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.”
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.