourists doubled from 19 million in 1996 to 38 million in 2016.

Happily, for those with low budgets – and, elites suggest, lowbrow tastes – Frozen Dead Guys is the perfect option for economy fun.

This coming March 9-10-11, a brief 30 minutes away from Boulder’s breweries, bistros and buff bicyclists, as it has for 17 years, the tiny mountain town of Nederland honors America’s coolest geezer, Bredo Morstøl.

Mr. M – the frozen dead guy – was packed in dry ice and shipped over from Norway for cryogenic preservation; since 1995, thanks to some creative re-zoning ordinances, the Viking VIP’s personal Valhalla has been a well-insulated Tuff Shed at the edge of town.

What’s great about FDGD is that it’s Boomer-friendly. It gives us a chance show off our waning athletic prowess in events for which the only prerequisite is a total lack of embarrassment; age is no obstacle.

Kicking off with the Blue Ball Bash (ouch!), the festival progresses/degenerates to the Hearse Parade, Coffin Races, Ice Turkey Bowling, Dead Poet Society Readings, The Newly Dead Game and a Frozen T-Shirt Contest that’s even worse than you can imagine.

Grandpa Morstøl is actually (yeah, you saw this coming) a member of the Silent Generation. However, his festival is one of Colorado’s many subtle touchpoints of – and secret portals to – mysterious and surprisingly alive Boomer World.

  • Hippies – from the start, Boulder was one of America’s hippie-friendliest cities
  • Marijuana  – for better or worse, those Rocky Mountain High fumes have gone legit
  • Back to nature – health/wellness foods … think Celestial Seasonings and WhiteWave
  • Mork & Mindy (1978-1982) – Gen Xers and Boomers flock for selfies in front of their TV home on Boulder’s Pine Street, and greet passersby with a cheery Nanu, Nanu.
  • Coors – what Boomer east of the Mississippi doesn’t remember when the neatest gift you could bring dad from spring break out west was a six pack of Banquet Beer?

The Morstøl saga bears an uncanny resemblance to Woody Allen’s 1973 Boomer favorite, Sleeper, in which nerdy Woody plays a health food store owner awakened after being in cold storage for 200 years.

The movie features several Boulder/Denver area landmarks, including the iconic Spaceship House  and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building (1961), a modernist architectural classic designed by the renowned I. M. Pei who, by the way, is still going strong at age 100.

Mile High Millennial magnet

This hip sub-text is not going unnoticed.

As a result of those luxury ski trips to Aspen, Vail and Beaver Creek, many young E/W coast professionals now take a day or two to check out the Front Range cities, from Colorado Springs to Denver to Fort Collins.

They’re amazed to learn that supposedly rival generations – Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silent – not only get along just fine but have co-created an entrepreneurial, tech-savvy, sophisticated and youthful culture. Yes, youthful. Despite weird Madison Avenue rumors to the contrary, the 0ver-50 crowd is active, healthy and, wow, creative.

No wonder, the Denver/Boulder metro is America’s #2 startup center after Silicon Valley.

Instead of fly-over country it’s now fly-in country – especially for Millennials: 2015 census data ranks Colorado #3 in the nation for arrivals aged 20-34 (HT SmartAssets).

It’s impolite to boast, but Colorado is actually #1 for Millennial growth as a percentage of total population: 25,000 young newcomers have a heck of a lot more impact in a state with 5 million residents than 33,000 do in Texas with 25 million. Just sayin’.

Consumers over 50: adland’s off-piste – and piste-off

Colorado consumers in the 50+ space are not all that different from those in other states, so it’s high time for brand decision-makers to rethink their approach to a national market that’s bigger than any economy except for China and the USA itself.

Hopefully, those daring, agile, ski-loving Madison Avenue Millennials will take the risks and lead the way.

We know they’re brave enough for Black Diamond runs – persuading C Suite execs to take brands out beyond the 18-49 safety fence requires only slightly more courage.

OK, maybe a whole lot more courage. But no pain, no gain.

Those who persevere know consumers over 50 are independent-minded. They’re cool with being off-piste – but not with being piste-off.

We’re here to provide experienced guides who can navigate that beautiful back country without making dangerous, amateurish blunders. Ask us how.

Sign up for the free newsletter and contact Boomer / neXt for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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Gone In 2017: Two Who Turned The World On With Their Smiles

So many icons passed in 2017

Boomer world lost way too many icons in 2017 … so many candidates for the annual review of those who played key roles in the ever adaptable – and still adapting – lives of older Gen Xers and Boomers.

In a testament to socio-cultural transfer among the generations, relatively few were Boomers themselves, but members of our parents’ Silent Generation(≈ 1925-1945) who helped mold our growing pains years:.

Some made us laugh; some made us sing; some helped us glimpse how adult life could be someday.

Chief among the laugh-makers was Jerry Lewis. After his Dean Martin partnership, adults sometimes found him a little too goofy for their modern tastes, but he was many a kid’s favorite.

After all, what eight-year old didn’t hanker for a Nutty Professor chemistry set to put them in charge for once?

As we grew a little older, Dick Gregory rattled consciences, Chuck Berry rattled teenage hormones, Della Reese, Glen Campbell and Al Jarreau soothed all that rattling with the sentimental sounds of grownup romance and Roger 007 Moore and Mike Mannix Connors taught Boomer and Gen X guys suave style (though most of us never mastered the art, and embarrassed ourselves trying).

On the subject of Boomer/Gen X crushes, this year we remember Erin Moran (1960-2017) and Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017).

Their contrasting TV series Happy Days (1974-1984) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) symbolized the transition from a society where traditional lifestyles were the idealized norm to one where alternatives could also be accepted and new doors opened.

Ms. Moran and Ms. Moore inhabited the television screen, a world funded – and punctuated – by a barrage of brand messages beamed into everyday lives that were far less neatly packaged than a sitcom episode.

Let’s look no further than the fantasy they created for us in 30 minute sessions, 20-odd weeks a season. But, no, we won’t be peeking behind the scenes at the private personal lives of Erin or Mary or offering political analysis on the women’s rights movement; for those who wish to delve deeper, the New York Times does a fine job on both counts.

Erin Moran: Joannie Cunningham / Happy Days

When Happy Days debuted in 1974 many in the nation were yearning for the calmer, more confident times before the Vietnam War, student unrest, urban riots, Watergate, an economic slump and The Pill seemed to have turned American mores upside down.

One of the most direct impacts of the period was felt in the cost of gasoline.

From 1950 to 1960 the price of a gallon of regular had only edged up from 27¢ to 31¢, inching its way to 36¢ by 1970. Just imagine the blow to the national psyche when gas prices tripled in a decade, hitting $1.19 in 1980 on their way to $1.31 in 1981.

No wonder that, amid the malaise, hit movies – Grease, American Graffiti – and TV shows – Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley – that harked back to mid-century mid-America found eager audiences.

Set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from the mid-50s to mid-60s, Happy Days chronicled the Cunningham family, headed by hardware store owner Howard and caring-capable wife Marion. Joannie (Erin) was the feisty, sometimes annoying but always adorable little sister to the show’s rising star Ron Howard.

Joannie’s world was one of station wagons, kids who could safely play in the street, dads who wore hats and moms who wore high heels to the grocery store.

Detroit car brands dominated the market with a 90% market share and folks watched over-the-air TV from three networks and a couple of local stations – almost always in black and white because, even by 1964, only 3% of homes had a color television set.

It was also a place where those high-heel wearing moms schooled their daughters early in the housekeeping skills they assumed they would need soon after graduating high school.

In 1960, the median age for women to marry was 20; for men – typically drafted to serve two years in the military before settling down – it was 23. Women who married at 28, the median in 2015, were regarded as aging spinsters back in the day.

As Happy Days moved forward into the sixties, it would become increasingly difficult to maintain its nostalgic, kinda dorky-sweet, mid-century innocence.

Away from their TV sets, 30-something/40-something family stage viewers now lived in the 980s. Morning In America was the new reality and The Happy Days fan base wasn’t eager to visit the tumultuous, angry, weird Summer of Love/Woodstock decade.

Audiences began to slip in the ratings as the show moved deeper into the 1960s. By 1980-81 it was gone from the top ten; by 1982-83 it was out of the top twenty.

When Joannie ran off with boyfriend Chachi, without benefit of matrimony, to form a rock band in the short-lived spin-off Joannie Loves Chachi, innocence was finally lost.

They returned to marry in the final Happy Days episode, but that was the end of an era. One in which Erin would be forever locked as Joannie Cunningham, child of the ’50s.

So when Erin passed away last April, that’s how we remembered her – a sweet symbol of long gone Americana.

Mary Tyler Moore: Mary Richards / The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore’s career did not begin with her seminal role of modern woman Mary Richards, an associate producer at fictional WJM-TV in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977).

She debuted a decade earlier as perky homemaker Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966).

Co-star Rose Marie also left us in 2017 and Dick’s younger brother and occasional show guest Jerry Van Dyke – both seen here – passed away in early 2018. Irrepressible Dick still performs at age 92.

The 1970s setting of Minneapolis-based WJM was a far cry from Petrie’s domesticated life as TV wife and mom.

It was an even farther cry from the idealized Happy Days soda fountain world – the seventies were a time when polarized ideologies played out on America’s small screen.

On the progressive side of the equation, All In The Family (1971-1979), M*A*S*H (1972-1983) and Maude (1972-1978) took the lead in the early seventies. But audiences slowly tired of irony and snark and were ready for some nostalgic warmth in the form of Happy Days (1974-1984), Laverne and Shirley (1976-1983) and a sentimental depression era look-back, The Waltons (1972-1981).

By the 1977-78 season, Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days ranked #1 and #2 respectively in the ratings race, with endearingly silly la la land comedy Three’s Company taking third spot. Smiles were back on top.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show steered a moderate middle course between edgy progressivity and Middle America.

A young woman fresh from a broken engagement, her character Mary Richards reflected changes in society and the workplace – changing attitudes, technologies and mores.

Like the Boomers, her meme was open, but not radical.

Among the most telling evidence of new attitudes was openness to globalization in the form of international travel and imported products and styles.

This was especially true of automobiles. Import penetration of new passenger car sales rose form 6% in 1965 to 25% in 1975 and 35% in 1980. And the former foreign fave, Volkswagen, had been overwhelmed by a tsunami of Japanese brands.

Following the old dictum about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar, The Mary Tyler Moore Show remained unfailingly practical and optimistic about evolving societal norms.

It was left to resident doofus, anchorman Ted Baxter, to inadvertently score progressive points by his gauche and goofy blunders on social issues.

To be fair, the times were challenging for tin ears. Witness the following ad for the 1970 Ford Mustang – the car Mary Richards drove in the show’s opening credits. The headline could have been written by Ted Baxter himself:

Carol Edmonston had a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. but really wanted her Mrs.

Still, with her infectious smile, vivacious good nature and savvy out-maneuvering of her male cast-mates – all chauvinistic in one form or another – Mary created an attractive role model for the many young women who were then opting to forge careers beyond the secretarial pool and stay in the workforce after marriage.

Although not as overtly feminist as some would have liked, show was highly effective and – as The Atlantic pointed out in a 2013 review – its real impact was behind the scenes.

Created and owned by Mary Tyler Moore’s company, MTM Enterprises, the show provided many breakthrough opportunities for women actors, writers and production staff.

In her post sitcom days, Ms. Moore appeared in more serious roles. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar – and won the Golden Globe award – for her role in the intense family drama Ordinary People (1981).

But it is as Mary Richards, who could turn the world on with a smile, that she lives on in Boomer hearts. So long, Mary.

The continuing generational backstory

An accusation often leveled at the Boomers and now older Gen Xers is that they revel in nostalgia and are stuck in the past. But the truth is that we use the past as context for the present: sometimes we opt for yesterday and sometimes for today.

It’s as true for brands as it is for television shows. The adland myth is that after age fifty consumer attitudes, tastes, choices and preferences are fixed and that new options are difficult to register.

As Mary Richards would advise advertisers who still hesitate to engage the world’s 3rd largest economy – you’re gonna make it if you try.

We help brands try.

Sign up for the free newsletter and contact Boomer / neXt for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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The Age-Agnostic Advertising Trap

Mid-Century Modern – Millennials mesmerized / Boomers bifurcated

Everywhere you look, mid-century style is on trend – high end collectibles to modernist inspired designs to mass affordability at popular furniture and decor chain West Elm to Target, Kohl’s and Best Buy.

It’s not just home furnishings and decor; consider vinyl records …

In 2016, 6.5% of albums were vinyl LPs; though far behind CDs (52%) and digital downloads (41%), vinyl was the only format to post an increase over 2015.

At 13.1 million units, they were up 10% from the previous year while CDs and digital downloads declined by 17% and 20% respectively (Statista / Nielsen).

Annual vinyl LP sales lingered around a million units until Millennials took a new look at retro tech and retro style, discovering a cool parallel universe of Boomer/Gen X audiophiles and mid-century aficionados that never totally went away.

Vinyl records require turntables; mass marketers were quick to seize opportunities by channeling original design themes,

For $100 Kohl’s offers a ’50s-style portable record player; for $300 BestBuy will move you away from Beach Blanket Bingo and into grown-up world.

And at a grand-plus, well-heeled buyers get real wood, real metal, a preamp and an authentic old school analog task – running cables and figuring out what connects where.

With mid-century design booming, it’s understandable that over-enthusiastic taste makers claim it unites Gen Xers, Millennials and Boomers under the same hip umbrella.

Well, yes and no.

By the time most Boomers had settled into adult lives, mid-century style had gone corporate – bank lobbies and slick offices – but said yesterday at home. Mom’s tired ’50s/60s furniture looked anything but modern.

And music tastes had moved on.

The Beatles, acid rock and Motown had aged into the Golden Oldie zone along with the bubble gum music so beloved by younger Boomers.

So long, Archies … bye, bye  Sugar, Sugar.

1980s modern was the high-tech music CD, and 70s  cassettes rapidly disappeared into attics and garages, to join the vinyl and turntables of yesteryear.

Boomers and advertising: mid-century mythology

Madison Avenue has fixated on targeting youth since the days of the Mad Men, but in 2017 this fifties fad is well past its sell date.

It creates a paradox.

The 110+ million Americans aged 50+ are the mightiest money making machine the marketing world has ever known: as a country, this would be the 3rd largest economy on the planet – only the U.S. itself and China are bigger.

Owners of 80% of US household assets, they dominate sales receipts in almost every product category: retail (58%); new vehicles (59%); home improvements, remodeling and appliances (60%).

But, bizarrely, mainstream brands spend over 90% of their ad budgets on the 18-49 demo in blind obedience to group-think.

So, every year, 4 million peak earning Gen Xers disappear from targeting as they turn fifty, replaced by around 4 million struggling, low-income 18-year-olds.

The rationale is that after fifty consumers no longer adapt, are easy to engage, wallow in nostalgia and scare off Millennials, aka the future.

Huh? Really?

The future of brand profitability resides with Boomers and Gen X and will for a long time.

In 2030, Boomers and Gen Xers age 50+ will number 120 million, up from 88 million today. According to Deloitte, Millennials will own just 16% of US wealth by then, while Boomers and Gen Xers will control almost five times as much (76%).

120 million outcasts – that’s a heck of a lot of fast-disappearing buying power.

Boomers and advertising: the age-agnostic trap

Trying to have it both ways, some brands seize on the notion of age-agnostic advertising featuring shared values and shared truths.

It’s a laudable concept. In principle.

Returning to a mid-century focus, what could be more age-agnostic than products in a modernist setting – no people, just symbols of, you know, shared truths?

But there’s a problem: there is no such thing as age-agnostic perception. Millennials relate to mid-century style – and pretty much everything else — in different ways than do Gen Xers or Boomers.

Okay, some shared truths soar and some kinda-sorta work. But others polarize and – per an actual conversation overheard at West Elm on Black Friday – yet others are the kiss of death.

30-Something: Mom, I love this credenza!

60-Something: I can’t stand all that fifties stuff – I had enough of it when I was a kid

Right on, Boomer Mom. Consumers perceive products and brands in the context of life experience, not just in the moment. And by age 50 these perspectives are voluminous, complex and even contradictory.

Alarming statistics highlight the dangers of the age-agnostic trap.

A CBS Research survey found the median age at which Millennials think adulthood starts is 30. Meanwhile, the typical ad agency creative is only aged 28 and the typical Boomer consumer is aged 62.

What could possibly go wrong?

Escaping the age-agnostic trap: trite tweaks won’t work

Is anyone really surprised to learn survey after survey shows consumers over 50 say advertisers are out of step with their priorities?

In 2015, AARP’s in-house ad agency influent50 found 83% of Boomers feel brands make mistakes when advertising to people their age.

Managing director Dave Austin noted “we’re tired of the idea that if you put a Rolling Stones song on a commercial, you’ll reach the over-50s … it doesn’t work that way.”

Austin’s research also sidelined shop-worn stereotypes, revealing Boomers as highly open (82%) to considering new brands when they go to make a purchase.

A 2017 survey of Americans age 50-71 by VizioNation’s own Boomer / neXt unit confirmed the AARP results: 84% enjoy learning about and trying new brands and products.

Interviewed by The New York Times, Brent Bouchez of Bouchez Page explained why so many brands fail to engage the 50-plus:

“Companies want to reach Boomers, but … with their general advertising message, usually a message created by and for a Millennial target.”

Frankly, we older professionals don’t blame ad agency Millennials – they have been conditioned by tradition, programmed by precedent, boxed in by bosses.

Fortunately, there is an escape from the age-agnostic trap, but trite tweaks don’t work.

And you can’t Google your way to Boomer World, nor can you master Boomer-speak and  Boomer-think with Big Data algorithms.

No pain, no gain.

But, with effort, study and experienced coaches who are themselves residents of the world’s 3rd largest economy, conditioning can be reversed, brands re-generated and award-winning creativity unleashed. It begins here

Sign up or the free newsletter and contact Boomer / neXt for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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Can EVs Redefine, Reinvent And Re-generate VW In The U.S.?

Redefining mobility: Volkswagen’s Roadmap E to the electric Microbus

The 2017-2018 Auto Expo season kicked off at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September with energy-saving electric vehicles gleaming under a gazillion spotlights – powered, hopefully, by sustainable wind and solar, not nasty nuclear or filthy fossil fuel.

As usual, automakers from around the globe promised – or kinda, sorta hinted – they really, really will produce the gorgeous e-models they exhibited. It’s an annual ritual.

But at least Volkswagen is sincere: in its 2016 annual report the company proclaimed We are redefining mobility.

Quoting CEO Matthias Mueller, the report boldly states “… We are reinventing Volkswagen …”

Mr. Mueller took the opportunity to expand on these promises at the Frankfurt show, announcing a 70 billion euro ($83+ billion) electrification program, Roadmap E by which VW aims to become the world’s top EV producer by 2030.

“By 2030, the Volkswagen group will electrify its entire model line-up … (there will be) at least one electrified model in all 300 group models across all brands.”

The plan includes both battery-only electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)

Without doubt, here in the US, the coolest introduction to Volkswagen’s Roadmap E will be the niftily named I. D. BUZZ.

Earlier this year, Volkswagen CEO of Passenger Cars, Dr. Herbert Diess, announced the company would put the long-awaited electric concept into production as the spiritual successor to the company’s iconic Microbus.

“This vehicle unites past and future, as well as Pebble Beach and Silicon Valley,” he said in a statement.

The new four-door BEV van will reach U.S., Chinese and European showrooms in 2022.

Although an international vehicle, Dr. Diess said the decision to make the announcement at Pebble Beach was to honor the important role California has played in the history of the Microbus and the latter’s contributions to the state’s car culture.

Google away and you’ll be inundated with Dr. Diess’ remarks embellished by beach and palm tree symbolism, with plenty of Summer of Love, hippie and tie-dye associations thrown in as a bonus.

VW’s bumpy way back requires Roadmap R … Re-generation 

The main roadblock to Volkswagen’s global goals for both EVs and conventional power is the U.S. market, where nostalgia for the good old days has clouded decisions for decades.

Despite being the world’s top auto producer in 2016, the brand has consistently failed to engage Americans in sales volumes needed to crack the top 10 – in 2016 it was only #15.

Still, when it comes to optimism, VW has a strong track record: in 2011, company planners forecast a heady 800,000 in US sales by 2018 – a figure more than double the numbers actually achieved in 2016 (333,000).

For CEO Mueller’s e-ambitions to succeed, the Volkswagen brand – and its relationship with American consumers – must go way beyond mere reinvention and redefinition.

Just as EVs rely on re-generative braking to charge their batteries, VW needs to apply the brakes to current thinking and re-generate.

Top of the list should be developing a new understanding of buyers in the 50+ space.

That means coming to terms with older Gen Xers, Boomers and, yes, even Silent Generation car buyers in their seventies and eighties – a concept guaranteed to trigger demographic range anxiety among conventional, Millennial-focused strategists.

Americans aged 50+ buy more cars than Germany, France and the UK

According to data gatherers IHS, less than 15% of US new vehicle sales are accounted for by 18-34 year-olds – consumers over 50 buy more than half.

Sure, you’ll read breathless blurbs about Millennials and their buying intentions, especially for Gaia-saving EVs. But, sadly, new cars are – OMG – like really, really expensive.

Even car salespeople gotta eat – and they can’t live on peanuts until Millennials start turning 50 in 2032.

As The Ad Contrarian (Bob Hoffman) has observed, “people 75 to dead buy five times as many new cars as people 18 to 24.

In fact, the U.S. 50+ space is so huge that it bought more vehicles in 2016 than Germany plus the UK plus France combined (8.46 million versus 8.03 million).

Despite this enormous market, people over fifty seldom appear in automobile ads.

Once the counter-culture brand, over the years Volkswagen has surrendered to marketing group-think and dumped Boomers from its advertising. And, unlike more innovative competitors, VW also skewed its product mix away from their evolving tastes.

Today, IHS reports only three brands, Dodge (16%), Mazda (15%) and Mitsubishi (15%) rely on 18-34 year-olds for a greater share of sales than VW (14%).

Re-generation starting points

It’s not 1960 any more: Volkswagen cannot joke its way back to brand cachet.

The iconic Think Small ad campaign that put VW on the map in its heyday was confident, humorous and unabashedly smarter-than-thou elitist. But the brand clung to wry humor as its USP even though its products failed to keep up and fell from favor.

It’s tough to appear elite when others have copied, improved and surpassed your offers.

Today, VW needs more than mere reinvention or redefining– it need brand re-generation.

It’s vital because those with the warmest feelings – Boomers and older Gen Xers – have been marginalized for decades. The goal was brand building for a tomorrow that never arrived – imprinted in childhood by proactive Asian brands, younger buyers had fewer personal connections to Volkswagen and little emotional investment in its success.

Approached correctly, despite being deserted for so long, older buyers who account for such a huge share of sales can be persuaded to put VW back on their shopping list.

A recent Boomer / NeXt survey of 510 U.S. adults aged 50-71 reveals two vital first steps.

Step one: think outside the 18-49 demo box; ditch the false myth that consumers don’t adapt or switch buying behavior after fifty.

In fact, the survey found, far from fading into knee-jerk buying patterns, Boomers and older Gen Xers overwhelmingly (86%) enjoy learning about and trying new brands and products.

Step two: recognize that Volkswagen falls well behind other big mainstream automakers for consumer engagement in the 50+ space. Admittedly, this is painful for a brand that has traditionally seen itself as consumer-friendly in the US.

However, the survey findings – based on consumer sentiments across a wide range of product categories and brands – are clear.

Among the 10 top-selling mainstream car brands, VW ranked near the bottom – 8th or 9th place – in all three engagement measures:

  • Only two-thirds (70%) felt Volkswagen wants people like me as customers
  • Only half (53%) really like Volkswagen and its marketplace offerings
  • Under half (47%) feel Volkswagen speaks to people like me in its advertising

Volkswagen in Boomer world: A Stranger in a Strange Land 

After so much time away from its natural constituency Volkswagen must relearn the complexities and hidden nuances of Boomer world – the brand is now a Stranger in a Strange Land, a long-neglected place that changed forever while it was away.

With it’s own special dialect, Boomer-speak, and subtle ethos, Boomer-think, you have to live there to understand it.

No, you can’t Google or Big Data your way to Boomer world. Without experienced local guides and translators, it’s an incredibly difficult world for younger marketers and overseas managers to grok.

But, for a brand dedicated to redefining and reinventing itself, the American 50+ space – the world’s 3rd largest economy, and a market that buys more new cars than Germany, the UK and France combined – is worth the effort. Contact us to begin.

Sign up for the free newsletter and contact Boomer / neXt for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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’70s TV Catchphrase Returns: The Fickle Finger Of Fate Finally Finds Adworld Gen Xers

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

The Victorians had an ornate, verbose way of saying things even now it makes them seem sophisticated.

If Charles Mackay, the canny Scottish author of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), were alive today he’d probably jump on group-think or herd mentality – maybe even mob rule – to gin up his SEO results.

But, tell you what, madness of crowds is right on the money when it comes to how Madison Avenue approaches generational marketing.

The popular delusion du jour is that the 111 million Americans over fifty – owners of 80% of US household assets, purchasers of over half the nation’s goods and services and the world’s 3rd largest economy – are not worth specific targeting by mainstream brands. So only 10% of ad dollars are directed at them.

Madness on steroids.

Think Y2K, Pet Rocks, Beanie Babies … successful delusions need a backstory.

For consumers in the 50+ space, except for the health/aging and portfolio categories, the backstory is mid-century Mad Men mythology:

Myth #1 – Blind brand loyalty;  they’re really hard to switch

Myth #2 – Easy to reach and engage via conventional media

Myth #3 – Scary to Millennials and detrimental to brand image

Since over 90% of ad agency staffers fall into the cliched and coveted 18-49 demographic, aka Millennials and younger Gen Xers, it’s easy to see the inside-the-box appeal of these comforting old fables.

But let’s check the facts. In 2017, Boomer / neXt surveyed 510 U.S. Boomers and older Gen Xers aged 50-71 and found the vast majority (86%) enjoy learning about and trying new brands and over two-thirds (70%) are always on the lookout for new brands to try.

Not that we expect a lifetime of comforting delusions to fade overnight, but if you’re disruptive enough to see more results – sure you are – visit us.

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate is moving on in adland Gen Xers. Fast! 

Speaking of delusions … typical 1960s stereotypes feature streets clogged with rebellious Boomers – flowers in their hair – protesting The Man and shuttling in hippie vans from the Summer of Love to Yasgur’s Farm in Woodstock.

Hate to spoil a good story, but back then most Boomers were too young to drive and were more into Barbies, Slinkies and Stingray bikes. Millions more, born 1963-4, were only recently potty trained.

So, when Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (NBC, 1968-1973), was the #1 series of the ’68/’69 TV season, it was not the kind of show most parents allowed little kids to watch – risqué skits and bikini-clad go-go dancers were not on the approved list. Okay, okay, hold the sarcasm about Game Of Thrones Thanksgiving Orgy Special edging out The Muppets as required life-prep for today’s pre-schoolers.


A regular Laugh-In feature, The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate award, celebrated gotcha moments in the lives of the pompous and powerful. The snicker-provoking fickle finger catchphrase enjoyed its time in seventies sun and then faded. Temporarily it seems.

When Gen Xers started to turn fifty in 2015, and with the average creative person aged 28, many mid-life ad agency managers found themselves on the Fickle Finger’s receiving end.

Nothing focuses the mind as clearly as the prospect of a hanging, a fickle finger or realizing your own ads no longer target you.

So 40-somethings are scrambling, hoping the AARP invitation goes to the home address and not the office. Skinny jeans, a laser-lift, a color rinse, Oakley shades and faux Millennial-hip talk help for a while, but that fickle finger still writes and, having writ, moves on.

In the end it comes down to “dude, look at yourself, listen to yourself.”  Move on.

Popular delusions are crumbling – they all do in the end 

A few savvy decision-makers are moving on.

Judging by a scattering of articles cropping up in marketing media, some are gazing out from their corner offices at the real world beyond. They are alarmed at what they see. Those popular 18-49 delusions are driving away customers.

By the end of 2017, over 12 million Gen X Americans born 1965-67 – still in their peak earning years – will have disappeared into targeting darkness. By 2020 another 20 million will be gone.

Madison Avenue’s branding delusions  are further eroded by the realization that Gen Xers are taking over C-Suites all across the country. Good luck telling the new bosses they’re too old to change with the times or re-imagine the future.

Don’t just take our word for it. The Washington Post, just down the road a piece from the creative heart Achilles Heel of adland, has already re-written the narrative: We thought Gen X was a bunch of slackers. Now they’re the suits (March 1, 2017).

Welcome, Gen X to ever-evolving Boomer / neXt World™

Exile from Madison Avenue’s cool demo is not the first time Gen Xers have been dissed.

For decades, marketers couldn’t agree on their generational name, much less on birth years. It was 2015 before the Census Bureau provided a range of 1965-1981 – but even that was by default … the Bureau’s aim was to define the start of the Millennials (1982).

But being officially labeled Generation X was an upgrade over previous attempts: MTV, Middle Child, Grunge, Latchkey Kids, Forgotten and Slacker (ouch!). Better late than never, the “X” moniker caught on.

A 2015 Pew survey found 58% of 35-50 year-olds identified as Gen X – a less powerful connection than Boomers’ identification with their label (79%), but pretty good given the alternatives.

Ironically, just as they were finally officialized, millions of older Gen X consumers were shoved out of the advertisers’ spotlight and forced to find a new home. It turned out to be a familiar one: Boomer world … the place where they grew up.

Naturally, as Xers moved through their own lives they experienced socio-cultural imprinting  – music, media, mores and seminal events – in their own way. But this occurred in the larger context of the Boomers’ own journey – rapid, non-stop and amazing change that also molded the Gen X transition from childhood to adulthood.

This shaping continued through the seventies, eighties and nineties as the Boomers rose to dominance and setting the agenda in technology, business, academia, entertainment and government. For better or worse – who knows? But it’s a done deal.

But socio-cultural transfer is a two-way street, Boomers also learned from Gen X. In the process a new, blended and extended generation was created – the brave new world of Boomer / neXt.

The population here is more vibrant, more valuable than ever, constantly being, blending and becoming. It’s where smart brands come to re-imagine and re-generate. Join us.

Sign up for the free newsletter and contact Boomer / neXt for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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Ad-taxation Without Representation: Revolting Boomers Should Declare Independence

Taxation without representation, adland style

As everyone knows, when Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776, the American colonies were done with being bossed around by the Mother Country.

And mom was none too happy either, what with George Washington chasing her redcoats out of Boston and – sacrilege! – rebels dumping of 300 tons of her tea in the city harbor.

The colonials’ big complaint was not just that British tea bags came without little tabs and strings like those provided by sensible American brands, but being taxed without representation. And it was one tax after another; import tax, stamp tax, sugar tax, tea tax – by the summer of ’76, enough was enough.

However, at their most inventive, King George’s men never came up with anything to rival Madison Avenue’s 21st century sneaky taxation without representation imposed on consumers aged 50-plus. History repeats itself.

Apparently, most mainstream advertisers see Americans outside the key 18-49 demo as a bunch of cash cow dimwits – behind the times, easy to manipulate and embarrassing to associate with. Much like the upper crust British view of the colonials 240-some years ago.

Here’s how it works.

Advertising Age forecasts U.S. advertisers will spend $267 billion in 2017 to persuade consumers to consider, try, buy or switch to their brands. Naturally, the money is built into the price of goods and services – think of it as ad-taxation.

  • Americans aged 50+ account for 51% of all consumer spending (AARP), so they will pay $136 billion (51%) of the $267 billion ad-taxation levy.
  • However, marketers use only around 10% of the total ad spend to specifically target the 50+ space (Nielsen) – a paltry $27 billion.
  • So, over $100 billion – $109 billion, to be precise – is siphoned off to advertise goods and services to younger demographics.

Now, that’s taxation without representation on steroids.

Those revolting Boomers

So, who is behind all this ad-tax exploitation of Boomers and seniors? Let’s start by naming and shaming the biggest culprit, the auto industry.

In 2015, Ad Age reports the top ten auto marketers spent a total of $14.7 billion on advertising. Various industry sources estimate 50% to 60%  of the sales revenue that generates this enormous budget comes from buyers aged 50-plus.

In fact, in 2015, U.S. consumers over fifty bought 7.6 million new vehicles – the same as Germany, the U.K. and France combined.

And research by consultants Strategic Vision found that 7 of the 13 vehicles bought in a typical new car buyer lifetime are purchased after age fifty.

Question: when was the last time you saw a Boomer or older Gen Xer as the hero/heroine or role model in a car ad or TV commercial? No, not celebrity presenters hired for their attention-getting power, but a real down-to-earth 50-60-70-something?

Waiting … Waiting …

Still waiting.

Perhaps it’s unfair to single out auto companies. Unless chasing our retirement funds or stocking our medicine cabinets, few brands in mainstream categories feature Boomers in ads except as ditzy mom/doofus dad foils for hip Millennials.

To add insult to injury, although 50-plus consumers buy over half the goods and services sold in America – remember that AARP stat, it’s a doozie – it’s galling that marketers divert our ad-taxes to woo stressed out younger demos mostly struggling to get by.

Worse, as Jeff Millman, CCO at Boomer/senior ad agency GKV, noted in a recent piece for Next Avenue, even when younger creatives do attempt to engage the 50+ space they’re likely to simply replace clumsy old imagery with clumsy new imagery lifted from “terrible stock photo libraries.” 

“One ridiculous stereotype has been traded for another” Millman said.”

Right on, Jeff ,,, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

We Won’t Get Fooled Again

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution

We’re calling all brands independent enough to question authority to rally to The Cause: join the revolution, learn the rebellious, liberating language of Boomer-speak, free up your creativity and watch your market share soar while the obedient laggards bow to the old order.

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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Part 2/2: How A Humble Ford Pickup Became America’s Best-Selling Vehicle By Channeling Boomer World

Continued from Part 1: reprise …

Although import nameplates captured 55% of the U.S. new vehicle market in 2016, the three best-selling vehicles – by far – were all full-size domestic brand pickups.

In contrast, when Boomers were growing up, American passenger cars – not trucks – oozed size, comfort, power and style. But in the 1970s, after fuel supplies faltered, the green movement took off and regulations proliferated, the emphasis shifted to economy and downsizing. 

But, for many, “big is beautiful” did not disappear along with full size cars – instead, it migrated to truck world.

Trucks, the rebel underground of auto world

By the mid-seventies, yuppies were on a roll as the economy shifted towards white collar/no collar occupations – technology, communications, services, marketing – and away from blue collar work.

Decision-makers in slick corner offices mistook the manual trades/rural life persona of truck-world as a negative for suburban buyers. And, with only around 20% share of Detroit’s light vehicle sales, corporate truck divisions didn’t get enough attention in a market roiled by OPEC and the EPA. Brands were too busy struggling to graft affordability onto big car style, comfort and glamour messaging.

However, in 1976, savvy young visionaries (note to selves: smiley faces, high fives, pats on back) dug deeper and saw things differently. Very differently.

In fact, they went out on a limb, predicting trucks – including 4X4s/SUVs and new little import pickups – were nearing critical mass. Here’s how their tea leaves read:

  • Reality: most white collar Boomers had blue collar roots that embodied Americana: hard work, tradition, self-reliance and individualism that TV westerns – wildly popular morality tales from the wide open spaces – reinforced in their youth.
  • Yuppies on the outside, perhaps, but good ol’ boys and gals on the inside, Boomers helped grow pickups in operation from 5.8 million in 1970 to 9.5 million in 1975 of which about 70% were bought for recreational and personal use.
  • By 1975, the fastest sales growth was in the suburbs.
  • 4 wheel drives were soaring: 1970 400,000 / 1976 670,000
  • Import pickups were on a roll: 1970 63,000 / 1975 229,000

And one more stat – a doozie: the median age of those little import pickup buyers was only 32, versus 45 for domestic brands. Boomers now entering truck world would likely stay, upgrading as their budgets grew over time.

Trucks were quietly becoming a want as much as a need – after an obligatory nod to “practicality” emotions took over.

  • Import pickup buyers bragged about sportiness and fun-to-drive versus little econobox alternatives
  • Suburban weekend warriors flaunted their full size truck machismo but also drove high installation rates for comfort and convenience features in order to win spousal permission for their big boy toys
  • 4X4 owners reveled in their vehicles’ dashing, go anywhere, rugged-athletic image – while confessing that only 10% of usage was off-highway.

The rebel underground was still embracing those traditional bold, brash and in-your-face motivators.

Morning in America for trucks, twilight for US passenger cars

Establishment trend-trackers were late to figure out what was going on. Not surprisingly.

In the mid-70s, only 8% of northeast households owned a pickup – barely on the radar for big media analysts, think tank ponderers and Madison Avenue suits.

When the snooty solons deigned to peer beyond the Hudson to where pickup penetration of households was highest – the west (23%) and the south (21%) – they concocted stereotypes that weren’t exactly influencer material: la la land faddists, rowdy cowboys/cowgirls yeehahing their way to the barn dance, small minds in small towns and creepy hicks with really bad teeth.

Eventually, the official experts came around; after 1981 when the Ford F-series became the best-selling vehicle in the U.S, it was difficult for them not to join the party.

The eighties were aptly named Morning in America. After the economic, social, political and global upheavals of the sixties and seventies, consumers settled back into a more confident mindset and Boomers started nesting. Soon those adorable little ingrates tykes, their Millennial kids would arrive to co-opt that new home computer and take over the new cable TV service (thanks a bunch Nickelodeon!).

The few surviving station wagons looked hopelessly out of date in the electronic age, and increasingly compact passenger cars were too small for all that kiddie gear.

So, parenthood encouraged daring young Boomer moms and dads to consider some version of a truck – reluctantly, maybe a minivan … better yet, a sporty SUV or a rugged pickup that would tell the world they were still active and cool.

Besides, “trucks” had become more family-friendly, offering lots of car-like niceties and conveniences.  Hey, babe, let’s go for it!

By 1990 sales of light trucks of all types were one-third of the market, double their 1970 share. Today, including CUVs – car-based crossover SUVs – they hover at around 50%, depending on gasoline prices.

It took a while for SUVs to dominate the light truck segment. Bronco Billy images persisted in trendy zip codes until around 2000 when prestigious Euro-imports finally gave affluent professionals permission to flash a Hochdeutsch smile in polite company – confident that their inner-redneck dental work was safely hidden behind pricey veneers.

As truck cachet and profitability grew, American passenger car brands embarked on a long journey into twilight.

After a series of missteps, domestic sedans no longer symbolized suburbanite upward mobility, success, style and flair. Instead, imagery morphed into no-frills sales rep models, rental cars, taxis, knee-jerk buy-American types and old-timers cruising supermarket parking lots looking for a handicapped space big enough for their Detroit land yacht holdout.

Even the elite Cadillac marque would come to rely on its burly Escalade SUVs to boost the bottom line.

Full-sized American trucks – channeling Boomer world 

The official rationale is “poor product quality”, but for many import buyers the real reasons for rejecting domestic passenger car brands comes down to image: they just aren’t cool. Ergo, their buyers aren’t cool either.

2016 US Light vehicles_vs trucks_SUVs domestic sharesThe situation is very different for full-size pickups and SUVs: same brands, but a pecking order turned upside down.

Here, the imports have barely made a dent: 78% of full-size SUVs and a whopping 92% of full-size pickups are domestics.

And Cadillac – although overshadowed in the car segment by BMW, Mercedes and Lexus – leads the large luxury SUV category, with a 31% share.

In the big dog world of full-size trucks and SUVs, presence, power and style still matter.

And not just any style: authentic American style. Work hard, play hard, brawny but not a bully, casual but confident in any situation.

Think John Wayne … in a suit … or in boots and jeans … even a tux. The Duke gets to wear whatever the heck he wants. And if he hasn’t shaved, it’s not a trendy statement, it’s because he hasn’t showered either. Deal with it.

Obviously, the big is beautiful domestic brand values – Americana values – with which the Boomers were imprinted while growing up didn’t entirely disappear. That’s the thing about imprinting. It is always there, embedded, waiting for those who know where to look and how to resonate.

If you think the idea of a full-size pickup truck grabbing top sales honors year after year is disruptive, consider this: the median age of buyers is on the high side of 50, well outside adland’s vaunted 18-49 demo. Now, that’s disruptive.

Makes sense. With average transaction prices in the mid-$40,000 range – $10,000 above the all-vehicle mean – hefty disposable assets plus 1960s/70s imprinting explain why older Gen Xers and Boomers are the sweet spot for these trucks.

Not just for trucks – for any brand with the disruptive curiosity to discover its own unique, embedded DNA. It’s out there somewhere, hidden away in Boomer world – our territory … we can help you find it.

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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How A Humble Ford Pickup Became America’s Best-Selling Vehicle By Channeling Boomer World: Part 1/2

Anniversaries and milestones

Outside the automotive community, one of the sneakiest trivia questions around is what is the best selling vehicle in America? It’s easy to see why most people guess wrong: the highways are full of cool, stylish offerings with fancy foreign accents. In fact, only one-in-four auto brands hustling for our business are American (11/42, Automotive News).

Competition is so intense the domestics barely scraped together a 45% market share in 2016.

No wonder so many are surprised to learn the top-selling vehicle is a full-size Detroit-brand pickup: the Ford F-series outsold the two most popular cars combined. Not only that, but the #2 and #3 best-sellers, Silverado and Ram, are also full-size American pickups. Godzilla rules!

Contrary to old-time imagery of trucks as rough-and-ready workhorses, most are bought pretty well decked out. At around $43,000, the average transaction price for an F-series runs $10,000 above that of the average new vehicle ( And in a top trim level, buyers are looking at somewhere north of $60,000.

Despite above-average prices and a personality that isn’t exactly PC in today’s EV-focused climate, F-series sales leadership is no fluke. It has been the nation’s best-selling vehicle bar none for 36 years and is observing its 40th anniversary as the best-selling truck line since 1977.

Through it all, Chevy was right there nipping at the champ’s heels, but somehow Ford always managed to grab the gold year after year.

Another time, another place: peace, love, groovy 

You might be forgiven if all this truck talk comes as news: 2017 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love – you remember … if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. Coverage – or is it uncoverage – of the May 20th Nude Parade through the City by the Bay was way more extensive.

If you ever wanted to tune in, turn on, drop out and embrace your inner flower child – sure you do – SF is celebrating all the way through fall with a full schedule of events that provide ample opportunity to strut your hippie cred.

Ah, 1967. Just saying it summons up the sounds, sights and patchouli-laden fragrances of an era when not only clothes but deodorants were optional and everyone drove to anti-war protests in little VW vans and Beetles. Hardly a pickup in sight.

But then, courtesy of Uncle Sam, in 1967 many of the brave young Boomers who actually drove such things were on an all-expense paid trip to southeast Asia, a place where love was in short supply.

Growing up Boomer: the flipside 

Back in ’67, out in the real world – which then, as now, began just east of UC Berkeley – flowers in the hair were out of step with the mainstream mindset.

When it came to vehicles, ignoring Volkswagen’s advice to Think Small, at around 3,900 pounds – over twice the weight of the cute little Bug – Chevrolet Impala was America’s best selling car in 1967. The like-sized Ford Galaxie was a close runner-up.

We’re talking mass – big, brash, in your face.

Ads introducing the all-new ’67 Impala left no doubt about the burly allure of Detroit iron:

Heavy. The way most people want an Impala, nearly two tons. And big. Its body by Fisher is over six and one-half feet wide, and, bumper to bumper, it’s over 17 and one-half feet long.

Here’s how 2016’s two best selling passenger cars, Toyota’s Camry and Corolla compare with the 1967 Impala and Galaxie.

Chevrolet Impala 4 door: 213″ / 3,900 lbs curb weight

Ford Galaxie 4 door: 213″ / 3,700 lbs curb weight

Shrink by 22″ ⇒ Toyota Camry 4 door: 191″ / 3,350 lbs curb weight

Shrink by 30″ ⇒ Toyota Corolla 4 door: 183″ / 2,900 lbs curb weight

Despite their impressive bulk, neither Impala nor Galaxie were the biggest cars sold in 1967 – Cadillac Sedan de Ville and Lincoln Continental were close to a foot longer.

Neither were they the baddest. This was the dawn of the muscle car when automakers slugged it out in a testosterone-fueled fight for big dog cool and monster V-8s pushed out 400+ HP on the street … more on the track.

Man, we Boomers really wanted in. Many were still too young to drive or too young to afford new cars or wound up behind the wheel of little import instead, but the fantasy was embedded. Even today it lives on, tucked away inside.

Then, suddenly, the seventies put the brakes on big car fever. After a couple of oil crises, an environmentalism surge, increasing government regulation and economic malaise, downsizing arrived to end the dream. Boomers consoled themselves with yuppiefication and turned to imports as the new symbols of progressivity.

Trucks, the rebel underground of auto world

Although regulators and taste-makers thought they could bring the masses to heel, everyday people had already been too deeply imprinted by the successes of American culture to let go of those big, brash, bold, in your face symbols of how far they had come since the Great Depression and WW2. These desires did not go away with the demise of big cars. They went underground.

When they reemerged it was in the unlikely form of trucks.

Unlikely, that is, to those who failed to understand the hidden dynamics of consumer attitudes and behavior that flow from enduring, under-the-radar Americana – and which still influence the Boomers who buy half of the nation’s new vehicles today.

To be continued in Part 2

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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