Why Americans 50-Plus are 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).

Boomer / neXt 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 into, then controlling 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 US 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?

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 demo, 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. Not to seem curmudgeonly, but it is extremely difficult for 30-year-olds to think, feel and emote like people who have transitioned through several life-stages they have yet to encounter.

So, most flounder with Boomers and older Gen Xers, lacking fluency in their secret silent language, a complex dialect formed by decades of hidden socio-cultural imprinting of which the speakers themselves are largely unaware. Yet it is a code which, unseen, still drives brand destinies today.

Boomer / neXt 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 from iconic performers? Sure. Shocking nudity, drugs and rain-drenched debauchery? You bet.

The Boomer metaphor? No way!

Fast forward 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 as greedy yuppies promoting fast foods and SUVs around the globe.

Fast forward again and editorials, columnists and bloggers schizophrenically bemoan “aging” – make that OLD – Boomers either as wealthy and forcing the price of housing beyond the reach of their Millennial kids or as 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 came home 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? So Baby Boomer was definitely catchier, more PC, when the Census Bureau adopted the name and set the birth year range at 1946-1964.

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.

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) as Gen Z.

And 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 rosy nostalgia, mellowed by time, for how Boomers’ inner minds work today are headed for trouble.

Even back in the Swingin’ Sixties, hippies, free love and the drug culture were not held in high esteem. Guilty pleasures, 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 their age group. As for reasons, Boomer / neXt 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 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, 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 dissed War and Peace as 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 ongoing 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.

US 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 carefully crafted research that meets 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 here at Boomer / neXt we 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 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 – a Boomer / neXt sister company – 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 and even dumpsters on wheels – than mere transportation.

This is hardly surprising to their Boomer parents: if they wouldn’t clean their rooms as kids, why should 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 disruptive decisions happen under the very noses of savants who assured us they knew better?

Marketing meme makers morph Millennials into motorists

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

We’ve covered this before (Boomers Bounce Back as Millennial Members Shrink) but it’s worth repeating: if you are confused about generational definitions, it’s not your fault.

For decades, marketing seers and sages have vied for headlines, eyeballs and clickbait cachet by identifying and naming – only to later revise/rename – America’s generations.

So, here’s the skinny from the Census Bureau; heck, if we can’t believe the gov’ment, who can we believe?

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

Yes, Pew recently revised (re-revised) its age ranges, but let’s 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. However, 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).

To be fair this was guru groupthink until significant numbers of Millennials reached adulthood – age 30, according to a CBS survey among the generation itself.

Now millions of them would find 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 thunk it back in 2015 … Surprise! Millennials Becoming Their Boomer Parents and Moving To Sunny Suburbia

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: we estimate the 18-35 age group share of the U.S. new vehicle market is still only 15% at best, while those “irrelevant” old timers over fifty, mostly Boomers and Silents, account for at least half of the total.

So for now, most Millennials still 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 the minds of many Millennials and Gen Xers – especially if children are involved – careful consideration of interior practicality is sure to sit 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 plastic pumpkins poised to promote America’s retail places, 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 well 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 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 in adland, 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 – with a median ad/pr biz employee age of 38 (US Department of Labor) – older Millennials will soon follow on the heels of the Gen Xers they shoved aside as they clawed their way to the middle of the heap.

Not only did they sideline their Gen X managers and mentors (thanks a bunch, kids) in the scramble for the corner office, but also they have been blacklisting 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 in its turn was just following the safest path to advancement in adland – 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 and 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 disappeared from brand targeting since they started turning fifty in 2015. As media planners well know, of 383 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) only one – New York – has more people.

It’s as if the populations of Los Angeles and San Francisco were blacklisted 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, we call now this enormous marketplace the Boomer / neXt Generation™ – it’s the world’s third largest economy after China and the US itself, and 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).

So let’s take a look at what we at Boomer / neXt 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.

You’ll find some sources starting the cool M-crowd as early as 1975, squeezing grungy Gen X into a mere 10 birth years. 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 Z 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.

Here’s why: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows the U.S. workforce aged 50 earned 10 times as much as the workforce aged 18 in Q1 2018.

  • 2.6 million full time workers aged 50 earned an average $986 per week… $130 billion annualized.
  • But only 500,000 18-year-olds entered full time work, 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.

And they’ll find plenty of support from an unlikely source: Millennials, who are only just now entering “adulthood” in large numbers and really (really) understanding what drives everyday consumer life when mortgages, dirty diapers and auto expenses replace loft rentals, craft breweries and Uber.

Say what?

  • The median age at first marriage for women is 28 and 30 for men
  • Millennials themselves say adulthood begins at age 30 (CBS survey)
  • The average agency creative is 28; media planners run younger

So, good luck, adland telling your new Gen X brand bosses they’re too old to target in their own ad campaigns:

Run that by me again, junior.

Well, ma’am, it’s because you’re unable to change with the times or learn about new ideas.

Good luck too in the face of a mountain of data, including from our own Boomer / neXt surveys, showing over 80% of consumers in the 50+ space actually enjoy learning about and trying new brands and  products.

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

Gen Xers hitting 50 this year – like the Boomers before them – will find it’s not the end of life after all, despite disappearing from mainstream advertising except as stereotypes.

Happily, the idea of targeting the 50+ space is approaching a tipping point, helped along by “wait, wait, I’m not old” realizations of 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 the mind-numbing numbers or stacks of statistics.

To understand Gen X is to understand the Boomers; the blended Boomer / neXt generation is mainly composed of siblings – born several years apart but experiencing dynamic Boomer world together in shared moments and events year by year, decade by decade.

With Gen Z chomping at their heels, this is not lost on savvy 30-something Millennials.

These forerunners have seen the metrics, and they’re smart enough to know marketing to Boomer / neXt consumers requires authentic interpreters who speak a socio-cultural dialect that cannot be imitated, 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

By the time 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 buyers over 50 are too embarrassing to allow anywhere near official marketing programs, the credit must go to the product itself:

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: SEDANS ARE TOAST!

When the company 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 Winston Smith Gulag for Consumer Correct-Think scampered to the nearest NPR microphone to decry the decision as a sellout to the great unwashed at the expense of residents in 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.

And the seeds were sown even earlier. Already, by 1970 many young suburban Boomers were beginning to moon over cool off-roaders and trucks of all types, from Broncos and Jeeps to dune buggies to surfer vans to bad-boy pickups fitted out to ferry dirt bikes to the desert and send fathers reaching for the baseball bat when Scooter came to collect Sue Ellen.

For the answer, 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. So 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 Boomer couple is hanging out in the desert with super-trendy off-roaders.

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

By then, with compact-but-pricey Euro products already 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 imagery of truck/van culture was co-opting Boomer imaginations coast to coast.

With a national fitness and health food movement taking off, it complemented the outdoorsy, 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 often cautioned them as well.

Back in the 1950s/60s – when America’s cutest generation was being imprinted – glitzy convertibles, sporty 2-doors and high performance V8s enticed shoppers to dealerships where good sense took over. Mom and dad would drive out in a sensible family 4-door or a stolid station wagon, often equipped with a thrifty 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 that 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 the 6 o’clock network TV news and in magazines, ferrying presidents and corporate magnates to events of great moment.

Soon however, thanks to Boomer yuppies, Euro-cool imports would dislodge these American icons (How The Boomers Revolutionized The Luxury Car Market) to add a progressive patina of “intelligent choice” to their elite sub-set of the sedan category.

In time, triggered by evolving Boomer dynamics, the 4-door sedan eventually came to signal – in descending order of positivity:

  • Affluence, authority, prestige – if a premium import marque
  • Fun to drive – if a premium import sports sedan
  • Sensible, responsible, prudent – if a reliable Toyota/Honda
  • Adult, parental … and, now, grandparental
  • Value: for budget-conscious families who cannot afford an SUV
  • Basic: sales reps, corporate fleets, governments and rental cars

Unfortunately – and, by the way, grossly unfairly – American brand sedans have allowed themselves to be stereotyped as belonging in that last bucket.

How Boomers see the American sedan through The Overton Window

It turns out The Overton Window – brainchild of think tank thinker Joseph P. Overton – reveals Detroit marketers and Boomer rejectors 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. Centered on the ruling “policy,” topics diverge towards opposing poles in steps:  popular to sensible to acceptable.

Beyond acceptable – a frontier that allows occasional exploration, while safely tethered to convention – lay the forbidden zones of radical and, gasp, unthinkable.

Overton’s theory also posits that the window can shift towards either of the forbidden zones if noisy, brave, outrageous and/or powerful enough voices force the issue.

Typically associated with politics – and we don’t do politics here – the concept works just as well for marketers.

Case in point: boxed in by imports – whether prestigious or bullet-proof reliable – and fun, active, rugged truck/SUV culture, the American sedan has slowly been assigned no-go zone status among Boomer taste-makers.

Yep, what could be more cool, sexy and prestigious than cars built to win the low-bid attention of corporate fleet buyers and purchasing department bean counters. Sure, right, gotta get me one of those!

But The Overton Window opens both ways: how Detroit views Boomers is just as devastating as the other way around.

How automakers see American Boomers through The 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, ever since the Boomers started turning 50 in 1996, 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 an intensely youth-oriented ecosystem steeped 18-49 demo group-think. The policy/popular/sensible 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 the recent 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. 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.

Swingin’ Sixties references to this adapted commercial workhorse as the new Magic Bus leave one wondering, however.

In particular, the new model was exhibited in Chicago alongside a commercial cousin splattered with logos like Joe’s Plumbing or some such. Hopefully, reminding those  downmarket oldster prospects of their limited options 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 Boomer experts and professionals who think the unthinkable for a living. But then, maybe we’re just being immodest

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

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Boomers Bounce Back As Millennial Members Shrink

Boomers back on top as America’s largest generation

For a few years at least, we thought 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. The press release began …

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 are reduced to 16, now pegged by as Pew as born 1981-1996. Others have also suggested 1996 as the frontier between Millennials and their successors, so, given Pew’s clout, it’s probably a done deal.

The net effect of lopping off those born 1997-2000 and co-opting former Gen Xers born in 1981 was that Pew shrank the Millennial Generation by 12 million members.

This cowabunga! moment is welcomed by the Boomers who, at 74-75 million, now outnumber the Millennials (71 million) to reclaim their former bragging rights as “America’s largest generation.” Yo, Windsong, put a shot of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill  in the Maalox tonight. Make it two, we’re celebrating.

Pew, like other generation trackers, uses seminal events as touchstones to derive definitions. Childhood awareness of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (2001) was an important factor in their new assessment.

All this has implications for Generation X. With the Boomers set in stone as being born 1946-1964, Gen X has always been squeezed between them and the birth range du jour allotted to the Millennials. While the Census Bureau leftovers amounted to 17 birth years (1965-1981), they only snag 16 in the Pew re-assessment (1965-1980).

The upside for Generation X is it now has the same birth year span as the Millennials. But don’t expect many headlines – the “experts” aren’t about to rewrite all the years they spent dissing Xers. And many would like to forget the X label was just a cop out after Latchkey, MTV, Grunge and Slacker failed to stick (who’da thunk it?)

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)

In fairness, it should be pointed out that one reason for squeezing Gen X was to inflate the size and value of the Millennial generation. Savvy marketers needed a reason to sell this cool, but cash-strapped crowd to their clients. Especially since ad agency creative departments – average age 28 – are thickly populated with Millennials who, supposedly, can connect brands to same-aged movers and shakers across the fruited plain.

Will Millennial men become Generation Alfie as cute new Z kids arrive?

In 2018, with history as a guide, the generation guessing game is about to intensify. This time the race is to define those who follow the Millennials. Brace yourselves.

For now, Generation Z is the fave, but youth consultancies and social forecasters are hustling for kudos by coining the official name these nifty newcomers will be known by  down through the ages. Predictably, i-this or i-that have been floated. Time will tell.

Although its youngest are still spraying Lucky Charms across the breakfast table, Generation Z is fast-becoming adland’s brightest star. Already, the business press has profiled precocious pre-teens, hyped hip high schoolers and showered savvy college sophomores with giddy praise for their investment acumen.

Even more important, Gen Z is entering the 18-49 demographic. Adding some 16 million reassigned Millennials born 1997-2000 to those entering the cohort in 2018 produces around 20 million Zers aged 18-22. That’s a lot of clickbait.

Considering the wow factor these glam upstarts enjoy, maybe it’s time to rename at least the “aging” male Millennials as Generation Alfie after the movie of the same name (1966, remake 2004).

When brash formerly fascinating 30-something Alfie confronts his Boomer, er, patron about her new 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 over 50. Alfie’s lesson is nothing new. It’s just nature’s way.

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

Brands addicted to 18-49 demo-centric Kool-Aid pay a heavy price when they drop 50-year-olds from targeting in favor of shiny 18-year-olds on a shoestring budget.

We’ve all seen the statistics and know the meme: young people are saddled with college debt and struggling to become established in low-paying jobs.

Sadly, the cost of college tuition, the price of admission to higher lifetime incomes, soared by 260% between 1980 and 2014 – more than double the 120% rise in the Consumer Price Index (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Paul Taylor’s excellent The Next America (2015) illustrates the consequences; he cites Pew data showing college debt virtually tripled between 1989 ($10,493) and 2013 ($29,595) in 2014 constant dollars.

Brand decision-makers should heed Taylor’s additional – and unsettling – analysis:

“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.

Dumping 4 million peak-earning 50-year-olds every year in order to accommodate the same number of cash-strapped kids young 18-year-old adults makes zero sense except on youth-obsessed Madison Avenue.

OK, 55% of 18-24 year-olds live in their parent’s home (Census Bureau, 2017) and have reduced expenses, but that doesn’t mean they are flush.

Actually, they are so un-flush that each and every year – year after year after year – the tab for romancing 18-year-olds at the expense of 50-year-olds comes to a net $120 billion in uncontested consumer wages (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Here’s how the real world works in 2018.

Welcome, 4 million 18-year-old rock stars!

>  517,000 work full time for $408 weekly
(median) and 1,057,000 work part time for
$200 weekly (median)

>  Total annual wage value: $2.19 billion

So long, 4 million 50-year-old has-beens!

>  2.58 million work full time for $866 weekly (median) 400,000 work part time for $302 weekly (median)

>  Total annual wage value: $122.46 billion

Upshot: trusting conventional, comfortable wisdom – you know, 50-year olds can be taken for granted, because their buying habits are now fixed – costs conventional, comfortable brands access to $120 billion in consumer wages every year.

Of course, they truly believe that smarter, hungrier competitors won’t grab market share from them. And their ad agencies truly believe that more curious, more creative shops won’t steal the business. Sure. Now, about that bridge in Brooklyn that’s for sale …

Boomer World – far from the madding crowd

What with all the buzz about Gen Z, it is easy to forget the 50+ demographic is the real sweet spot for marketers in virtually every category. And, thanks to Madison Avenue’s fad-focused fixation on youth, it is a quiet and uncontested place where smart 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.

By far the largest group in the 50+ space, at around 100 million are the socio-culturally cohesive  inhabitants of Boomer World.

Dominated by the Boomers, the (thank you, Pew) largest generation, it is also home to 13 million Gen Xers over 50 and 12 million members of the Boomer-Plus generation™, born 1940-1945, all of whom identify with and grew up in vibrant Boomer World.

For brands willing to take the time to learn the subtle inflections of Boomer Speak, immerse in the hidden pathways of Boomer Think and – especially – understand the influence wielded by Boomer World women, it is the place of regeneration, growth and profitability. For the rest, there’s always those cute Z kids.

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

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Colorado’s Frozen Dead Guy Cure For Creative Snow Blindness

Advertisers in the winter of Boomer 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 (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.

To be fair, the travel industry is one business sector that does a good job of romancing Boomers, older Gen Xers and their Silent Generation parents. 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).

However, one high end destination absent from most 50+ vacation lists is a ski resort.

It’s unfortunate, because so many young, highly-paid brand decision makers are on the slopes at this time of year. And, with so few Boomers around, even pricey ski goggles can’t protect them from creative snow blindness: in the dazzling sunshine, everyone who matters is active, cool and – especially – under 50.

So well-heeled Millennials, younger Gen Xers and their cute little Gen Z tykes schuss, slalom and stem christie their way through the powder without ever worrying about slamming into grandma and grandpa as they suddenly 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 figures for Boomers involved in near-death freeski aerobatics or gnarly snowboarding are minuscule (5%, 3% respectively).

Colorado: where Boomer 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 Marilu Mainstream here.

However, Colorado offers plenty of affordable trips too. Dude, we know what you’re thinking –  but no, not that kind of “trip” … we mean camping, hiking, biking, rafting, touring, exploring frontier history and downing buffalo burgers in Old West hangouts. So, it’s not surprising that the number of leisure tourists doubled from 19 million in 1996 to 38 million in 2016.

Happily, for those with really low budgets – and, some elites suggest, really lowbrow tastes – Frozen Dead Guys is the perfect solution.

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 the après ski-career crowd a chance show off its 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 think.

Grandpa Morstøl is not actually a Boomer, but (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.

  • Hippie culture – 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) – older tourists still flock to take selfies in front of their TV home, 1619 Pine Street in Boulder, 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?

In an even more eerie connection, the Bredo 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.

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, not only did Boomers get there first – pouring in since the 1970s – but also those old, stuck-in-the-past, slow to adapt, can’t find their text messages inhabitants of the 50+ space actually managed to create an entrepreneurial, tech-savvy, youthful and (huh?) sophisticated culture. In fact, the Denver/Boulder metro is America’s #2 startup center after Silicon Valley. Light bulb time.

Instead of fly-over country it’s now fly-in and stay country for creative 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’.

Boomers: OK with being adland’s off-piste – but not with being 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 Boomers and Gen X offer exciting off-piste experiences.

And they will be sure to hire experienced guides who can navigate that beautiful back country without making dangerous, amateurish blunders: Boomers are independent-minded, so they’re cool with being off-piste – but not with being piste-off.

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 Boomer World On With Their Smiles

So many Boomer icons passed in 2017

Boomers 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.

Ironically, many were not actually 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 guys some suave style (though most of us never quite mastered the art, and embarrassed ourselves trying).

Still, this year we spotlight 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 Boomer transition from a society where traditional lifestyles were the idealized norm to one where alternatives could also be accepted and and new doors opened.

Disclaimer: we’ll be taking a marketing tack.

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.

And, 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 personal 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, movies – Grease, American Graffiti – and TV shows – Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley – that harked back to mid-century mid-America found an eager audience.

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 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 a median age of 28 in 2015 would have been regarded as aging spinsters back in the day.

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

Away from their TV sets, 30-something/40-something family stage viewers now lived in the early ’80s – Morning In America was the new reality. The Happy Days fan base wasn’t eager to revisit the tumultuous, angry and/or weird days of the Summer of Love or Woodstock.

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, sans benefit of matrimony, to form a rock band in the short-lived spin-off Joannie Loves Chachi, the  the 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 she passed away last April, it’s how we remembered her – a sweet, enduring symbol of a 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 actually 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.

Happily, irrepressible Dick is still performing at age 92.

The then-contemporary 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 national 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 were soon challenged by fifties fun 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, Mary Richards reflected the steady changes in society and the workplace that were occurring away from the angst of the nightly news.

The Boomers were already adopting different attitudes, products, technologies and brands than those favored by their parents. Their meme was open, but not radical.

The most telling evidence was to be found in import penetration of new passenger car sales – 25% in 1975, up from 6% in 1965 …  and on their way to 35% in 1980.

And the former foreign fave of the Boomers’ parents, VW, 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 gender roles.

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

One measure of the challenges of the day can be seen in the  following ad for the 1970 Ford Mustang – ironically, the car that Mary Richards drove in the show’s opening credits.

The copy might have been written by Ted Baxter himself: the headline reads …

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 on television and in movies. 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 Boomer backstory

An accusation often leveled at the Boomers 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 popular fiction is that after age fifty our 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.

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

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Boomers And 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 from popular furniture and decor chain West Elm to Target, Kohl’s and Best Buy.

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

In 2016, 6.5% of albums were vinyl LPs; although 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 (11.9 million); CDs and digital downloads declined by 17% and 20% respectively (Statista / Nielsen).

Annual vinyl LP sales lingered around a million units until Millennial progressives 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, and, as with original design themes in the ’50s/60s, mass marketers were quick to seize opportunities.

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

And at a grand-plus, well-heeled buyers get real wood and metal, a preamp and the authentic mid-century analog setup task of running cables.

With modernist design booming, it’s understandable that over-enthusiastic taste makers claim it unites Millennials (b. 1982-2000) and Boomers (b. 1946-1964) under its hip mid-century 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 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 US 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 because group-think tells them to.

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.

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

40-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.

According to a CBS Research survey, 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, 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.

Our own 2017 Boomer / neXt survey of Americans age 50-71 found exactly the same: 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 those uber-talented Millennial agency staffers – 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 Boomer World, conditioning can be reversed and brands re-generated … imagine all that incredible Millennial creativity unleashed and refocused on the world’s 3rd largest economy.

 

Sign up for 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 EV 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 reports of 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 in the U.S.

The main roadblock to Volkswagen’s global goals for both EVs and conventional power is the US market, where yearning 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 the 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.

Trust us: even car salespeople gotta eat – and they can’t live on peanuts until the median Millennial turns 50 around 2040. 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 yielded 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.

The strategy was so successful 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 be elite when others have copied, improved on 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.

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 a more ornate, verbose way of saying things  even now it makes them seem sophisticated. But 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.

Of course, delusions – think Y2K, Pet Rocks, Beanie Babies – need a backstory.

For consumers in the 50+ space, except for the health/aging and wealth/luxury 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 – of course you are – visit our Data/Media Resources page.

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

Speaking of delusions … typical 1960s stereotypes visualize 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 in diapers.

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 young 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.

Anyway.

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, 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 a 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. Less powerful than Boomers’ connection to their label (79%), but pretty good, given the alternatives.

Ironically, the same year they finally got an official age range, millions of older Gen X consumers were forced to find a new home beyond the advertisers’ spotlight. Fortunately, it’s a familiar one: Boomer / neXt World™ … the ever-evolving place where they grew up.

Naturally, as Xers moved through their own lives they encountered socio-cultural imprinting – music, media, mores and seminal events. 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.

Through the seventies, eighties and nineties, Boomers rose to dominance in technology, business, academia, entertainment and government, further setting the agenda for Gen X and the generations that follow. For better or worse – who knows? But it’s a done deal.

However, in the 21st century Boomers have learned from, and shared ideas and power with, Gen X, creating a new, blended, extended generation in the process.

So, welcome, “aging” Gen Xers and Boomers, to the brave new Boomer / neXt World.

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 officially 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 that spring and – sacrilege! – the 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 drawstrings 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 …

The silence is deafening.

OK, perhaps it’s unfair to pick on auto companies. Unless chasing our retirement funds or stocking our medicine cabinets, few brands in mainstream categories feature Boomers in ads except as dingy 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 a stressed out younger demo mostly struggling to get by.

Unfortunately, as Jeff Millman, CCO at Boomer/senior ad agency GKV, noted in a recent piece for PBS-sponsored 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 “… we’ve been marketed to all our lives … we will not reward companies which turn us into caricatures of any kind.”

Seems Millman is channeling The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Right on.

We’ll go further: it’s time for a new revolution.

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

So, 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 and scrape 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.

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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, that yuppie thing was in full swing 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 saw the manual trades/rural life imagery 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: blue collars / rural life symbolized Americana: hard work, tradition, self-reliance, authenticity.
  • Boomers had been imprinted with the same values: many had blue collar roots, and TV westerns – morality tales from the wide open spaces – were wildly popular as they grew up.
  • Personal use pickups in operation grew from 5.8 million in 1970 to 9.5 million in 1975; about 70% were now 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, signalling that Boomers were now entering truck world and 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” (huh?) suburban weekend warriors reported high installation rates for comfort and convenience features and many openly relished ruling the road in their full-size trucks; import pickup buyers bragged about sportiness and fun-to-drive versus little econobox alternatives; 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 car brands

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 solons did look beyond the Hudson to where pickup penetration of households was highest – the west (23%) and the south (21%) – they relied on stereotypes that weren’t exactly influencer material: la la land faddists, rowdy cowboys and cowgirls yeehahing their way to the barn dance, small minds in small towns and creepy hillbilly 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 country 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. Pretty soon those adorable little ingrates tykes, the Millennials would arrive to co-opt that new home computer and take over the new cable TV service (thanks a bunch Nickelodeon!).

The few station wagons that hadn’t already gone away looked hopelessly out of date in the electronic age, and most affordable 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 imports finally gave white collar 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, they no longer symbolized suburbanite upward mobility, success, style and flair.

Instead, imagery tilted to 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 branded 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.  And 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 – alhough 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 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 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.

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 suave 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, which 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 (GoodCarBadCar.com). And in a top end 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 – the place 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, of course, 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 young Boomers who actually drove such things were on a 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 – Volkswagen’s famous advice to Think Small went unheeded

Where most Boomers grew up, flowers in the hair were out of step with the bigger is better mindset of their mainstream moms and dads. At around 3,900 pounds – well over twice the weight of the cute little Bug – Chevrolet Impala was the best selling car in 1967, with the like-sized Ford Galaxie a close runner-up.

We’re talking real mass here, people – big, brash and 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.

In fact, if 2016’s two best selling passenger cars – Toyota Camry and Toyota Corolla – had been available in 1967 they’d have been called compacts; here’s how they compare with Impala and Galaxie.

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

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

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

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

Despite their impressive bulk, Impala and Galaxie were neither the biggest cars sold in 1967 – Cadillac Sedan de Ville and Lincoln Continental were close to a foot longer – nor the baddest. This was the dawn of the muscle car era when automakers slugged it out in a testosterone-fueled fight for big dog cool, with monster V-8s tweaked to push 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. Instead, 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.

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Study: Millennials Say Adulthood Starts At 30 … The Average Ad Agency Creative Is Only 28. Boomer Consumers Not Surprised.

Half of Millennials say adulthood starts at age 30

A new study by CBS researcher David Poltrack finds the median age at which Millennials say adulthood begins is 30. Apparently, the other half see themselves fending off grown up status until as late as 40.

Of course, Madison Avenue is highly attuned to adolescent thought leadership.

The average ad agency creative department staffer is only 28 and, at 24, the typical media planner is even younger (Brent Bouchez / Bouchez Page Advertising). Wow! We’re really talking youth: the ingenues who create brand communications have less than half the life experience of the consumers who influence most of America’s buying decisions – the Boomers, median age 60.

What could possibly go wrong?

Don’t blame adland Millennials for Mad Men era dogma 

It needs to be said: adland’s former Boomer bosses – and their Silent Generation bosses before them – not Millennials, are to blame for the industry fixation on youth.

In the dynamic economy of the 1950s through the early 1970s it made sense to focus on the 18-49 demographic as the driver of brand fortunes. In the Mad Men era younger Americans were diving headlong into a national spending spree, setting up households, buying new cars and earning more than their Depression era parents ever dreamed possible.

But that was then.

Today, most 20-and-30 somethings lag in disposable income – buying a home or a new car is simply out of reach for a long, long time to come. Meanwhile Boomers and older Gen Xers aged 50+ have become the sweet spot for the (few) brands with enough smarts to realize it.

In a sobering piece, These Financial Stats Show Why Brands Shouldn’t Focus Too Much on Millennials, data archivist Marketing Charts reports that Boomers far outstrip Millennials in terms of credit card usage (76% / 25%), home ownership (79% / 28%) and net worth ($333K / $22K). And in the most telling comparisons of all, Boomer income and household spending index at 217 and 153 respectively over Millennials.

You’d think the grownups in adworld would have figured out the new paradigm and mandated targeting the 50+ space long ago. The problem is that almost all agency personnel are shoved out before they reach age fifty themselves … less than 4% survive to that point. (Brent Bouchez).

Can Ayn Rand help Millennials avoid a John Galt Boomer moment?

Mid-century style has enjoyed a renaissance in the past few years. It’s de rigeur at on trend ad agencies, of course, but one doesn’t have to invest in a genuine Eames chair to participate. With affordable design on offer from the pages of dwell Magazine to West Elm to IKEA, today’s young professionals can recapture the cool ambiance of the avant-garde fifties without breaking the bank.

Sprawled on that low-slung leather couch, sipping an Old Fashioned, with Dave Brubeck’s Take Five playing softly in the background, some of them are discovering the literature of the I Like Ike era as well.

According to The Washington Post, author Ayn Rand (1905-1982) is enjoying a comeback among young professionals. From Silicon Valley to Manhattan and even – according to the UK Guardian – across the pond, hot-shot Millennial business leaders are exploring Rand’s philosophy of individualism and self interest. Controversial, eh?

Devotees find the Big Idea of her 1,100 page opus Atlas Shrugged (1957) intriguing: what would happen if the most productive captains of business and industry decided to strike, and encouraged by mystery-man John Galt – of who is John Galt? fame – just walk off the job and totally disappear?

Inspired by Rand, perhaps at least some of those talented 28-year-old ad agency creatives are asking themselves – and their brand manager clients – what would happen if some Boomer John Galt came along and enticed the 111 million consumers in the 50+ space to turn off the money spigot, just say no and drop out?

As owners of 80% of U.S. household net worth and the source of around 60% of retail sales, they represent the world’s third largest economy.

Just imagine a marketplace where Boomers decided to go on strike.

And why shouldn’t they?

Despite their dominance, consumers over fifty are treated as cash cows for advertising budgets, 90% of which goes to pitching the 18-49 demographic (Nielsen). Even worse than being ignored, of the stingy trickle of ad dollars allocated to targeting Boomers, much shows up in depictions that are clumsy, cringe-worthy and condescending.

Sure, it’s not easy to change ingrained culture, learn Boomer-speak and master Boomer-think, but those who do will reap rewards for their brands and – individualism and self-interest alert – dare one add, their careers.

For the rest, there’s always the Boomer-Galt fate.

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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The Force Is With Us: 7 Boomer-Driven Life Changers Since Star Wars

Long, long, ago in a galaxy far, far away

When the Star Wars franchise launched in 1977, bell-bottom pants, platform shoes, FM radio, cassette tape players and pocket calculators were the E Rides of cool.

AT&T_Bell logoYessiree Bob, technology was king. Why, even away from work or home, we could make a call from just about anywhere via Ma Bell’s national network of two million payphones. Also, some newfangled mobile gizmo weighing in at around 4 pounds was rumored to be in alpha testing.

Most Americans bought Detroit-brand cars and watched family-friendly television. Bad language and nudity were decades away from being de rigueur in the ratings race.

Laverne & Shirley (#1), Happy Days (#2) and Three’s Company (#3) were the winning series in the 1977-78 season – all on ABC, home to 11 of the top 20 shows.

Not that we were limited for choice: there was always CBS and NBC. And in big cities, tweaking the antenna could bring in two, three or – weather permitting – even four local stations. Who could want more?

Of course, not every aspect of mid-1970s life was idyllic.

To keep us grounded, Cold War annihilation loomed, a mini-recession was underway and experts warned recent global cooling heralded another ice age.

For good measure, others said oil and other vital raw materials were about to run out, pretty much by the middle of next week. Oh, those experts, you gotta love ’em.

Then came Star Wars. Everything was disrupted, everything changed. Maybe it was a coincidence, but never underestimate the power of The Force.

Seven Boomer life changers since Star Wars: A New Hope

Star Wars movie posterOptimism, adaptability and confidence in the future were baked into Boomer personalities long before Star Wars burst on the scene. However, its incredible special effects – and their revolutionary tech backstory – intensified our already high expectations for the future.

With all this going for it, the movie was a huge success: adjusted for inflation, it is still the third highest grossing film in world-wide box office history (Wikipedia.)

It’s no surprise that Boomer imaginations went into hyperdrive building the foundations of 21st century life.

Here are seven life-changing breakthroughs Boomers pioneered and popularized in the years after Star Wars: A New Hope.

Personal computers took off in the early 1980s and were exponentially enhanced by the Internet a decade later. Productivity soared at work and at home, new media rocketed out of cyberspace and we gained access to a vast free online library.

Mobile phones transformed business and personal communication by the mid-1990s. Faster than you can say clamshell, they evolved into smartphones – our alter egos, portals to the universe and Hogwarts wands for the Internet of Things.

Import car brands became totally cool; so much so that in 2016 they won 55% of the U.S. new light duty vehicle market. Back in 1977 the figure was just 19%. Naturally, it was smart, independent Boomers who popularized them in the 1970s and ’80s.

Post Cold War globalization … until the old Soviet Union bloc crumbled, the threat of nuclear war was constant. But within a year of its collapse, McDonald’s opened in Russia and China. Savvy Boomer marketers embraced globalism; American brands expanded around the world and imported goods of all types boomed here at home.

Green America … when President Nixon created the EPA (1970), curbing pollution already had vocal Boomer support. Our young voices helped launch Friends of The Earth (1969), Earth Day (1970), Greenpeace (1971) and many, many more environmental organizations – currently, over 250 operate in the U.S. (Wikipedia).

Eating habits were revolutionized. At one end of the range, natural and organic blossomed, at the other, fast food outlets zoomed from 30,000 in 1970 to 140,000 in 1980 (USDA). And we discovered ethnic foods, big time; Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Latin American and Indian cuisine all thrive nationwide today.

Television viewing is light years beyond where it was in 1977. After HBO, Turner, CNN and MTV arrived, cable and satellite service exploded: modern TVs access hundreds of channels – and millions of viewers are streaming. Viva Roku!

No wonder we still see ourselves as trailblazing Han Solos, Princess Leias and Luke Skywalkers. Okay, there are some outliers from the Mos Eisely Cantina among us, but hey, live and let live.

Boomers? Advertisers don’t serve their kind here …

star-wars_we-dont-serve-their-kindAlthough Boomers shaped the modern world, when it comes to targeting Americans over 50, Madison Avenue’s reaction is “Hey, we don’t serve their kind here!”

Dark Side dogma has convinced them that consumers stop adapting at age fifty and can no longer be turned to new paths.

However, savvy adland Millennials are starting to realize this is just an old Jedi mind trick. The truth is that mainstream brands have forgotten how to listen to us and, just as important, how to speak to us.

Disruptives are also discovering it’s not just about Boomers. Since 2015 over 12 million Gen Xers born 1965-67 have blasted out of the 18-49 demo to join the Rebel Alliance, aka the Boomer-Plus Generation™.

Bound together by unbreakable generational DNA, these 99 million American consumers represent the third largest economy on the planet – richer and more populous than any EU nation or Canada and Australia combined.

So we invite daring brands to harness the power of The Force – make the jump to hyperspace while the laggards cruise on in low orbit.

opportunity_star-wars_40-years-on
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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Millennials Rule The Ski Slopes Today, But It’s All Downhill From Here. Just Ask The Boomers

Ski resorts: No Country For Old Men

Did you ever have to deal with a skiing injury?

skier-downfallIt begins with humiliation – being wrapped like a mummy by the ski patrol and loaded onto a rescue sled in front of a gawking throng. Then there’s the painful drive home – worse, a painful, embarrassing flight – encased in plaster, followed by months of rehab, hoping your boss/clients will put up with lost productivity long enough for you to keep your job.

And you know they’re shaking their heads, muttering “some people just never grow up.”

So, is anyone really amazed that almost two-thirds (63%) of snow sports participants are under age 35 – Gen Z and Millennials (HT SnowSports Industries America)?

snowsports-by-age_2015-16

Mostly, the Z kids come with their Gen X parents. So the Millennials are the real sweet spot for ski resorts, accounting for around 40% of total visitors and almost half (47%) of snowboarders.

Age brings not only an AARP invitation, but wisdom; just 9% of snow sports participants are 50-plus. For the more suicidal daring styles, snowboarding and freeskiing – performing tricks while upside down in midair – the Boomer share drops below 5%.

Boomer advice to Millennials: enjoy it while you can – it’s all downhill from here.

Soon you’ll be parents, squeezing runs in between your kids’ visits to the bathroom and their endless capacity for snacks. Then, one day, you’re the mummy on the ski patrol rescue sled.

Fortunately, Millennials can learn to age gracefully, just like the Boomers.

Frozen Dead Guy Days 2016

Of course, in hippie-friendly Colorado, graceful is relative.

Home to six of America’s ten most frequently visited ski resorts (HT SnowBrains), the state also hosts the nation’s premier geezer-themed winter event, Frozen Dead Guy Days. It’s a three day celebration of the most famous grandpa in the Rockies. Well, at least the most famous frozen, dead grandpa in the tiny mountain town of Nederland, Colorado.

Boomers on ice

Frozen Dead Guy Days honors Norwegian expat Bredo Morstøl; encased in dry ice and housed in a climate change defying garden shed. It’s not exactly Valhalla, but it’s home.

Bredo was shipped from the old country back in the nineties by his grandson to be re-activated when science achieves X-Files technology levels. His devoted descendant was eventually deported by ICE – staying with the frozen metaphors here, folks – but the locals rallied round Grandpa Bredo and entombed him in Colorado folklore.

frozen-dead-guy-days-2017This year, Nederland observes its 16th annual FDGD rites on March 10th-12th.

Perennial favorites include coffin races, a hearse parade, brain freeze contests, frozen turkey bowling, the Ice Queen & Grandpa Costume Contest and, perhaps in homage to Boomer nostalgia, The NewlyDead Game. Hopefully, Bredo is cool with all this.

When it comes to cryogenics, Herr Morstøl is not alone: Boomers and older Gen Xers have also been shoved into cold storage, hidden away in Madison Avenue’s backyard shed.

In our case it’s due to Ice Age marketing theories: first, that after age fifty consumer buying decisions are, like the FDG, frozen in time; secondly, that using oldsters in advertising is more damaging to brand image than icicles in a Florida orange grove.

Reality check. We’re talking about half of America’s adult population and the world’s third largest economy after China and the U.S. itself.

us-adults-50-plus-shares

These 50+ consumers account for over half of all retail sales and new car purchases, own two-thirds of the homes and 80% of the nation’s personal assets. And, years ago, they were proven to be “no more brand loyal to most product categories than are younger adults” (Focalyst_Quirks, 2006).

So, putting it kindly, it’s dumb that only 10% of ad dollars are allocated to targeting them.

Disruptive brains are thawing 

Creativity – real ice-jam breaking, risk-taking creativity – is hard.

Ironically, it’s especially hard in ad agency creative departments – average age 28 – where Boomers are even more rare than on the ski slopes. That’s because stepping outside the conformity box can be career-chilling for those with their eye on the corner office.

conformity-box_freeskiHowever, a few disruptive young innovators – the freeski crazies of agency world – are beginning to thaw out from adland’s collective brain freeze.

They’ve learned Boomer adaptability is a lifelong trait, one smart brands can leverage while laggards slumber – like Bredo – in glacial status quo.

They also realize it’s not just Boomers who are left out on the cold; each year four million Gen Xers pass over from the 18-49 demo to join the Boomer-Plus Generation™ born 1940-1967. Linked by common life and cultural experiences, at 99 million, they outnumber any European nation or Canada and Australia combined.

And there’s one more thing breakaway brands know: America’s hottest consumers aren’t on the ski slopes. They grew up and moved on – we can tell you where they’re headed.

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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To Understand The Boomers, First Understand La La Land

February milestones in La La Land

In February we celebrate two icons whose careers intersect in that magical place called La La Land – architect Paul Revere Williams (1894-1980) whose birthday falls on the 18th and “Oscar” whose award ceremonies are set for the 26th.

Mr. Williams, the versatile architect to the stars who designed homes for Hollywood celebrities in a wide range of historic revival styles was equally gifted in the mid-century school. At the peak of his career, he served as a joint venture team member for the world’s first purpose-built jet age airport, Los Angeles International. The most famous part of that massive project, the LAX Theme Building (1964), still stands under historic preservation as a symbol of the optimistic, future-thinking world of the Boomers.

Oscar, of course, speaks to our fantasies and dreams, bringing fresh interpretations, fresh visions each year. Like the Boomers themselves, Oscar’s tastes are always evolving.

paul-r-williams-and-oscar

Ironically, this year one of the nominees for Best Picture is titled La La Land – a term coined as a put-down by critics but happily embraced by Los Angelenos because, dude, mellow is what SoCal is all about.

Stereotypes 150 years in the making: why LA is a better metaphor for the Boomers than is Frisco (ouch!)

For over 150 years America has looked at California with a mixture of awe, envy, titillation, dismay, condescension and grudgingly, for better or worse, as a forerunner.

most-valuable-brands-2016Whether it’s the brainiac Bay Area, home to three of the world’s top five most valuable brands – Apple, Google and Facebook, all founded on knowledge technology – or hedonistic SoCal with its endless sunshine, glamour and glitz, California always seems to be in the lead of some new trend.

The personality difference between Los Angeles and San Francisco is immediately clear from the way the locals refer to their hometowns. Down south it’s just LA, laid back, go with the flow, whatever. Up north, only tourists refer to Frisco – the residents groan at the informality.

After all, the Bay Area has always been the studious, well-behaved first-born in the California family, seeking the approval of mom and dad back east but secretly envying LA, its rambunctious, free-spirited, do your own thing sibling who never seems to grow up.

golden-spikeBuilt on huge profits from the region’s gold and silver discoveries and the arrival of the first ever transcontinental railroad, by 1870 San Francisco was one of the 10 largest urban places in America. With prosperity came a desire for social acceptance. Culture flourished, great universities were founded – UC San Francisco (1864), Berkeley (1868), Stanford (1891) – and San Francisco soon acquired its present persona, a western city with eastern manners … Boston on the Pacific.

Southern California was slower to adopt mercantile Yankee hustle and bustle: in 1900 the population of Los Angeles was less than one-third of San Francisco’s. The sunny mindset of the Spanish hacienda heyday lingered on; adopted by the Americanos,  it morphed into a beguiling, relaxed culture strong enough to absorb explosive early 20th century growth triggered by the theft acquisition of distant water supplies, the discovery of vast oil reserves and the raucous arrival of the movie industry.

la-vs-san-francisco-pop-ranking-1850-2000In 1920, when LA finally blew past San Francisco on the top 50 urban places list, the city celebrated with typically déclassé exuberance: “Here was retribution for a century of patronizing abuse … the city had finally outgrown its toddler’s outfit, or escaped its guards, depending on which point of view you accepted” (Sunshine and Wealth, Bruce Henstell, 1984)

So, which city is the better metaphor for Boomers? No brainer. It’s LA.

As has often been said, it’s not so much a place as a state of mind. Derided by elites as a cultural wasteland it is, nevertheless, a state of mind that everyday Boomers all across America, with everyday interests, everyday ambitions and – especially – everyday budgets, could relate to.

Brash, crass and middle class, from the west bank of the Hudson to the Oakland city limits we’ve been doing our own thing for so long it’s way too late to ditch Applebee’s for Petrale Sole Almondine .

Building La La Land

route-66-end-of-the-trailIn the 1940s and 1950s millions of Americans – the moms and dads of the Boomers – pulled up roots and moved to Southern California, eager to reinvent themselves in the sunshine.

That meant a whole lot of construction and a whole lot of new thinking to go along with a new way of living.

Southern California, in the vanguard of modernist architecture since the 1920s, was ready. Of course, unlike hillside showplaces that featured walls of windows, regular families looked for more privacy in the tight confines of the typical housing tract; however, angular lines, modern materials and limited ornamentation still made for a very different experience than the homes they knew back in the midwest and the east.

normsAnd when it came to places to eat, shop, gas up or wash the car the newcomers were surrounded by a playful blend of modernism and space age motifs known as Googie style.

Eventually, Googie would go national, evolving into the design language of the Boomers’ early years, from furniture to automobiles to iconic airport buildings in the nation’s centers of power – the TWA terminal at New York’s JFK and Washington Dulles International. Meanwhile, back where it all began, in low-brow La La Land, even humble diners would one day become beloved nostalgic landmarks.

Of course, what helped make SoCal architecture unique was the influence of Hollywood: it wasn’t called the dream factory for nothing.

Hollywood set architects free to build a Tudor mansion next to a Mediterranean villa next to a French chateau next to a Mayan temple – coexisting in perfect harmony with stunning mid-century homes that still set the standard for the ultimate La La Land living space.

stahl-house

At the pinnacle sits Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22, also named the Stahl House for its original owners. In a typical tinsel-town plotline, regular guy Buck Stahl – an aircraft engineer – and his wife Carlotta were told their dream home was impossible to build until, five years after they bought the lot, disruptive young architect Koenig agreed to execute the project.

There’s a lesson here for all who say this or that or the other is impossible just because it goes against the “experts.” With the right kind of imagination anything is possible – even advertising mainstream brands to Boomers. Come, gaze with us out over La La Land.

opportunity_la-la-land

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.

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Electric Cars For Headlines, Trucky Cars For Profits

When truck world and the Boomers were young

chevy-truck_1951Until the mid-sixties, truck-world was a manly, grimy place. We talkin’ work here, people. Sure, huntin’ an’ fishin’ an’ rock-houndin’ on the weekend, but mostly it was work – rugged, hard and plenty of it.

Then the civilians started to pay attention when Ford and Chevrolet launched new recreational/off-roaders to compete with Jeep. By 1970 the seeds of the sports utility market were firmly planted, with young Boomers on the leading edge and eager to push the envelope.

Off-roading 1970sOf course, those days, most of us couldn’t afford new vehicles, but we sure jumped on used ones – Jeeps, El Caminos, Land Cruisers, Bronco IIs, hacked 4X4 pickups and dune buggies reworked from cut-down Volkswagens.

Just as heartland America – Detroit’s home turf  – was slow to recognize the counter-culture appeal of small foreign cars to Boomers, bi-coastal sophisticates were equally confused by the down-home macho allure of trucks and vans and the inner cowgirl yeehah! of SUVs.

So, for a while, these competing consumer cultures settled into a kind of stalemate; from 1970 to 1980, the share of light truck sales barely changed (18% vs. 22%).

stork-delivery_rightBut by 1990, truck-based products had jumped to one third of the market (34%). We used-to-be non-conformist Boomers were settling down and starting families – note to Millennials, you can’t fight Mother Nature. But we still looked for ways to have it all – dare-to-be-different style, active imagery and family practicality.

This time Detroit was quick to sense the opportunities presented by Boomer and older Gen X consumers, and the Big Three set about creating a more friendly truck-world. In fact, U.S. brands were so successful that by the mid-nineties, they were fighting off import manufacturers pouring into that most American of American vehicle categories, the U.S. military Jeep-inspired SUV marketplace.

Fast forward. In 2016 just a sprinkling of truck/SUV pixie dust was enough to propel even mini-size vehicles to sales success; for the first time in U.S. history, light trucks exceeded a 60% market share (61%).

  • light-vehicle-sales_1970-20161970: light truck share – 18%
  • 1980: light truck share – 22%
  • 1985: light truck share – 30%
  • 1990: light truck share – 34%
  • 1995: light truck share – 43%
  • 2000: light truck share – 51%
  • 2005: light truck share – 56%
  • 2010: light truck share – 52%
  • 2016: light truck share – 61%

Whats hot and whats not: CUVs are smokin’

Although the top three best-selling vehicles in 2016 were full-size domestic pickups, SUVs were far more popular as a category: at 6.93 million units they edged out passenger cars (6.89 million) for top spot in the overall market.

light-vehicle-sales-2016_by-categoryThe big story –  actually compact story – is that compact and crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) dominated SUV sales (81%); in fact, one third (32%) of all U.S. light duty vehicle sales in 2016 were crossovers/CUVs.

But don’t get the idea these are all little low-end wannabes. Over 800,000 crossover and compact SUV sales came from luxury brands (GoodCarBadCar). So, no matter how foul the weather or treacherous the road conditions, those late-adopting sophisticates can power through to the Saks Fifth Avenue valet parking in style, comfort and safety.

Crossovers for profit: electric vehicles for clickbait

Despite the soaring popularity of crossovers, the PR value of this glittering motherlode of profit dims in comparison with that of the tiny electric vehicle niche.

Not to be misunderstood, we think electrics are great: the technology is fascinating, their off-the-line acceleration is exhilarating and, clearly, they are the next big thing. One day. But first, there are the harsh realities of 260 million gasoline/diesel powered vehicles already on U.S. highways and a 100-year supply of fossil fuels to be factored into the mix.

magnifying-glass-dudeIn truth, the ability of EVs to grab headlines is more a testament to auto-makers’ compliance with government mandates than to market forces. Although 2016 was a record year for battery-only electric vehicles (BEVs), just 86,000 were sold. With Tesla taking 55% and second place Nisan Leaf at 16%, that left 29% for ten other models to fight over. Slim pickings, but enough to win e-cred from regulators.

Purists may cringe, but in addition to true BEVs, 73,000 plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) were also sold under the electric car banner in 2016 (data: Inside EVs). These vehicles qualify for EV tax subsidies, but only achieve an anemic battery driving range of around 20 cautious miles before good ol’ gasoline comes to the rescue.

ev-sales_2011-2016-by-stateBetween 2011 and 2016 Americans bought a grand total of 503,000 BEVs and PHEVs, about half (49%) in California where state regs are especially draconian enlightened and thought-leading professionals – you know who you are – relish the cachet of adding an EV to their personal portfolios (sales data: EV Volumes).

Realpolitik bottom line: crossovers for profit, electric vehicles for clickbait.

Advice to creative automakers: the 50+ consumer can boost brand share 

Boomer men and women – plus older Gen Xers who are now crossing the fiftieth birthday threshold at the rate of 4 million a year – have disrupted the automobile business ever since they began to drive. However, from “small foreign cars” to “down-market trucks” to early adoption of Asian luxury brands, the play-it-safe, status quo marketing crowd dissed us every step of the way.

Now we are leaving the 18-49 demographic, the meme is that we’re too old to switch brands – conveniently ignoring the median age of new vehicle buyers (over fifty) and the fact that the EV segment relies on us for about half the business.

This oddball thinking is in eerie sync with the automobile market itself: like trucks, Gen X and the Boomers generate the lion’s share of the profits but, like EVs, the Millennials get most of the attention.

peter-fonda_mb-2016So let’s give credit to a rare exception to Madison Avenue myopia.

Mercedes’ upcoming Super Bowl ad features Peter Fonda – who turns 77 this year – in a spot made by Boomers (the Coen Brothers) for Boomers … HT Advertising Age.

The key thought here: by Boomers for Boomers. No offense intended –  we love our kids –but just because the average 28-year-old ad agency creative team spent the first few years of life in the back seat of a minivan or SUV doesn’t mean they can see Boomer-world through their windshield today.

opportunity_chevy-truck-1970

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