Growing up Googie – no, not Google, Googie
When Boomers were growing up, a weekend treat was often a trip to a Googie-themed diner for a fun family meal. Pancakes, waffles, burgers, fries, malts, shakes – you name it and we thought it was ginchy, neato and boss.
Named for an iconic 1948 LA coffee shop designed by innovative genius John Lautner, Googie style blended space age motifs with mid-century modern architecture.
Establishment critics thought it crassly commercial, but Googie style went viral in the 1950s and ’60s to become the coast-to-coast design language of the Boomers’ formative years. It was fun, futuristic and brought a little Jetsons flavor into everyday life.
Googie rapidly evolved beyond diners to influence everything from gas stations, hotels and airports to home furnishings, personal electronics and automobiles.
Ships Coffee Shop in Westwood, Los Angeles, for example, was one of the city’s favorite Googie-style eateries until it closed in 1984. Open 24 hours a day, a great menu and an individual toaster at every table. How cool was that!
Boomers and Googie consigned to nostalgic coffee table books
Googie fell out of favor by 1970 as post-modernism shoved it into the filing cabinet of “remember when” Americana.
Eventually, Boomers joined Googie in the realm of yesteryear, relegated to nostalgic coffee table books about the Swinging ’60s, the Disco ’70s and the Big Hair ’80s.
Helping Boomers into oblivion is the predominant mainstream brand view that consumer attitudes and loyalties no longer adapt after age 50. As we exit the coveted 18-49 demo we disappear from their advertising.
This is bizarre reasoning. Boomers have adapted constantly in every aspect of life – not just in big ways, such as personal electronics and transportation, but also in less glamorous, everyday categories. Like breakfast foods.
How “data” about Boomers misleads: let’s discuss it over breakfast
Imagine it’s 1980 and we are in Ships Coffee Shop, sitting down to the all-American favorite: orange juice, coffee, bacon, eggs and toast.
If Ships had provided table-top crystal balls as well as toasters, we could look 30 years into the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) by 2010 the average price of our breakfast ingredients would soar to 266% of 1980 levels.
Oh, the humanity! Dark visions of starving 21st century Boomers would have made us choke on that second piece of toast.
Fortunately, things – data, metrics, statistics – aren’t always what they seem to be on the surface. The BLS inflation calculator, shows that Boomer breakfasts were actually cheaper 30 years later.
In 2010 constant dollars, after adjusting for inflation, five out of six breakfast ingredients were cheaper than they were in 1980.
And averaging all six items, the constant dollar price drop was 31%.
So, rather than a 266% price jump, real 2010 costs actually dropped by almost one-third versus 1980.
Just one example of Boomer flexibility: we happily adapted to paying “more” for cheaper breakfasts.
Boomers and the Googie redux: rebooted by disruptive thinkers
After a 25 year exile, Googie was revisited, reinvented and dramatically reloaded around the turn of the 21st century, with Frank Gehry’s stunning Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, and Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, in the vanguard.
Despite thinking like this, some young ad-world disruptives are beginning to revisit, reinvent and reload Boomers.
They are discovering that, far from being unadaptable, Americans 50+ not only invented the modern world but we still revel in it today.
They are also learning about the incredible buying power of the Boomer-Plus Generation™. Adding those born 1940-1945 to their slightly younger traditional Baby Boomer siblings, its 89 million members own over two-thirds of America’s private net worth and represent the world’s #3 economy after the U.S. itself and China No Eu country comes close to its dynamic spending power.
For brands that think beyond conventional wisdom, the profit potential is obvious. But it will take time, diligence – and a lot of creativity – for many to move beyond glib stereotypes and learn how to listen and speak authentically to this massive audience.
After all, Frank Gehry didn’t get his inspirations from quick studies of old TV shows or by skimming nostalgia-themed coffee table books.
It takes hard work, vision and – most of all, courage – to create breakthroughs. But the results are astounding; the Boomer-Plus generation is worth the effort. You can start here.