Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away
Boomer-world in 1977 was a distant time and place.
FM radio, cassette tape players and pocket calculators were all still cool. In big cities we could choose from five or six or maybe even seven TV channels if we could tweak the rabbit ear antenna just right. Wrapping it in tin foil helped tricky fine-tuning.
Away from work or home we relied on a ubiquitous national network of upwards of two million payphones – Ma Bell was everywhere, but some newfangled mobile gizmo weighing in at around 4 pounds was rumored to be in alpha testing.
Americans bought Detroit-brand cars – an 81% market share in 1977 – and watched family-friendly television. Bad language and nudity were decades away from being considered de rigueur in the ratings race.
When the kids were tucked safely away in bed we watched Kojak, not Kim Kardashian – a bald head was the raciest option out there in those days. Of course, some things never change; cynics probably wondered whether Kojak’s best known feature had been surgically enhanced to boost the PR buzz.
If everyday life in the mid 1970s seems boring today, there was always the threat of Cold War nuclear annihilation to spice up our lives, and a mini-recession was underway. Not to mention that some experts speculated global cooling might be bringing on another ice age. And other experts told us that oil and other vital raw materials were on the verge of running out, pretty much by the middle of next week. Oh, those experts, you gotta love ’em.
And then came Star Wars. Everything changed. Maybe it was a coincidence, but never underestimate the power of The Force.
6 life-changing Boomer breakthroughs since Star Wars launched
Thanks in part to its incredibly realistic special effects, the movie helped to intensify our expectations from technology. And it was hugely successful: adjusted for inflation, it is still the second highest grossing film in North American box office history (Wikipedia.) Had we known the term back then, we would have said it went viral.
No surprise, Boomer adaptability went into hyperdrive.
Here’s our take on six life-changing breakthroughs that Boomers pioneered, adapted and popularized in the years after Star Wars: A New Hope.
Practical personal computers hit critical mass 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 had already transformed business and personal communication by the mid-1990s. Faster than you can say clamshell, they evolved into the smartphones that are now our alter egos, confidants, portals to the universe and Hogwarts wands for the Internet of Things.
Import car brands are now totally cool; they won 55% of the U.S. new passenger vehicle market in 2013 versus 19% in 1977. And it was savvy, upwardly mobile Boomers who pushed them past the tipping point in the 1970s and ’80s.
Post Cold War globalization … until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet bloc crumbled, the threat of nuclear war was constant. Within a year, McDonald’s opened stores in Russia and China, and Boomer marketers quickly embraced globalism, fostering trade and the worldwide expansion of American brands.
The greening of America … by 1970, when President Nixon created the EPA, calls to curb industrial and air pollution had already attracted vocal support among Boomers. Our involvement accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s, with Friends of The Earth (1969), Greenpeace (1971) and others ramping up rapidly; today over 250 environmental organizations operate in the U.S. (Wikipedia). Way to go, Boomers!
Boomers redefined America’s eating habits and tastes. The number of fast food restaurants more than quadrupled from 30,000 in 1970 to 140,000 in 1980 (USDA.) And we adopted ethnic cuisine big time. Our parents had already warmed up to Chinese food, but thanks to the ever-adaptable Boomers, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Latin American and Indian dining are all enjoyed nationwide.
No wonder we saw ourselves as the trailblazing Han Solos, Princess Leias and Luke Skywalkers of our era. OK, so there are some outliers from the Mos Eisely Cantina among us, but hey, live and let live.
Advertisers don’t recognize Boomers as the droids they’re looking for
Despite the fact that Boomers made the modern world possible, when it comes to advertising to Americans over 50, mainstream Madison Avenue tells brand planners “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for, move along.”
Fortunately, some savvy Millennials are beginning to realize this is just an old Jedi mind trick; many advertisers have simply forgotten how to listen to us and – just as important – how to speak to us.
These young disruptives are also discovering the colossal spending power of the Boomer-Plus Generation™ born 1940-1964. As owners of over two thirds of U.S. household net worth, and 89 million strong, if we were a country it would be the world’s 15th most populous – the 15th Nation™. In other words, a bigger, more affluent market than any EU nation and parsecs ahead of Canada and Australia combined.
In 2015, the promo tells us, The Force Awakens. We can hardly wait; but from the Boomer viewpoint, it is mainstream advertisers who need to awaken – we never nodded off.