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.

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)?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.


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Four Million Gen Xers Disappear: Blame Madison Avenue’s Death Star

Star Wars turns forty in 2017

The fortieth birthday of the Star Wars franchise arrives this year; look for quotes and metaphors to crop up ad nauseam in marketing circles. Always ahead of the pack, we’ll get ours out early – no less ad nauseam, just early.

obi-wan_millions-of-voicesAlso in 2017, for the third year in a row, over four million members of Generation X – born 1965-1981 – will reach their 50th birthday and disappear from mainstream brand advertising.

Thanks to Madison Avenue’s remorseless Death Star ad targeting model, by year’s end, their voices will have suddenly cried out in terror and been suddenly silenced.

All because long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, 1960s Mad Men decreed that Americans are no longer willing or able to adapt new behaviors after age fifty and, anyway, their grizzled presence in advertising sends young prospects fleeing in horror.

us-population-by-age-and-gender-2015So, from 2015 through 2017, around 12.5 million Gen X consumers in their peak earning years will have become as unwelcome as a droid in a Mos Eisley spaceport bar. That’s like banishing the entire Los Angeles/Orange County metro area population – okay, okay, hold it down, no snarky jokes please.

Happily for the Xers, a new home awaits in an alternative universe run by grownups – prosperous Planet Boomer.

Joining the Boomer-Plus Generation™: not such a bad thing

As it turns out, the 18-49 demo exit is not a door that closes but a portal that opens to the amazing, dynamic fifty-plus marketplace that, per the Video Advertising Board:

  • us-h-hold-net-worth_50-vs-youngerOwns 80% of U.S. household assets
  • Controls 70% of disposable income
  • Accounts for 58% of retail purchases
  • Buys 59% of new personal vehicles
  • Represents 65% of home improvement sales
  • Will add 15 million net new consumers by 2025

Always good for a pithy quote, Obi-Wan Kenobi puts this into perspective:  “You can’t win … if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

Joel Kotkin, Professor of Urban Studies at Chapman University in California, is more scholarly: in a recent column for Forbes (Generation X’s Moment Of Power Is Almost Here, December 28, 2016) he described Gen X as “clearly the ascendant generation.”

This approaching “moment of power” has been a long time coming.

time_gen-x_1997TIME jumped the gun in 1997, suggesting that Boomers – then turning fifty – must now yield to the Xers. But there’s a big difference between leaving the hip 18-49 demo and losing economic, social or political power.

In fact, Gen X waited almost twenty years for recognition until the oldest of them reached the 50-year tombstone  milestone and qualified for membership in the Boomer-Plus Generation™. Originally defined as born from 1940 to 1964, due to old school ad targeting theory the generation now embraces millions of newly expelled Xers from the birth years 1965-1967.

While they experienced the sixties and seventies as little kids and teens, not as young adults, Gen X grew up in a transformational culture that was largely Boomer-driven. So, at 50-plus, they’ll feel more at home in Boomer world than on the dreary aging-in-place Ice Planet envisioned by brand strategists from the Dark Side of the Force.

Did Luke Skywalker presume to lecture Yoda? 

Let’s not forget the history of the 18-49 demo cult. It originated in the 1950s/60s, but it was then-young Boomer marketers who adopted it and set it in stone. Short-sightedly, we also handed it down to our 20-something successors – Gen X, later, the Millennials.

karma-police-v2Ironically, today, ad agency realpolitik shows most employees the door before they hit forty, and survivors struggle to stay relevant.

With the average client-agency tenure at less than three years (The Bedford Group), each account loss provides an opportunity to trim people, with the most expensive – HR-speak for oldest – going first. Maybe it’s karma.

Consequently, of 297 occupational categories tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, advertising and PR ranks second youngest (median age: 38). According to Brent Bouchez, partner with advertising agency five/0, less than 4% of all ad agency personnel industry-wide are over 50, and the average age of creative department staff is only 28.

age_ad-world-vs-consumer-worldThe fact that Boomers are harder to find on Madison Avenue than a breath mint at a Wookie club house on pizza night is nothing less than bizarre in view of U.S. consumer age statistics. Here are some key median ages …

  • Household head: 52
  • New car buyers: 52
  • Mac users: 54

Brilliant as they may be, no matter how many gigaflops of big data at their disposal, 28 year old creatives cannot possibly experience brands the same way as Gen Xers or Boomers in their fifties, sixties or seventies. C’mon, did Luke Skywalker presume to lecture Yoda?

But, again, don’t blame the rookies – they didn’t make the rules. If brand managers won’t disrupt the status quo, the charade can continue; business as usual.

Fortunately, ambitious Millennials looking to join the Rebel Alliance can learn to prosper among the 99 million U.S. Gen Xers and Boomers who make up the the world’s third largest economy. Just click and make the jump to hyperspace.


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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Gone In 2016: Robert Vaughn – Role Model For Boomer Reinvention

Way too many Boomer icons passed away in 2016

Every month in 2016 brought news that another Boomer music, TV or movie icon had passed away; the sudden deaths of Carrie Fisher and mom Debbie Reynolds rounded out the list in late December.


They joined, to name just a few, Bobby “Take Good Care of My Baby” Vee, David Bowie, Florence “The Brady Bunch” Henderson, Glenn Frey (The Eagles), both Greg Lake and Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Prince, Alan “Mr. Ed” Young, Gene Wilder, Hugh “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp” O’Brian, Leon Russell, both Patty Duke and William Schallert, her dad, in The Patty Duke Show and Robert “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Vaughn.

For the most part, these stars occupied a particular time and place in the Boomer story. However, Robert Vaughn enjoyed a long career that ran on a parallel track with our own evolution from a youthful domestic focus to a broader – some might say more adult – worldview.

Robert Vaughn: taming the Wild West one movie at a time

The Internet Movie Database credits Robert Vaughn (1932-2016) with 226 acting appearances between 1955 and his death in November.

robert-vaughn_magnificent-sevenBefore his signature role as super-spy Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (NBC, 1964-1968), he had twenty or so TV and movie westerns under his gunbelt.

Vaughn’s most famous western role was Lee, the conflicted gunfighter in The Magnificent Seven (1960). The movie lifted him, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn to stardom and vaulted Elmer Bernstein’s musical score to #8 on The American Film Institute’s list of all-time greats. You’ve probably heard it many times since, used to evoke Old West imagery including, when such things were permitted, TV commercials for Marlboro cigarettes.

Although they looked back to a mythic idealized past, westerns also served as a metaphor for the confident America of the Boomers early years. This was a world of opportunity, self-reliance and no nonsense values – good guys, white hats / bad guys, black hats – in which adventurous men and women could achieve a better future through courage and hard work.


And with President Eisenhower’s recently approved interstate highway system (1956), three TV networks homogenizing national news, mores and entertainment and glamorous California in focus as the ultimate end-of-trail destination, distant horizons – physical, social and financial –seemed closer and more accessible.

Robert Vaughn and the spy plane that changed Hollywood

Much as young Boomers loved westerns, by the sixties our worldview was expanding beyond the wide open spaces, dusty cattle drives and rowdy frontier towns of yesteryear.

nuclear-attack-posterThere was this Cold War thing going on.

Wailing nuclear attack warning sirens were tested on the last Friday of every month, DIY air raid shelters were constructed in suburban backyards and little kids were taught to duck-and-cover at the first sign of danger.

Call us biased, but we Boomers had to deal with situations way more trying than when the cable goes down just yet another gratuitous Game Of Thrones orgy is about to begin.

Cold War tensions ramped up in 1960 when the Soviets shot down a CIA U-2 spy plane and paraded its pilot in a show trial that embarrassed the nation. Until then, spying had been mainly portrayed as the realm of sneaky traitors and subversives employed by the “other side” to undermine the American way of life.

Now, it seemed, not only did we have our own spies but they were inept.

james-bond_sean-conneryAll that quickly changed after the blockbuster success of James Bond: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) showed American audiences a side of the Brits they had never seen before. Out were gritty working class types and stuffy elites muddling through together on their way to postwar social accommodation – in were exotic international settings, high tech gadgets and a sexy secret agent kicking butt and taking names on a global scale.

With a huge amount of money on the table, Hollywood jumped in: almost overnight, the US went from denying the existence of spies to jostling for the title of coolest spies on the planet.

man-from-uncle-w-logoThe Man From U.N.C.L.E. was the first of several home grown espionage/intrigue shows to update the CIA brand with trendy secret agents whom no evil empire adversary could outwit – including:

  • I Spy (1965-1968)
  • Get Smart (1965-1970)
  • The Wild, Wild West (1965-1969)
  • Mission Impossible (1966-1973)
  • The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (1966-1967)

Meanwhile, Dean “Matt Helm” Martin and James “Derek Flint” Coburn spoofed their way through half a dozen babe and booze laden movies, more double-entendre than double-o-seven.

In the face of all of this competition, Robert Vaughn/Napoleon Solo had a secret weapon. This was the era of pop music’s British Invasion – I’m ‘Enry The Eighth, I Am, I AmShe Loves You, Yeah, Yeah and all that – and his co-star was David McCallum, on screen a Russian agent but in real life a cute young Scottish actor. McCallum’s mophead hairdo earned him the nickname “the blond Beatle” and his boyish persona generated thousands of letters a week from besotted young fans.

Note to Gen Z: if you ever wondered what grandma’s dreamy teenage smile looked like, just ask her about Illya Kuryakin.

Reinventing Napoleon Solo: the Globalization Affair

The seventies and eighties gave the Boomer generation a full education in globalization.

There was a boatload of foreign crises – the fall of Saigon, oil embargoes, revolutions, regional conflicts, constant Cold War threats – but there was also a more personal fallout. We deserted Detroit for European, Japanese and Korean cars, discovered ethnic foods and – thanks to airline fare deregulation – embraced international tourism.

reagan_gorbachovIn time, we even learned some Russian words: perestroika and glasnost ushered in peace, trade and opportunity, first in Europe and then China.

No surprise, by the nineties, enterprising Boomers – some folks called us greedy yuppies, like that was a bad thing – were internationalizing business, finance and industry on massive scale. U.S. brands, franchises, banks and entertainment reached around the world and goods flowed into America from places we still can’t pronounce.

In the process, we became as comfortable sipping a vodka martini – shaken, not stirred – at London’s Canary Wharf as downing three fingers of red-eye in Deadwood City.

Of course, Robert Vaughn was ahead of the game here too.

hustle_robert-vaughnAfter Napoleon Solo, in addition to his Hollywood career, Vaughn starred in two British series, making over 100 appearance in The Protectors (1972-1974) and (personal favorite) Hustle (2004-2012). And, at age 79, he showed up as a love interest in thirteen episodes of the iconic UK soap, Coronation Street. 

Well, there’s a lesson here, a teachable moment for brands: lifelong reinvention is an indelible Boomer trait. But we don’t just shuck off our old skins; we add, we absorb, we evolve – our decision-making today reaches all the way back to our inner cowboys and cowgirls and our inner Men and Girls From U.N.C.L.E.

Step outside the 18-49 demo and – with a little help – you’ll find us somewhere between the Long Branch Saloon and half a world away.


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 Awesome Hidden Power Of Boomer Influencers

Influencers – the hot new buzzword in marketing circles

Just when we had learned to suppress a gag reaction to a slew of cringe-worthy 21st century pop-marketing buzzwords, along came influencer to send us reaching – actually, retching – for the Pepto-Bismol. Check out ADWEEK if you’re feeling hardy enough.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re as desperate cool as any over-fifty team out there, eager to stay relevant in an 18-49 world – hey, we’re seriously considering Converse High Tops, skinny jeans and UNTUCKit shirts as standard issue. Shinola watches too.

So we totally relate to curated, sustainable, responsibly sourced brands practicing corporate citizenship via native advertising and holistic storytelling that empowers …

tv-test-pattern_indian-headOh, yuk! Can’t continue. OMG, no mâs. Gotta run. Where the heck did we put the Pepto-Bismol?

Please stand by. In the meantime click to listen to an authentic Boomer-era test pattern.

pepto-bismolBack again. Boy, that pink stuff really works!

Acts like a truth serum too: confession time, we’re not really insecure enough to switch our grandparent bod gear from L.L. Bean, DSW, Macy’s and Target (viva Merona!) to adland elder-chic.

Sure, most Boomer mentors have grown-up uniforms in the closet for special occasions – Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Brooks Brothers accessorized with Coach, Burberry and maybe a Longines like Bogart wore in Casablanca. No, not a replica, the real deal. But, day-to-day, we prefer geezer/geezerette authenticity.

Now, about influencers.

We have to admit it’s not so much the term itself that rankles as the fact “inclusive” brands almost never include influencers over fifty in their marketing. Instead, it’s mostly about minor web celebrities – aka spokespeople – connecting on social media with kids with limited spending power and even less responsibility for actual household budgets.

For real influencers in big, big, categories, brands need to understand the Boomers.

The Boomers’ hidden influence dominates almost every market sector

training-wheelsFrom CPGs to cars to home improvement, Boomers exert enormous influence over a vast range of brand destinies. And not just through our dominant buying power – younger generations are willing to be guided by our input and mentorship until they feel confident to remove their own brand-choice training wheels.

OK, when the Internet goes down many Boomers can’t reset Netflix to their Rockford Files watch list without calling the kids. However, except for youth-specific trends/niches, we set the brand ground rules, core values and pecking order long ago.

Boomer influencers: retail and CPGs

According to the Video Advertising Bureau, consumers over fifty account directly for 58% of all US retail sales, including CPGs; is there any doubt that a sizable additional share of the remainder is influenced by the brands our Millennial children were raised with?

And let’s not forget the grandma effect.

What new young mom doesn’t turn to her own mother for advice on everything from detergents to baby food when that cute little critter finally arrives to take control of the entire proud family?

Boomer influencers: new vehicle sales

Moving up the price-point ladder, new vehicle purchases are also dominated by Boomers. With an average transaction price of $33,700 (Kelly Blue Book) new vehicles are simply unaffordable for most young consumers. Surprise – Mark Zuckerberg is not typical.

In fact, for years, the median buyer has been in the 50-52 age range; for 2016, researchers at Strategic Vision estimate 59% of them will be fifty-plus. So, by the time significant numbers of Millennials enter the market, Boomer influence will have already set the rules of the road, EVs to SUVs to autonomous.

Boomer influencers: home improvement/remodeling

Despite Cadillac’s invitation to gridlocked lower Manhattan youth to dare greatly – the median new vehicle buyer age is likely to stay up in the 50+ arena.

1950s-familyAlthough Millennials – still hampered by college loans and lower-paid jobs – are slowly acquiring buying power, many must choose between the new car showroom and other more primal instincts.

Biological clocks are ticking, family formations are occurring and the downtown loft, with it’s walkable bistro neighborhood, is beginning to look a whole lot less appealing than a cute suburban nest within easy driving distance of the mall.

Home ownership is an expensive proposition; there is always something to be fixed, maintained or improved, and Millennials on tight budgets can’t afford to lose money through bad decisions. So, they are highly likely to turn to mom, dad or uncle Joe for advice on lawn mowers, water heaters, bathroom upgrades and the like.

Once again, Boomers are well-placed to guide brand choice. As owners of two-thirds of US homes, and buyers of 65% of all remodeling and home improvement products sold in America, they influence and guide their kids as they start on their own family journeys.

Boomer influencers: the result of a lifetime of asset accumulation

By now, most of you are probably as weary of seeing the term influencers as we are.

So let’s cut to the chase and kill off another vapid meme beloved by Madison Avenue. It’s the one that claims consumers are not worth targeting after age fifty because –  Pepto-Bismol moment alert – we are no longer adaptable, open to switching brands or willing to accept new ideas. Because of this 1960s era notion, only around 5-10% of mainstream category advertising dollars are allocated to targeting folks outside the 18-49 demo.

Sorry, adland, but living in the past doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in your ability to satisfy brand stakeholders’ number one requirement: seek out new opportunities, beat out incompetent brands and make more money for us.

boomer-pie_us-h-hold-assetsReality check: is your ad agency creative enough to grow brand share in the third largest economy in the world after the US itself and China? Hint: we’re talking about the owners of 80% of total US household assets, aka Americans aged 50-plus. No? Well, we thought so. What are you going to do about it?

Probably nothing, because conventional thinking is always the safest course in a nervous world where, as the Japanese proverb says, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.

Radio announcerBut, for all you disruptives, proudly sticking up – we know you’re out there – here’s some exciting breaking news!

There are endless ways to exploit the opportunity presented by the Boomer-Plus Generation™, the 96 million US consumers born between 1940 and 1966 who share Boomer-world DNA and are now united in exile beyond their fiftieth birthday expiration date.

But, to succeed, brands need experts who can cut through the clumsy stereotypes and coach them to win in the 50+ space. Brace yourselves one more time: that means finding influencers who operate in authentic Boomer-world. Call us Rasputin, call us Svengali, but call us …


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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Cannabis vs. Cigarettes: Boomers Would Rather Switch Than Fight

Smoking made big news in the 2016 elections

The 2016 elections put smoking squarely in the news – you know, the other news.

California voters approved a $2 tax hike on a pack of cigarettes, bumping the total to $2.87; on the other hand, Colorado, Missouri and North Dakota all rejected hefty tobacco tax increases.

cannabis-legalization-map-2016Oh, wait a minute. That’s not the smoking news you were thinking about? Okay, okay, just kidding.

Legalized use of cannabis was on the ballot in nine states: eight voted yes – four of them allowing recreational use, joining Oregon, Washington and Colorado as safe havens for Mary Jane devotees.

Regardless of where one stands on the issues, it’s clear that Boomers are to blame/credit for setting the trends – driving the popularity of tobacco down and acceptance of cannabis up. Let’s start with cigarettes, and the example our parents set …

Coffin nail chronicles: when cigarettes were cool


By the mid-20th century, America was firmly hooked on cigarettes – a 1955 Gallup survey found that half of men (52%) and a third of women (34%) smoked them. On average, users went through 3,600 a year (Office on Smoking and Health, 1978).

Cigarettes were cool.

At the movies, sophisticates, suave leading men, tough guys and – nudge, nudge, wink, wink – “rebellious” young women all lit up constantly. No surprise, in their off-screen hours, Hollywood celebrities starred in glamorous advertising endorsements.

For mid-century Americans, cigarettes were not only cool, they were modern. Mass-production equipment did not come on line until the 1890s, and by 1920 cigarettes still only accounted for 18% of US tobacco consumption. The rest was dominated by chewing, cigars, pipes, roll your own and snuff – all distinctly masculine pursuits and, therefore, smelly and/or gross. Face it, guys, that’s our lot in life.

But with the roaring twenties, the rise of movies, the home-front stresses of WW2, fifties-cool and sixties feminism, cigarettes steadily became more acceptable to women. Today, the incidence of smoking among women (19.3%) is close to that among men (24.8).

Senior Boomer-Plus culture consultant, David Matthews provides a link to an impressive report from the Office of The Surgeon General brimming with details. Here is one of the more amazing charts – per capita consumption of tobacco by form, 1880-2011.


Against all odds: Boomers kicked the habit

The cigarette heyday lasted from 1945 to 1965 before – under increasing pressure from health professionals and the Federal Government – a steady decline set in. Fewer and fewer young adults aged 18-24 took up the habit.

And Boomers pioneered the movement.


True, the oldest Boomers followed their parents’ lead: 45% of those aged 18-24 in 1965 smoked. But by 1989, when the youngest members reached twenty-five, the rate was down to 35%. Gen X and Millennial generations followed the Boomer trend: only 19% of Americans aged 18-24 smoked cigarettes in 2012.

Of course, tobacco companies tried to keep young Boomer smokers in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, softening both their products and marketing approaches to adapt to the new cultural and regulatory climate.

Filter tips, menthol flavors, low tars, slims and lights replaced old-time formulations and – apart from macho outliers Marlboro and Camel “Where a man belongs” – cultivated more accessible, inclusive personas. Depictions of actual cigarette smoke, with its anti-social connotations, pretty much disappeared from advertising altogether.

With their marketing strictly controlled today, it’s instructive to look back to when cigarette ads were an everyday feature of Boomer-world.


Wow, it’s amazing that with all this temptation Boomers were able to lead the way to nicotine freedom. Of course, some were already headed in a different direction – one that would not become legal for decades.

Cannabis vs. cigarettes: Boomers would rather switch than fight

Boomers, like their parents and grandparents were raised with strict taboos against cannabis. Most believed it to be addictive and morally and socially destructive. Despite the image of the sixties as time of rampant drug use, a 1969 Gallup survey found that only 4% of American adults had ever tried marijuana.

cigaerettes_tareyton-fight-not-switchBut, with Woodstock, anti-war demonstrations, free speech sit-ins and hippies in the news, and with psychedelic artwork motifs showing up in media and advertising, Gallup also found almost half (43%) of Americans feared marijuana was used by “many or some high school kids.”

Our parents were scared. They had good reason. As it turned out, unlike the long-running Tareyton cigarette ad campaign, when it came to tobacco versus cannabis many Boomers would rather switch than fight. Hey, peace, love, flowers in the hair – groovy, man, groovy.


Hippie-cool rebels gained a pop culture foothold in the mid-sixties – even resurrecting an old 1936 morality movie, Reefer Madnessas a campy in-joke against the squares – and young Boomers were increasingly exposed to druggie references in media, movies and music. By 1973, when the Steve Miller Band recorded The Joker, most older Boomers understood the chorus:

I’m a joker
I’m a smoker
I’m a midnight toker

Understanding isn’t the same as approving or using.

marijuana-use-by-age-group-1969-2013_gallupBoomers, as today, were divided over cannabis use, though many were open to experiment. In 1969 only 8% of them had ever tried marijuana; by 1985 that number peaked at 56% (Gallup tracking surveys).

Sure, 56% is a big number, especially when compared to the trial rate among Millennials (36% in 2013), but the flip side of the data is that about half of Boomers never tried the stuff. Remember that next time you’re told we were all pot-heads. For further proof, dig deeper into Gallup data and you’ll find only 5% smoke it today.


Over time, Boomer progressives spearheaded the nation’s growing support for legalization, from 12% approval in 1969 to 60% just prior to the 2016 elections.

The key word is progressive: 45% of those 55+ still oppose legalization in the 2016 Gallup poll.

So, after 50 years, the Boomer generation has finally replaced Reefer Madness“the burning weed with its roots in hell” – with guarded acceptance of marijuana.

Rocky Mountain High going national

Prior to the 2016 elections, marijuana use was legal in 11 states. In eight of them, only medicinal sales were permitted; however, Colorado, Oregon and Washington also allowed sales of cannabis for recreational use.

marijuana-sales-estimates_2013-2020_pre-2016-electionsEarlier this year, based on these three free-use states, Marijuana Business Daily estimated retail sales of recreational cannabis at around $1.5 billion and projected a tripling to the $5 billion range by 2020.

With this kind of money on the table in states with a combined population of only 16.2 million, it’s easy to see why players in the alcohol, edibles and tobacco industries are actively considering the arena now California (39 million) is opening up to recreational use.

Advertising Age reports that Constellation Brands (Corona beer, Svedka vodka) is already pondering alcoholic beverages spiked with containing cannabis (November 10, 2016). However, for now, Philip Morris has denied rumors about a new Marlboro M line. Well, time will tell.

One thing is sure: the Boomer generation will approach the legal cannabis market the way it always has – complexly segmented and steeped in a lifetime of interwoven attitudes and symbolism. We can help brands clear the smoke … Rocky Mountain High is where we live.


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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Marketing To Boomers: Life Before Woodstock

1945: A Brave New World

Boomer-world did not actually begin with Woodstock.

We already had quite a before, before that – a blend of experience and received history handed down by our parents. You see, they had a personal before too … light years away from what we Boomers would enjoy, yet one which would mold our attitudes and expectations in ways we barely remember.

William L. O’Neill, professor of history emeritus at Rutgers University, who passed away last March, wrote the definitive story of our parents world in the post-war period: American High: The Years of Confidence 1945-1960 (sure, it’s available on Amazon).

life_sailor-kissing-nurse_1945O’Neill begins with a fascinating prologue detailing the economic state of the country in 1945 as WW2 ended and 12 million Americans in uniform were mustering out at a rate of a million every month.

Warning: this is not bedtime reading – its avalanche of mind-blowing data will keep your brain racing for hours. Full disclosure: we won’t venture into O’Neill’s political take on the era. Helping brands have smarter conversations in Boomer-world keeps us busy enough.

So let’s set the scene with the Google Books snapshot: Where others have viewed the fifties as an era of conformity, William O’Neill sees a confident time of buoyant expectations … 

Given the circumstances in which America now found itself after fifteen harsh years of the Great Depression and wartime austerity, the economy was the top priority. O’Neill points out that addressing social justice and the environment were still far into the future. Instead, government and business focused on how to absorb the demobilizing flood of job-seekers, maintain economic momentum and avoid slipping back into the nightmare of the depression.

Fortunately, high levels of demand were already in place as veterans began coming home.


Between 1942 and 1945 over 80% of GDP was accounted for by massive wartime government spending that finally ended the depression. The unemployment rate had never once fallen below 14% from 1931 to 1940 but was now under 5%.

And with consumer goods production strictly limited, personal savings had risen from $2.6 billion in 1939 to $29.6 billion in 1945 ($400 billion in 2016 dollars). Incomes doubled in the same period.

Despite all this progress, in 1945 our parents’ everyday lives were still  rooted in the pathways of the 1930s. Imagine a world where …

  • There are no shopping centers or malls; folks shop “downtown” or on Main Street
  • There are no personal computers or electronic calculators, but boffins use slide rules
  • Almost no new cars or other consumer durable goods have been produced since 1942
  • 95% of homes have a radio but fewer than 1% have a TV set; instead, 85 million people (61% of the population) go to the movies each week
  • Only 38% of homes have a telephone
  • The mail comes twice a day – milk, once, often still on a horse-drawn wagon
  • Flying is expensive and rare: trains and buses dominate intercity/interstate travel
  • 10 million people want a new car but only 200,000 are approved for production; projections for 1946 are for just 2 million

mid-century-kitchen_1945_lifeNevertheless, with incredible pent-up spending power, full employment and the return of businesses to the consumer sector, the nation was poised for prosperity.

So, in 1945, our parents were eager for a future they once never thought possible, hopeful that shortages would be resolved and confident that the world of the magazine ads was just around the corner.

Americans were ready for the good life.

Especially ready were sweethearts coast to coast, including those 12 million returning GIs, eager for … well, let’s just call it family formation. You know, that Baby Boom thing.

Housing, home life and Googie: 1945-1960

The country faced a major housing crisis in 1945. Home building – like every other business sector – had slowed significantly throughout the 1930s, and the situation was now exacerbated by returning veterans.

Professor O’Neill tells us some ex-servicemen were living in garages, coal sheds, cellars, automobiles and – in Chicago – streetcars converted to homes. Even in 1947, he writes, the Roper Poll found 19% of all American families were doubled up, 19% more were looking for a place to live and 13% would have been looking but had given up, discouraged.

LIFE Magazine predicted that 16 million new homes would needed over the next decade and, aided by US government loan guarantee programs, the housing industry got to work. Big  time.

mid-century-home_marcel-breuerFirst off, let’s sideline Bauhaus-themed mid-century modern architecture. Although many planners hoped to adapt modernist designs to prefabrication and rapid on-site assembly, these proved too daring for the public at large.

Instead, folks wanted familiar themes that borrowed just enough progressive cues to signal modernity without going overboard.

So, rather than avant-garde, our parents opted for fairly conventional new housing built by enormous firms from Southern California to Levittown, the famous/infamous community of 17,000 homes that sprouted on Long Island, NY, from 1947 to 1951. For $7,900 in 1950 – $79,000 in 2016 dollars – the Levittown buyer got a two-bedroom house equipped with a refrigerator, stove, washer, fireplace and a built-in TV (O’Neill).

Check out Bachelor In Paradise (1961) on Amazon TV for a glimpse into the shiny new suburban, school bus, mom-at-home childhoods so many Boomers remember.


Although hilltop elites in their Nuetra-Koenig-Schindler et al showplaces might groan at the “conformist sprawl” below, Mr. and Mrs. Everyfolks were actually quite adventurous inside the home when it came to furnishings, appliances and electronics.

Sure, this was mass-produced progressivism with a distinct Jetsons flavor but, wow, it was so cool. Forget the oppressive, dark old stuff at grandma’s house, this was the future.

googie-signNew daring colors, materials and shapes showed up in every room in the house and a uniquely American blend of modernism and space age motifs – Googie style – moved in.

Inspired by a Los Angeles coffee shop, Googie’s (1948), and dissed by purists as low-brow, Googie-style quickly swept the country to influence diners, gas stations, motels and, eventually, public buildings.

Needless to say, our selfish little Boomer world – one of confidence and seemingly endless progress – was constantly reinforced by our parents’ flow of acquisitions.

Imagine our excitement as mom and dad constantly found ways to afford that new appliance, couch, spacey clock, transistor radio and the fabulous new car – better yet, a station wagon just for us.


And then, there was that most important home appliance of all, a television set. Nirvana.

Television: the most important home appliance

tv-test-pattern_indian-headIn December, 1945, a Gallup poll asked do you know what television is? Most said no. Only about 7,000 sets were in operation that year, all produced before the fledgling industry switched to the war effort in 1942. Even through the late forties, TV stations would broadcast only a few hours a day, and prime time, 8-11:00 pm, involved periods when a only a test pattern/station ID were on-screen.

But, almost overnight, television became the must-have device – the product with the fastest adoption rate in the history of American business to date. Production data from the TV Manufacturers Association was nothing less than astounding.

  • happy-kids_retro1947: 178,000
  • 1948: 976,000
  • 1949: 3,000,000
  • 1950: 7,464,000

tv-households-1945-1960By 1955, almost two-thirds (65%) of US households had a television – up from 9% only five years earlier in 1950.

Fast forward to 1960 and TV penetration of US households stood at 87%. With only 32 hours of color programming a week, almost all were black-and-white sets.

But we just heard the Jones’ next door bought a cool new color TV. No fair! Mom, dad, can we, can we? We’ll see, but don’t forget we have to save for that Route 66 driving trip out to California this summer – say, how would you kids like to move to LA?

The Boomer-Plus Generation: the world’s third largest economy

Demographically, the Baby Boom boundaries have been set at 1946-1964 by the US Census Bureau. But, as Captain Barbossa might say, these are more like guidelines than actual rules.


The social Baby Boom Generation™ – you know, the one we experts pontificate about endlessly – actually began in 1940, when the depression era birth rate finally turned around and jumped 5% over 1939.

So, in 1945, there were already plenty of babies and toddlers around who would grow up in the same amazing world as those pesky-cute little siblings who began to show up in 1946.

Today, there are on the high side of 96 million American consumers in the Boomer-Plus social generation. Cast aside like forgotten stacks of old LIFE magazines in adland’s dusty attic, it includes 8 million Gen Xers who exited the 18-49 demo in 2015/16. Their unwilling exile extends the generation’s boundaries to 1940-1966.

Thanks to mom, dad and the American High years, we are still imprinted with an incurable case of the Peter Pan syndrome. Much to the chagrin of mainstream advertisers who want to write us off, we’re still here, still self-centered and louder than ever.

And as the world’s third largest economy after China and the US itself, brands would be smart to listen to us.


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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Brands Lose In The Boomer Zone Due To Outdated Data

Boomer “Generation” vs. “Cohort” – dude, does anyone really care?  

Dissed as too old to adopt new behavior, as devastating to product image and as infuriatingly slow to switch brands, folks outside the 18-49 demographic score low on the cool rating scale in marketing and tech circles.

the-boomer-zoneNo surprise, hip elites from Madison Avenue to Palo Alto, and from CES to SXSW, have banished the Boomers to The Twilight Zone of assisted living facilities across the country. Florida soon may sink into the ocean under the weight of the incoming hordes, clutching oxygen tanks and shuffling to the rhythm of a disco beat on their vintage Sony Walkmans.

Not a few of the cognoscenti are muttering good riddance. The Onion, ever alert to societal snark predicted this back in 1999:

WASHINGTON, DC—After decades of waiting, the much-anticipated mass Baby Boomer die-off should finally commence within the next five to ten years, Census Bureau officials said Monday … the curtain will at long last fall on what is regarded by many as the most odious generation America has ever produced.

So, who are these people who evoke such dismissiveness among the smarty-pants class?

boomer-definition_old-schoolFor starters, they’re not limited to the conventional definition, born 1946-1964. That was just a handy age bracket chosen by the US Census Bureau to assess the future economic impact of high post-WW2 births. In fact, the Bureau refers to the Baby Boom cohort – key word, cohort – not generation.

There’s a huge difference between an age cohort and a social generation – so brace yourself adland, there are actually far more of us than you feared

Hiding in plain sight: millions more odious Boomers 

The US birth rate boom began not in 1946 but in 1940, when the depression-era decline finally turned around, jumping by 5% over 1939. By 1942 the annual growth rate soared to an unprecedented 10% before WW2 briefly interrupted the boom.


This isn’t just insider statistical chatter, we deal with the foundational culture of the social Boomer generation here – and millions of babies born 1940-1945, including many Boomer-culture icons, grew up in the same vibrant post-war society as their slightly younger siblings. Consider …

  • the-monkees_tv-guideAretha Franklin … Bob Dylan … Chevy Chase … Diana Ross
  • Jimi Hendrix … Janis Joplin … Jim “The Doors” Morrison
  • Simon and Garfunkel … The Beatles … The Monkees

Believe or not, traditionalists shove these greats into the Silent Generation (beginning ≈1922/25). Bro, whatever these cool cats were, silent sure ain’t on the list.

So, forget what you’ve heard about 75 million members of the 1946-1964 age cohort, the social Boomer generation born between 1940 and 1964 numbers 88.2 million.


Here at the 15th Nation we refer to this enormous market as the Boomer-Plus Generation™, bonded by indelible socio-cultural DNA:

  • Optimism: embracing change/technology
  • The fabulous golden age of television
  • The Peter Pan Syndrome, clinging to youth
  • Duck-and-cover: fear of war on home soil

As if piling millions of extra Boomer-Plus consumers into the The Onion’s most odious generation isn’t gross enough, as the infomercials say, wait, wait there’s more!

The Boomer-Plus Blob: absorbing 50+ Gen Xers one year at a time

Blindly obeying 18-49 demo dogma, mainstream brands are now dumping Gen Xers as they cross the 50th birthday divide. Madison Avenue rules with an iron hand; from here on, they’ll only see themselves in ads as dithering grannies who can’t do Snapchat and geezer curmudgeons with issues best glossed over in polite company.

the-blob-1958Like the hungry mass in the sci-fi classic, The Blob (1958), the Boomer-Plus Generation now guzzles up Gen X exiles faster than you can say alien life-form.

Some 8.5 million Xers will have been absorbed by the end of 2016. Yum!

And these Boomer-Blob absorbees assimilate rapidly, finding themselves surprisingly at home. You see, Planet Boomer is actually the world in which they grew up; optimistic, adaptable, TV-oriented, youth-focused and over-shadowed by Cold War tensions until the Soviet bloc dissolved in the early nineties.

And, in the final step to Boomer-Plus bonding, they are ostracized by adland simply because they’re over fifty. Thanks to 18-49 myopia, the 88 million Boomer-Plus Generation will have expanded to over 96 million by year’s end.

The Longevity Economy: the world’s third largest

Last month AARP issued its 2016 update of The Longevity Economy, a treasure trove of data on the 50+ population – folks who possess 83% of US household wealth and about buy half, or more, of most everything sold in America.

The Boomer-Plus Generation represents the lion’s share of this awesome market. At 96 million members, as a country it would be the 15th most populous on Earth (CIA World Factbook); as an economy it would be the world’s third largest.

With a Netflix/Amazon-driven resurgence in mid-century sci-fi, we are already seeing some savvy young adland/techland Millennials checking out our awesome alien world.

Don’t be scared. Come on in – you may never want to leave.


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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Boomer Wheels Month: The World’s 3rd Largest Auto Market

Bienvenue à Paris: it’s auto show time again

eiffel-towerExcitement is building in advance of the 2016/2017 auto show season kickoff – this year, in Paris (October 1-16).

Rotating annually with the Frankfurt Auto Show, the Mondial de l’Automobile attracts auto makers worldwide to showcase an incredible array of style and innovation.  As the third largest new car market in Europe, France is well-qualified to host the show: according to scorekeepers at the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), almost two million new vehicles are sold there each year.

Also, although little known in the US, French brands Renault and Peugeot are the #2 and #3 best-selling nameplates in Europe behind Volkswagen. Here are the three leading EU nations in terms of 2015 new vehicle registrations.

  • Germany: 3.2 million
  • United Kingdom: 2.6 million
  • France: 1.9 million

These are pretty impressive numbers; it’s no wonder that manufacturers compete so fiercely because, in these markets alone, an extra share point is worth over 70,000 units.

Boomer Wheels Month: celebrating the world’s 3rd largest car market

2015-auto-sales_us-boomers-germany-france-ukIn solidarity with the annual joie de vivre across the pond, we observe September as Boomer Wheels Month.

You see, in 2015, Americans aged 50+ bought about as many new passenger cars, SUVs, pickups and minivans as France, Germany and the UK combined.

Wow, that’s a lot of vehicles! So many that if we were a country we’d be the world’s third largest automotive market; only China and the US itself are bigger.

You’d think that automakers and their ad agencies would be falling over themselves to court our business.

Well, don’t hold your breath.

frankenstein-turns-50Madison Avenue has decreed buyers over fifty to be unworthy of active targeting. Apparently, as we shuffle out of the 18-49 demo, we’re easy to get without trying, too old to change our ways and too wizened to use in ads because younger buyers run for the nearest safe space at the sight of crow’s feet.

OK, we can’t deny the wrinkles – although we prefer “character lines” – but easy to get and incapable of change are just plain nutty! There, we said it; oh yeah, that felt good.

Revolutionizing US auto sales: Boomers are way too young to stop now

In reality, Boomers have been embracing constant change for decades; we invented the modern world and we never stopped adapting. And when it came to passenger vehicles – known in the industry as light duty – Boomers turned the American automotive market upside down. For starters, we …

  • ted-of-bill-and-tedDemolished Detroit domination: in 1970 the Big Three sold 85% of all new light duty vehicles – in 2015 they were down to 45%.
  • Rocketed trucks, vans and SUVs to a 57% market share in 2015, up from 15% in 1970. Back in the day, these were strictly for work – spartan, masculine, rough and down-market.
  • Scorned our parents’ all-American concept of luxury: in 2015 combined Cadillac and Lincoln deliveries were about half (56%) of 1990 levels – total Mercedes, BMW and Lexus sales increased by over 400% in the same  period.


As if all this wasn’t enough, Boomers also welcomed smaller cars – today’s “full-size” would be a compact in 1970 – learned to buy nine brands of “foreign” cars that are actually made in America and got the next-gen fuel segment up and running as the early adopters of EVs and hybrids.

All this – in adland’s quirky world-view – comes to a screeching halt at midnight on our 50th birthday, a millstone milestone that some eight million Gen Xers will have passed by the end of 2016 as they join Boomer car buyers in exile.

13-new-cars-in-a-lifetimeDo you have the appetite for one final auto statistic?

Of course you do. Hey, we know you live for this stuff, so here’s a doozie:

Quoting data from Strategic Vision, a recent Video Advertising Bureau whitepaper reports “of an average of 13 new cars purchased in a lifetime, 7 of those are purchased after age 50.”

Connecting with the world’s 3rd largest automobile market

We’re sure that most automakers and ad agencies know the awesome metrics of the 50+ buyer space – c’mon, 7.6 million new vehicles are hard to miss.

Their failure to address this mega-market has deep roots.

First, the herd instinct – as long as no disruptive brand breaks away to steal sales from complacent competitors, marketers follow the safe, familiar path established years ago by – confession time – then hot-shot young Boomer Mad Men. Second, making authentic connections with older consumers is super-challenging – most ad agency creative departments have a median age around thirty and don’t know how to speak to the 50+ space except in awkward stereotypes.

toast-after-fifty_mommy-and-sweetieThe easy out: dump Boomers from specific targeting and, at all costs, avoid showing “old” people in ads unless it’s a celebrity spokesperson with attention-grabbing cachet.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to increase market share in the world’s third largest auto market. Winning here takes hard work, open minds and expert coaching – not simply to avoid gaffes and goofs, but to build smart, authentic engagement.

And it’s well worth the effort to get things right: remember, Americans over fifty buy as many new cars each year as France, Germany and the UK combined. Zut alors! Ach du Lieber! Blimey!

If there’s a brand out there that could handle the strain of winning an extra share point, aka 75,000 units or so, just honk – nous parlons Boomer-speak.


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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Boomer Wheels Month: Somewhere West Of Laramie

September is Boomer Wheels Month

2015-us-boomers_vehicle-sales-vs-france-and-germanyEvery fall, car enthusiasts around the world eagerly await the kickoff of the auto expo season. It begins in Europe, alternating annually between Frankfurt, Germany, and Paris, France; in 2016 it’s the turn of The City of Light to play host (October 1-16). Here at the 15th Nation, we celebrate by observing September as Boomer Wheels Month.

It’s only fair.

While almost invisible in auto advertising, consumers over fifty buy half of all the new vehicles sold in America. In fact, at over 7 million units, that’s more new cars than France and Germany combined.

So, with all those check-writing Boomers, why don’t automakers and their ad agencies specifically target buyers outside the 18-49 demo? The usual excuse is that we are too old to switch brands and – anyway – our decrepit presence creeps out younger prospects.

The real reasons are more subtle.

It takes courage for managers to buck conventional wisdom and, even if unleashed by their play-it-safe bosses, most Millennial creatives don’t understand Boomer-speak well enough to authentically engage older consumers.

Unfortunate. With their impressive array of disruptive talents, Millennials would be hell on wheels if given the task of boosting auto brand share in the 50+ space.

Hell on wheels – hmm, we sense a segue …

Bucking conventional adland wisdom: Somewhere West of Laramie

It was 1923.

somewhere-west-of-laramie_blueCar guy Ned Jordan made automotive history with his flashy new model, the Jordan Playboy; more important, he made automotive advertising history with his breakthrough campaign, Somewhere West of Laramie.

Long after the Playboy itself had run its course, Jordan’s revolutionary approach would set the standard for emotion-based auto advertising for generations to come.

Focused on the personality of the car and its driver, he provided no stats, no mechanical data or specs. Instead, he let the broncho-busting, steer-roping girl at the wheel thrill prospects into showrooms.

That’s right, the car was marketed to women: Jordan sure wasn’t afraid to buck convention. And he wasn’t afraid to use the word “girl” either. When Jordan bucked conventional wisdom, he really bucked it.

Here’s the long copy version.


Why Laramie?

Well, in 1923, Wyoming – home to Hell on Wheels, the rowdy end-of-track shanty town that followed the transcontinental railroad construction crew – was part of a Wild West that was still very much alive in the public mind.


Outlaw Frank James died just eight years back, Buffalo Bill Cody only six years ago.

And Wyatt “OK Corral” Earp was consulting for Hollywood westerns, drawing on his colorful past to coach screen cowboy idols like William S. Hart and Tom Mix. When Earp died in 1929, Mix wept  at his funeral.

What Jordan knew full well was that the West symbolized, above all, freedom, adventure and action. As, too, did automobiles. Thanks to the Boomers, his brilliant synthesis still plays out in the modern American auto marketplace.

Boomers and westerns: imprinting that endures 

Boomers grew up with westerns, but we didn’t invent them – they were already big back in 1923. But it took John Ford’s classic Stagecoach (1939) to vault the genre – and its young star, John Wayne – into A-movie status.

By the time we came along, sprawled on shag carpets in front of the world’s first electronic baby sitter, westerns had expanded from movie theaters, radio and comic books to television. Big time.

john-wayne_true-gritIn the late 1950s / early 1960s over twenty westerns ran weekly in prime time; year after year the top-rated series pulled in 30-40% of the viewing audience in their time slots. Today, only the Super Bowl does better.

And “horse operas”, also known as “oaters”, stayed in the mainstream well into the late 1970s.

Gunsmoke (1955-1975), Bonanza (1959-1973) and The Virginian (1962-1971) kept the television trail wide open and at the movies John Wayne ramrodded twenty blockbuster westerns from 1960 through 1976, winning an Oscar for True Grit (1969).

Yep, pardner, we Boomers were well and truly imprinted with that Somewhere West of Laramie spirit long before we got our first set of wheels.

Western wheels in the Digital Age

What makes engaging Boomers so difficult for Madison Avenue is our complexity. Not only did we little cowgirls and cowboys dream of riding the range, but we had this sci-fi adventure thing going on as well.

Even today as the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™ born 1940-1966 embrace the Digital Age – texting, Googling, shopping for a Tesla online – deep inside we’re still captivated by the call of the wild.

2015-us-car-vs-truck-salesAnd that’s why trucks, SUVs and their CUV siblings corral half the American passenger vehicle market. It’s a category rich in escapist western symbolism – rugged, outdoorsy, active and free.

Just mosey down automobile row and take your pick: Ford F150 Lariat, Jeep Wrangler or Laredo, Chevy Colorado or Tahoe – even the imports will gladly sell you a Tacoma, Santa Fe or Tucson. Heck, there’s hardly a place out west left to name a truck for unless anyone is brawny enough to throw a rope on Last Chance or Chugwater.

With all this opportunity, we figure there must be at least a few Millennial mavericks out there in adland willing to quit the herd and head into Boomer territory. Just holler, we’ll help you blaze the trail.


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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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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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How The Boomers Took America Global

The Olympic Games on TV: live pictures from “over there”

Thanks to brand new satellite technology, Americans first saw the Olympic Games on live television in 1964. Tokyo in real time. Arigatou gozaimasu.

Previously, TV and movie newsreel audiences had to wait for the Olympics film to be flown in – from London in 1948, Helsinki in 1952, Melbourne in 1956 and Rome in 1960.

TV penetration 1948-1980_OlympicsTelevision was still relatively new in 1964. Penetration of US households stood at 92%, but just a few years earlier, in 1950, it was a meager 9%. And 97% of viewers watched in black-and-white – only 3% of households had a color TV set in 1964. It would be 1980 before color penetration hit 80%.

OK, it’s not like there’s going to be a pop quiz. No need to memorize the stats, but try to imagine how Boomers felt as we learned to adapt – rapidly, year after year, decade after decade – first to TV itself, then to real-time global satellite broadcasts, to color, to cable to Netflix.

Gilligan's Island_The Skipper_GilliganAnd, wow, in 2016 we can stream the first season of Gilligan’s Island in its original B/W. The circle is complete, little buddy.

Television provides just one example of how adaptability became part of the Boomer persona. Something exciting was always happening – as Walt Disney promised, there was always a big, bright beautiful tomorrow waiting at the end of every day.

The globalization of the American Boomer

The opportunity to watch the Olympics via satellite occurred at a time when Americans were already developing a wider interest in faraway places. Inevitably, this interest was adopted – and intensified – by the Boomers. From the sixties on, we steadily blended global influences into our everyday thinking– sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally and sometimes without even noticing.

TwiggyFor starters, let’s blame the British. Why not – doesn’t everyone?

What with “Bond, James Bond”, The Beatles, The Stones and Twiggy, the sixties took off with an international-lite flavor. After all, sub-titles weren’t required, and there was that special relationship thing in place.

But before long we opened up to French films – personal favorite, 1967 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film, A Man And A Woman – Kung Fu and ethnic food from every corner of the planet.

Today, we Boomers watch our favorite shows on Asian brand TV sets, text one another on smartphones from China and Korea and drive to the movies in one of the import car brands that now dominate the market.

Manny PacquiaoNo wonder more of us know Manny Pacquiao, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat better than our U.S. congressperson. In fact, quite a few of us would gladly switch our current congressperson for Manny Pacquiao, Jackie Chan or Chow Yun Fat.

And Boomers didn’t just absorb new experiences from other cultures, as business people we took America global. We made sure our back-packing Millennial kids could find a Starbucks in 70 countries and decided that, except for James Dean purists, no one would notice – or care – if “all-American” icons like Levi jeans and Chuck Taylor Hi-Tops were manufactured half a world away.

Boomers: participants in progress, not simply observers

One outcome of a lifetime spent constantly embracing change is that we Boomers pioneered mass-market air travel. In 1967 only 20% of Americans had flown in a commercial aircraft; by 2000, the figure was over 90% (Gallup).

We’re not just talking trips to see grandma in Peoria; Boomers became – and remain – the driving force behind vacation travel. According to an Immersion Active whitepaper, Americans aged 50-plus spend well over half of all the nation’s vacation dollars and account for 80% of luxury travel expenditures.

US passports in circulation 1989-2015Along the way, we fueled dramatic growth in U.S. passport ownership, from 7 million in 1989, when the youngest Boomer turned 25, to 126 million in 2015. In percentage terms, that’s a leap from 3% to 39% of the US population.

And, when it comes to overseas travel, Boomers are a far more valuable target than younger age groups. Immersion Active also reports that 60% of Boomers hold a passport, way higher than the under-50 demo – 37% based on U.S. Passport Service data – whose budgets are more limited and, in the family-focused middle years of life, have other priorities.

Meanwhile, backwoods minds stay close to home

Like many insulated backwoods communities, Madison Avenue feels more comfortable staying close to home. Rather than travel to Boomer-world and learn that strange dialect known as Boomer-speak, most mainstream marketers hunker down with their like-minded 18-49 kin-folk and shun outsiders.

Meanwhile, just a passport away, the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1966, lead fascinating lives as the world’s third largest economy. Blissfully unaware that they are supposed to be too old to be adaptable, they spend their days switching brands, trying new products, exploring new technologies and enjoying new experiences.

Homer Simpson said it best: d’oh!

Opportunity_Travel_Homer Simpson

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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Boomers: The Longevity Economy – Still Stardust, Still Golden

Manhattanhenge: more than a solar phenomenon – a way of life

ManhattanhengeBriefly replacing last week’s Pokémon Go headline deluge, Manhattanhenge grabbed center stage on July 11/12.

Inspired by Britain’s Stonehenge Summer Solstice sunrise observance, the NYC version is both inverted – it occurs at sunset – and belated, trailing the true mid-summer event by three weeks because Manhattan’s street grid pattern runs 29° off true east-west.

Manhattanhenge cognoscenti say one of the best vantage points for this Kodak Moment is at 57th Street and Madison Avenue. The symbolism is hard to miss.

Here, the ancient Druidic cult of demo-worship still thrives. Basking in the creativity sunset, adland reveres the 18-49 consumer with a fanaticism the old Stone Age priesthood would surely have envied.

Like many belief systems, the dogma arose in a bygone Halcyon Age – in this case, the early 1960s, when giants strode the Earth. No, not TV’s Don Draper, but real giants with names like Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, Pappert, Koenig and Lois.

Back then, the 18-49 demographic was considered to define the limits of consumer adaptability; grab’em when they’re young and impressionable, drop’em when they’re old and too set in their ways to waste money on.

Even giants have their day: they never figured that Boomers – the original “question authority” crowd – would refuse to conform to their rigid doctrine. Yep, the sixties changed everything.

Boomers: we are still stardust, we are still golden

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young said it best: we are stardust, we are golden (Woodstock, 1969).

It still holds true today, long after we leading edge Boomers grew up – well at least some of us them – and prospered so well that a 2013 AARP/Oxford Economics study refers to Americans aged fifty-plus as the Longevity Economy.

Manhattanhenge thinkers, listen up: we’re talking about the world’s third largest economy; bigger than Japan, bigger than Germany, France or the UK. Bigger, in fact, than Germany and the UK combined.

Longevity Economy

The third largest economy on Planet Earth – hmm, how can this be?

Well, let’s look at the AARP/Oxford Economics Longevity Economy survey in more depth; they found that in 2012 Americans over fifty …

  • ControlStonehenge Millennialsled 80% of US private net worth
  • Dominated spending in 119 of 123 consumer packaged goods segments
  • Spent $90 billion every year on new cars – 28% more than buyers under 50
  • Were almost half (46%) of the US economy
  • Contributed half of all taxes – 47% Federal and 56% State and Local
  • Provided employment for 100 million Americans
  • Were themselves half the workforce aged 25+
  • Made 70% of all charitable donations

It’s a tribute to orthodoxy and tradition that mainstream Madison Avenue doggedly avoids engaging consumers over fifty. Nielsen reports only about 5-10% of advertising dollars are used to target us – wow, talk about taxation without representation!

Sure, it’s true we get love-bombed for our health and wealth issues – pills, potions and portfolios – but just look at the Longevity Economy data … we’re half the economy. Translation for the mathematically-impaired: we buy half the stuff sold in America.

Boomer adaptability, and how we got that way

Of the 111 million American aged fifty and up in 2016, some 94 million fall into the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1966. If we were a country it would be the world’s 15th most populous nation, bound together by five strands of shared cultural DNA.

DNA tall

  • Adaptability/ constant reinvention — confident in progress through technology
  • Young formative years spent fearing war on American soil
  • Growing up in the Golden Age of pre-cable television
  • The Peter Pan Syndrome – preoccupation with youthfulness at any age
  • Backlash after age fifty – we are persona non grata in ad targeting

Lately, disruptive Millennial clients have begun to ask awkward questions. In self-defense, a few ad agency outliers have re-read the runes and tout a post-Druidic revelation billed as age-agnostic marketing. However, there is no such thing as age-agnostic perception: older brains process communications very differently from those of younger consumers.

Jim Gilmartin, president of Coming Of Age, a Boomer/Senior marketing and advertising agency – full disclosure, a strategic alliance partner of B+CG – explains:

“Empirical studies generally have shown that Baby Boomers are relatively superior to younger adults in understanding emotional states. On the other hand, it appears that older minds tend to be slower in getting the picture when the information representing it is emotionally neutral (expository in nature).”

Here at the 15th Nation we put it less elegantly: Druid-speak isn’t where it’s at. Brands that don’t already have more business than they can handle must dump Dark Ages thinking and connect with the golden stardust program. It’s the future.

Opportunity_We are stardust

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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Boomer Tourism, Cold War Era Automaker Thinking And The Cuba Connection

Cuba tourism is booming despite the 1960 embargo

Radio announcerDateline: October 19, 1960, Washington, D.C.

At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy imposes a U.S. travel and trade embargo on Cuba. In other news, Detroit’s boffo all-new models for 1961 are being introduced; Cuba will have to keep calm and carry on with old cars in future.

Before the embargo, and Fidel Castro’s revolution that precipitated it, Cuba was a popular destination for American tourists. A lot has changed since then – not only travel behavior but also in the automobile market. Back in October 1960, when most Boomers’ early memories and attitudes were still forming, it was a very different world …

  • 1961 Top car adsFolks drove cars, not trucks
  • Domestic nameplates controlled 95% of the market
  • Upstart Volkswagen was the top import, with a 2/3 share
  • Mercedes was a small foreign car: it would not displace Cadillac as the Cadillac Of The Industry for another 20 years.

Despite America’s cold shoulder, Cuba has steadily recovered its popularity as a vacation destination. Canadians love the place – over a million visit each year – and the Europeans are not far behind …

  • Caribbean_Cuba travel 20152015 was a record for Cuba visitors (3.5 million).
  • 2014 to 2015 growth (17.4%) was over twice that for the Caribbean overall (7%).
  • Only 161,000 Cuba visitors were mainstream Americans with no family ties to the island – mainly celebrities, academics and politicos  on permitted cultural exchanges.

Boomers … “the driving financial force for travel” (Brent Green)

Some analysts attribute the boom to a rush to experience the “real” Cuba before we American rubes spoil the place with our penchant for efficiency, air conditioning and Starbucks.

You can be sure that a whole lot of Boomers do indeed have Cuba on their bucket list – the Caribbean is already the #2 overseas destination for US travelers behind Europe (our neighbors Canada and Mexico are international destinations not overseas).

No surprise, Boomers are the bedrock upon which the U.S. travel industry is built. Half of all leisure trips are accounted for by those over fifty, and that translates into mega-billions of dollars.

Travel_US 2015 by generationIn 2015 U.S. travelers of all ages racked up almost a trillion dollars in expenditures, $651 billion for leisure and $296 billion for business (U.S. Travel Association).

Given our lifelong curiosity and adaptability, it’s understandable that Boomers should dominate this vast market – after all, we pioneered the mass-tourism business. In 1967, the oldest of us were already grabbing backpacks and taking to the friendly skies at a time when only 20% of Americans had ever ridden in an airplane (Gallup) – today, it’s north of 90%.

It’s also understandable that, following the 1970 advice of Crosby, Stills and Nash to teach your children well, we Boomers went on to introduce our kids to the joy of far away places with strange sounding names. Today, experiencing travel is pretty much a rite of passage for Millennials.

Of course, the industry is smart enough to not lose sight of the big dollars – the fifty-plus space in general, and Boomers in particular

As generational marketing expert Brent Green put it in a recent interview with Travel Pulse “for the next 20 years Baby Boomers are, without question, the financial force behind leisure travel … (and) the sweetest of the sweet spot are leading edge Baby Boomers – those 61-70 years of age.”

The 50+ space: automakers can learn from the travel industry 

2015 Vehicle sales _ US _ Germany _ UKAutomakers should take note of Brent’s insights: applying his time frame to the car business … in the next 20 years, Americans over fifty will buy 150 million new vehicles.

Yes, you read it correctly: in 2015 alone, we purchased 7.6 million – more than Germany and the UK combined. At this rate, with four million newcomers arriving in AARP territory annually, U.S. buyers over fifty will buy 150 million new vehicles over the  next 20 years.

So it’s totally bizarre is that car makers enforce a strict embargo on ads directly targeting consumers outside the 18-49 demographic. Afraid to scare Millennials, they throw away $millions in extra profits by marginalizing older buyers.

Don Draper in CubaThis relic of mid-century thinking is frozen in time, just like Havana’s fleet of pre-1960 automobiles.

If the travel industry can profit enormously from a modern understanding of the Boomer-Plus generation, maybe disruptive Millennials in the car business can persuade the old guard to drop their share-killing Cold War era ban on engaging prospects over fifty. You know – build bridges, not walls.

Of course, they’ll need experienced tour guides to show them around Boomer-World and explain the local language, culture and – crucial – social gaffes that annoy the locals.

Opportunity_Cuba travel

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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Gyrating Gasoline Prices? Boomers Have Been There, Done That

Fossil fuel pessimists panic: the good news is the bad news is wrong 

Chicken Little_This time it's trueWe all know bad news boosts ratings, readership and clicks. Day after day we learn the sky is falling, the sky is falling. Makes a person wonder who puts the sky back up every night.

In the eighties, when today’s cutting edge analysts were earning gold stars and smiley faces for tying their shoe laces correctly, the late Ben Wattenberg wrote The Good News Is The Bad News Is Wrong. Published in 1984, it’s available on Amazon, starting at 1 cent (used) and chock-full of facts, stats and, especially, myth-busters about the decades that shaped Boomer-world.

No, we don’t get an Amazon commission.

Gas lines June, 1979Wattenberg’s book was published when the nation – and the world – was recovering from back to back oil shortages triggered by Middle East crises in 1973/74 and 1979/80. Fuel prices spiked, panic buying erupted, gas lines grew and young Boomers, already rattled by rising dependence on foreign oil after U.S. production peaked in 1970, were ripe targets for disaster scenarios of all types.

And, naturally, there was no shortage of “experts” to assure us the sky was indeed falling. All over the place, apparently.

For starters, world oil would run out in 45 years and vital raw materials would be gone even sooner. But it didn’t matter because pollution or the newly-arrived ice age would kill us all off before then.

Today, Boomers deal with falling skies a little more skeptically than we did back then. A lifetime of constant learning and adjustment – we Boomers call it experience and adaptation – helps us to put things in perspective.

Arnold_SUVConsider, for example,  gyrating fuel prices. OPEC power crumbled after the 1979/80 crisis in the wake of attempts to artificially maintain panic level pricing. The result was twenty years of cheap fuel that ushered in the SUV era.

Nothing lasts forever: prices eventually rose again. Eight of the ten years 2006-2015 saw gasoline average $3+ a gallon.

Pessimists felt vindicated. But Boomers who didn’t skip Economics 101 back in the day were not surprised when, spurred on by the profit motive, oil producers discovered new sources. By 2015 daily U.S crude oil production (9.4 million barrels) was close to its 1970 peak (9.6 million).

And it’s not just production that is up; proven worldwide reserves of oil and natural gas have both more than doubled since 1980. Must be that Economics 101 thing at work.

US Oil production 1850-2015 _ World reserves 1980-2014

Now, despite soaring global demand we are in a fuel glut again. According to Reuters, energy companies are struggling to find new markets and ways to store the stuff.

All this is good news because, when EVs really, really, take off – maybe by mid-century – all that pesky fossil fuel will be generating most of their electricity needs and powering the heavy equipment needed to build the infrastructure.

Heck, boys and girls, them big ol’ Caterpillar earth-movers ain’t gonna run on no AAA batteries.

Boomer adaptability: gyrating gas prices – been there, done that

Clearly, Boomers have a long view of fuel pricing – and the attendant personal, political, environmental and auto industry implications. We’ve been there, done that all the way from 36 cent gasoline in 1970 to $2.45 in 2015 (U.S. Energy Information Administration / EIA).

There were plenty of ups and downs along that 45 year road – and let’s not forget what our parents told us about the 1950s. Obviously, to understand what it was really like for Boomers to experience the ride we need informed then-and-now comparisons.

  • US Gasoline prices 1950-2015 current vs 1970 dollarsCurrent dollar comparison … what gas actually costs at the pump. In 1970 we paid 36 cents. In 2015 we paid $2.45 – a 575% jump. Ouch!
  • 1970 constant dollar comparison … adjusting the buying power of money for inflation, we see $2.45 in 2015 actually buys the equivalent of 40 cents in 1970 money. Wow, only 40 cents a gallon … let’s go fill up!

Hmm, measured in terms of Americans’ buying power – constant 1970 dollars – prices have remained fairly stable. In fact, drivers today are getting a great deal, We’re paying 10% more than in 1970 but getting twice the fuel economy from modern cars – so we’re spending less of our income on gasoline than 45 years ago.

So, what part of Boomer adaptability is hard to understand?

It’s weird, but despite dealing with the roller-coaster ride of gasoline pricing – and boom or bust headlines – Boomer adaptability is a tough sell on Madison Avenue. Here, only the 18-49 demo is thought capable of switching its buying behavior, and orthodoxy is rigidly enforced.

Like an 1996 EV1 owner rationing power on a trip to the closest grocery store, adland’s Don Drapers restrict the creative energy of their new Millennial hires to a narrow, safe range.

Too bad. The enormous fifty-plus marketplace is so close at hand for those with enough imagination to visit. The courageous few who venture in will find the space dominated by a single generation – Boomer-Plus, born 1940-1966 – that represents the third largest economy on the planet.

Think of Boomers as vast, untapped energy reserves to power brand growth. All that disruptive thinkers need is an experienced drilling crew to start the gushers flowing.

Opportunity_New power source_BOOMERS

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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Boomer Megatrend Embraced By Millennials: Sports Shoes As Everyday-Wear

Running for fun is booming: especially in Boulder, Colorado

Peter Pan 2016In 1970 around 100,000 run-for-funners – or was it runners-for-fun? – participated in a U.S. road or cross-country race. Pretty much all of us were Boomer jocks.

Thanks to their Peter Pan DNA Boomers rejected the idea of aging, and drove the amazing fitness craze of the seventies and eighties. Aerobics, gyms, soccer, mountain biking, running – you name it and Boomers pioneered it.

Data from Running USA shows just how rapidly the run-for-fun movement took off; in 1990 almost 4.8 million people finished a running event, doubling to 9.4 million in 2005, doubling again by 2013 to 19 million. Along the way, the sport went from a strong male skew – around 95% in 1970 and still 75% in 1990 – to one in which over half the participants are women.

Running USA 1970-2014

In 2016 we estimate around 20 million will finish a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon or some other distance race at some 28,000 events across the U.S.

Perhaps the most impressive of these is the Bolder Boulder 10K, founded in 1979 by Baby Boomer Frank Shorter – one of America’s all-time great distance runners and the 1972 Olympic Marathon champion. Run each year on Memorial Day at an elevation of 5,300 feet – a mile high, where the air is 20% thinner than at sea level – it takes a lot more huffing and puffing to get around the course.

The full 2016 stats won’t be available for a couple of weeks, but last year’s were pretty amazing: in 2015, with 45,336 finishers, the Bolder Boulder was the #3 race in the nation. Only the Atlanta/Peachtree 10K (54,752) and the New York Marathon (49,365) had more.

  • Bolder Boulder for bulletsThe number of Bolder Boulder finishers is equivalent to 44% of the town’s population (102,500). New York City would need another 3.6 million Marathon runners to match this ratio
  • Thanks to pioneering Boomer moms of the sixties and seventies, 60% of the 15,000+ Millennial finishers were women.
  • And those Boomer moms (and dads) are still going strong: 21% of Bolder Boulder 2015 finishers were aged 50-plus (9,390) – over three hundred were 75-89 years of age.

How Boomers created the athletic and sports wear industry

All that Boomer running around and working out in the sixties and seventies sure involved a lot of athletic shoes and workout clothes.

Converse 1970s AdIt was the heyday of do your own thing, so we of the jock-wannabe persuasion soon figured out that wearing our running shoes and tracksuits around town was a way to sidestep the domesticated imagery into which our conformist peers were steadily sliding. Of course, they called it growing up but, hey, what’s in a name?

Well, we must have looked cool because by the mid 1970s sales of Nike, Reebok, Puma, Adidas, Tiger and Converse were zooming. Athletic shoes as everyday casual-wear had gone mainstream and sales never looked back.

Inevitably, athletic/sports wear expanded beyond just shoes. In fact, from Air Jordans, Under Armour and Peyton Manning jerseys to Fabletics, just about anything goes when it comes to sporty-cool self-expression. Today, according to data tracker Statista, the retail sporting goods industry – footwear, clothing and equipment – is a $65 billion business.

Athletic_Sports Purchases 2002-2015

Looking closer at the Statista data we see that footwear accounts for around a third of athletic/sporting goods sales – $21 billion in 2015.

Looking even closer brings shocking news …

Peter Pan and Wendy Boomers: still taking care of business

Given the active symbolism of athletic shoe culture, it’s only natural that Peter Pan and Wendy Boomers are still addicted. Okay, okay, we hear the myopic 18-49 demo herd muttering “yeah, maybe a few old timers tottering around rest homes in ancient velour leisure suits.”

Athletic_Sports Purchases 2002-2015C’mon, didn’t we just report that 21% of Bolder Boulder racers, key word racers, not shufflers, were 50 or older in 2015?

Brace yourselves.

Consumers aged fifty-plus buy a third (34%) of all U.S. athletic footwear, far more than any other generation (Statista).

In fact, not only are consumers over fifty the most valuable generation for sports shoe marketers, we are also number one when it comes to automobiles, CPGs and home improvement products, and we’re the fastest growing segment for smartphones.

These massive numbers are hardly surprising: the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940 to 1966, is 94 million strong and the third largest economy on the planet behind the USA and China.

So it’s beyond bizarre that we only get 5-10% of the ad targeting dollars (Nielsen) because mainstream marketers claim we are too old to adopt new ideas or switch brands.

Fortunately, scattered among the old school Florsheim wingtip and penny loafer thinkers along Madison Avenue, a few upstart Millennial Tigers are stirring. We can help them lace up and hit the ground running before the crowds arrive.

Opportunity_Bolder Boulder 2016

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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Volkswagen’s Untapped Reserves Of Boomer Goodwill

Volkswagen recovering from diesel downer

VW Herbie Rides AgainU.S. auto sales figures are in for the first four months of 2016, and they are encouraging for Volkswagen.

Not great but, under the circumstances, encouraging.

In fact, the results are better than many predicted when the diesel/EPA cheating scandal hit the news, an event we dubbed VW’s Klingon Moment.

In addition to a PR crisis – which, like consumer stereotypes of diesel engines, was loud, dirty and smelly – the brand would suffer a huge financial hit.

After selling 79,422 diesel models in 2014 – 21.6% of the brand total (VWoA) – some analysts predicted losses up to 25% after the company dropped them.

Well, no doubt about it, Volkswagen deliveries were down in January through April 2016 versus the same period in 2015 – but only by 11.7%, or roughly half the worst case.

VW sales decline_Jan-Apr 2016 vs 2015Even better, the rate of year-over-year loss declined each month. In January 2016 the drop was 14.6% but by April it was down to 9.6%.

Good news isn’t as good for click-bait as bad news, so you might have difficulty finding positive spins. For example, an April Bloomberg headline blared Volkswagen Brand’s U.S. Sales Decline in Fifth Straight Drop.

Except for commercial vans and pickups, diesel has retreated to the tiny realm of the aficionado. In Q1 2016 only 5,380 diesel cars or crossovers/SUVs were sold.

Even before Dieselgate, Volkswagen struggled to reach sales goals

Heisser SommerBy the summer of 2011, it was clear things were heating up for Volkswagen; demand was higher than in decades.

U.S. deliveries that year were 324,000, jumping by 35% in 2012 to 438,000 – the most since 1973, when VW last exceeded 400,000.

Brand planners jumped for joy; the company seemed to be on track to its ambitious 2018 goal of 800,000, way higher than the record of 569,000 back in Beetle-dominated 1970.

But, as the chart below shows, this was not to be. Volkswagen sales had been on a roller coaster for decades and the 21st century is no exception. Even before Dieselgate, in both 2013 and 2014 sales had fallen by 7-10% while the market grew by 6% annually.

VW Brand Sales 1952-2015

Sadly, that 800,000 sales goal has receded far into the misty future.

America’s counter-culture Boomer sweetheart 

Volkswagen was the progressive young Boomer’s counter-culture sweetheart.

Of course, most couldn’t afford a new model – and half the generation wasn’t of driving age until the early seventies – but millions of Boomers rattled their way through high school and college in a funky hand-me-down Magic Bus or Love Bug.

What resonated – thanks to the classic Think Small VW ad campaign – was that the brand made a virtue of flouting convention. And what self-respecting teen could resist that kind of temptation?

VW Ads 1960s

But the early 1970s were a turning point. The times, they were – okay, okay, all together now – a changin. VW had trouble adapting to the new realities.

Shameless self-promotion alert:

J. D. Batman and Robin_2

In those days, tiny new startup J. D. Power And Associates – David Power and your humble scribe, aka the Batman and Robin of automotive research – were kept busy consulting with the top four Japanese brands in their drive to connect with American consumers.

Inevitably, in 1975, Toyota passed Volkswagen in sales, soon to be followed by Datsun/Nissan, Honda and Mazda.

Sure, their cars and their savvy young in-house marketers had something to do with it. Maybe a lot. But why spoil a good story.

Volkswagen partially recovered in the late seventies/early eighties with its new Rabbit, Jetta and Scirocco lineup, but was unable to fully rekindle its Beetle-era romance with the Boomer audience.

VW The Low_1993Always prescient, J. David Power III, nailed it in 1984 “The people who bought Rabbits in the late 1970s are back in the market now, but they’re not looking for Volkswagens” (BusinessWeek)

Sales fell to 48,500 in 1993 and the company briefly considered leaving the U.S. market before successfully re-inventing the brand over the next two decades.

Boomer still have a soft spot for Volkswagen

Fast forward to the 21st century. Call it a Lolita fixation or a Cougar complex, but Volkswagen now chases Millennials. Of course, they don’t buy many cars, but are cool to hang out with. Just being seen with them makes a brand feel young again.

Despite being dumped, we Boomers still have a soft spot for Vee-Dub. After all, we were imprinted in our youth and fond memories linger on.

Which should be good news for the brand because the 18-49 demo alone cannot support the company’s recovery. No way. And there’s hard evidence.

2015 Vehicle sales _ US _ Germany _ UKIn August, 2015 the NADA chief economist reported the median new car buyer age as 51.7 (Automotive News).

Translation: consumers over fifty buy over half the new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. In round numbers, we figure 52%.

Deducting 2.7 million (e) fleet sales from the 17.4 million light duty vehicles sold in 2015, that means the 50+ space accounted for 7.6 million.

That’s more than the top two European countries combined – Germany (3.2 mm) and the UK (2.6 mm). Ausgezeichnet! Good show!

Weird, then, that auto advertisers avoid targeting Boomers directly. What’s up with that?

Granny advice

And it’s not just Volkswagen, but every manufacturer. When was the last time you saw a Boomer-Plus target buyer depicted in an ad?

When pressed, it’s the perennial teenager excuse “OMG, like, OK, everyone, like everyone, disses Boomers. Bruh, they’re like, zero chill. Totally!” 

It’s time for a disruptive, grown-up reassessment of the Boomer consumer.

Of the 111 million Americans over 50, the largest group by far is the 94 million strong Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1966. They still buy millions and millions of new cars, and many never lost warm feelings for Vee-Dub.

So it’s easier for Boomers than the 18-49 demo to put the diesel mess into perspective. They’ve seen their old friend stumble before, and are the best prospects to help the brand repair its market share.

All it takes is a sincere invitation from Volkswagen. And some smart brand mechanics.

Opportunity_Brand Repair

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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Risky Shades Of Gray: Millennials Are Aging — And Madison Avenue Is Noticing

Escaping grayscale: colorful Boomer lives

Kodak 1965Boomers knew exactly what Paul Simon meant when he sang “Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colors … everything looks worse in black and white.”

Kodachrome hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in June, 1973, and it’s still worth a listen. Oops. It’s 2016 already. Time flies. Make that worth a YouTube view.

For Boomers who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s most of our little kid pictures were in black and white. But, hey, were we ever cute, squinting into the sun for posterity. Color film was special – a pricey luxury for everyday families.

In fact, color images of any type signaled upmarket and modern. At the movies, Technicolor took top billing, color magazine ads seemed more glamorous and modern and color TV was a wow!

Color TV Penetration 1964-1980When Simon’s hit took off, color television penetration was in the process of exploding, doubling from 39% of TV households to 83% in 1980.

Just a few short years later, the Millennials were born into a rainbow world they would take for granted.

However, for Boomers and older Gen Xers, the arrival of a color television was an exciting, transformative experience, one of many on our life’s journey. Along the way, the iconic Kodak film brand slipped into yesteryear Americana along with the One Hour Photo booth and the film processing counter at the corner drug store.

Meanwhile, we careened from one fantastic new technology to the next.

  • Spectrum_Paint swirl 31964 / 1965: Kodak’s Instamatic camera and Super 8 movie film put affordable, decent quality color photography and 3-minute motion pictures into the hands of folks who couldn’t tell an f-stop from the Hollywood Sign.
  • 1972: Polaroid introduced the instant film SX-70 camera. Easy. Quick. And for those who valued privacy, no eye-rolls or smirks from the sales clerk at pickup.
  • 1975-1990: tape-based VCRs and video cameras triggered a Beta vs. VHS format war in which Boomers hefted bulky shoulder-mounted videocams, looking like ’80s era insurgents toting RPGs around downtown Kabul.
  • 1996-2000: Solid state/memory card digital cameras – still and movie – and DVD players put old school film and tape systems out of business. Expensive at first – 2 megapixels for “only” $900 – prices dropped quickly and capability soared. Moore’s Law in action.
  • 2001-2016: We stream content, can’t live without our iPhones, iPads or their android competitors and no longer see Blu-ray as cutting edge.

Dr Sivana_OldAfter embracing, pioneering – and inventing – this incredible 50-year technology-fest, and creating an amazing world for our Millennial children, Boomers and Gen Xers are irked to learn we are now seen as incapable of adopting new ideas or changing behavior.

So says Madison Avenue, anyway. The ad-biz excuse for what passes for strategic thinking these days is that consumer adaptability defaults to grayscale immediately upon exiting the 18-49 demo.

Millennials are aging: dad bods and mommy-mobiles

Replacing Boomers in advertisers’ affection are the Millennials, born 1982-2000 (U.S. Census Bureau). However, although the youngest have yet to graduate high school, enough have crossed over to their thirties that taste-makers are sensing the warning signs of creeping normalcy, aka the life-stage effect. Millennials are growing old!

Always a little upstream from the herd, already last year we wrote that Millennials are morphing into Boomers.

Family storytime 2We noted they are having babies, forsaking urban lofts for affordable new homes in sunbelt suburbs, buying grownup family cars and worrying about how those used-to-be-cool Spring Break tattoos will look on crepey skin.

It gets worse. Writing in MediaPost (April 4, 2016), Boomer Jack Loechner cites further evidence from Nielsen in Millennials Not A Monolithic Group: Lifestyle Changes Things. Apparently, Millennials who are starting families spend more time on live TV, DVRs and DVDs – and less on smartphones – than their childless siblings.

TV viewing hours per day Q4 2015It’s a sure sign that geezerhood is on the way; adland knows that time spent watching TV increases with age.

But that’s what happens when life involves cuddling rug rats on the couch while streaming old Scooby-Doo cartoons. Yep, the same ones you watched when you were a kid. They wear well.

Recognizing that no generation is monolithic is the liberating first step for brands looking to increase profit and share. In a year or two, maybe three, mainstream marketers will apply this knowledge to the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™ born 1940-1966.

When they do these laggards will be too late. We don’t like to brag, but our gurus already provide disruptive brands with a prism through which to shine bright white light on the 50+ space.

And white light – like Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers – is not monolithic; shone through a prism it reveals an infinite range of rainbow hues.


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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