Why Advertising To Boomers Just Got More Important

Shocking new study defines vast Boomer (ugh!) spending power 

Terror in adlandA shocking new study from the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) shamelessly lauds those pariahs of the 18-49 love-fest community, Boomers.

It’s the kind of data we might expect from AARP but not from a respected Madison Avenue insider.

The free report 50 Shades Of Green: Vast Spending Power Of Adults 50+ should strike terror into hearts the length and breadth of adland: it provides a deluge of statistics that demonstrate the folly of ignoring this enormous population – the world’s third largest economy.

Mainstream brand strategists, steel yourself; here are a few disruptive nuggets about the 111 million Americans aged fifty-plus. According to the VAB they …

VAB Report 2016

  • Control 70% of disposable income
  • Account for 58% of retail sales
  • Over-index on high ticket and lifestyle brands
  • Will buy 59% of all new vehicles sold in 2016
  • Will grow by 15 million new members by 2025 – vs. only 5 million new arrivals in the 18-49 demo
  • Will fuel 50% of U.S. consumption growth thru 2030
  • BUT: garner only 15% of marketing dollars spent

Okay, we already hear the defensive group-think chirpers “see, see, we don’t need to advertise to geezers – we get the Boomer business already!”

Well, it’s very chummy that brands agree to only compete in the 18-49 arena and leave 60% of the business uncontested. Hey, the stockholders will understand – who needs more brand share anyway? Evidently not automakers …

New cars bought in a lifetimeThe VAB reports that 7 of the 13 vehicles bought in a typical new car buyer lifetime are purchased after age fifty. So, 45% of the market receives 85% of the specific  targeting dollars. Key word: specific.

Hmm. Kind of answers the old conundrum “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Sure, we understand the “grab ’em when they’re young” philosophy but growing an auto brand is all about conquest business.

BurglarJust ask Elon Musk. Every Tesla sale comes out of the hide of another car company, and, no, at north of $80,000 a copy he’s not just serving avant garde Millennials; half the buyers are over fifty.

Extreme example? Nope. Here’s the point: find the right message, make the right offer, and Boomers business can be stolen from under the nose of complacent rivals – whether its cars, cosmetics, CPGs or smart home IoT devices.

While we’re on the subject of technology … 

VAB – citing Pew Research Center – reports that, while over 80% of Millennials and Gen Xers have a smartphone, penetration lags for Boomers, 58% for 50-64 year olds and 30% among the 65-plus.

However, as we covered in detail in Memo To Smartphone Marketers: Don’t Put Boomers On Hold (November 8, 2015), the Boomer-Plus audience is actually the fastest growing market for smartphones and will add 18-20 million new buyers in the next few years as penetration increases.

Smartphone ownership by age Jan '14 - Jul '15

The late, but inevitable, Boomer arrival isn’t exactly news. For years, marketing experts have explained that while older consumers may be slower to adopt new technology, their huge numbers make them worth waiting for.

Advertising to Baby Boomers_NyrenAnd don’t misread delay as a nostalgic yearning for payphones.  The 50-plus consumer needs smarter reasons to purchase than dude, it’s soo cool. 

In his savvy, easy to read book Advertising to Baby Boomers, adman Chuck Nyren put it this way : “When it comes to new technology, most Baby Boomers learn only about what interests them, what they believe will be useful. They don’t feel the need to know everything there is to know about technology, computers, and the web.”

Mastering Boomer-speak: words bring numbers to life 

Despite the incredible value of the 50+ market, most mainstream brands recoil from the idea of active engagement. Instead, as the VAB reported, they aim 85% of their marketing dollars at the low hanging fruit of the 18-49 demo.

It’s not that advertisers don’t understand the Boomer data – most just don’t know how to communicate with them. And, apart from the work of the few grownups in the field, the occasional attempts they do make are often cringe-worthy.

Stork_Baby to Madison AvenueWhy is this? Well, ad agency staffers have the youngest median age of any profession in the US Bureau of Labor Statistics list of almost 300 occupations. Brilliant though they may be – they’re our kids, after all – without proper coaching it’s impossible for young creatives and strategists to understand, engage and motivate older consumers of mainstream brands.

Jim Gilmartin, principal of Coming Of Age, a 50+ marketing agency explains: “(These markets are) more complex than younger because older minds don’t work through choices the same way younger minds do. The older view of life can be a perplexing mystery to younger people.”

Fortunately, 85% of the 50+ population belongs to a single generation – the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1966. Sure, they all have different stories but they tell them in that most subtle and nuanced of dialects, Boomer-speak.

When your brand is ready to listen, remember, it’s our native language.


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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