(now part of Be Fruitful Alliance)
Rethinking Marketing to the Over 45 Market
Consumers over the age of 45 are not geezers waiting to die!
Consumers over 45, specifically the aptly named “Baby Boomers” (those born between 1946 and 1962), are still very much in touch,
up-to-date and interested in life and their work. Demographic researchers have pegged the Boomer consumer as the most driven,
competitive group of consumers ever. They are constantly seeking new ideas and better products.
Yet American companies are virtually ignoring Boomers in favor of the highly coveted 18 to 24 year old market. And these
companies are ignoring Boomers to their detriment. Ironically, many of those companies were founded by the very group they are
now ignoring. The logic goes something like this: If you can hook the 18-year olds early, they will be loyal customers for life.
The Boomers are not like their parents, tend not to be brand loyal and are still willing to try new things. They like to experiment, are
interested in, but not swayed by advertising. Boomer children (dubbed Boomlets) are more loyal than their parents! What is really
odd though is that consumers 35 to 44 years old are very brand loyal (just like consumers over 65).
Boomers have more disposable income than any generation preceding or following them. They are the most homogenous group in
terms of work ethic, athletic participation and monetary values. But they are also one of the most divergent groups in terms of family
values, politics, religion and consumer buying habits.
Unfortunately, the portrayal of people over 45 has become something of a joke for advertisers and marketers – careers heavily
populated by under 30’s. Advertisers are failing to recognize there are between 78 to 96 million Boomers (depending on how the
demographic was defined). Boomers are the single largest segment of consumers today. The birth rate’s steady fall over the past
years means more than half (50%) of the population will be over 50 by 2010.
Boomers contribute an estimated $29 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Unlike their parents’ generation, Boomers don’t plan to
go gently into the night or retire. Boomers have more discretionary income than any generation living or dead.
Boomers are buying cars and products that marketers are “targeting” to those under 30. This expands companies’ sales bases;
the problem is most Boomers are not buying products they should be flocking to due to the lack of age appropriate modifications. In
other words, manufacturers and marketers don’t understand the Boomers’ needs.
It isn't that Boomers are not interested in new things; they simply resent being treated like they don’t have a right to have fun or aren’t
interested in new products. Nothing could be further from the truth. But baby boomers have different needs and wants than their
An example of a product that missed the mark is the Apple i-Pod. It was heavily marketed to the under 25 market – the so called
“golden niche.” Boomers were the first to embrace the exercise craze back in the 1970’s and 80’s. They went wild for the Sony
Walkman because it was portable for jogging, cycling, hiking, etc. As the smaller, lighter and more versatile replacements came
out, Boomers kept pace. So why did Apple ignore the Boomers by not making the buttons and displays on their product more “age”
friendly? Copycat MP3 players embraced larger font displays and captured more of the Boomer market.
Product designers continue to fail to grasp the idea that Boomers aren’t afraid of technology; Boomers just can’t see the displays
without hunting up their reading glasses!
Marketers still mistakenly believe that if they can sell to the 18-24 year old age group they will have a lifetime customer. So they
concentrate their advertising dollars to connect with this group to the near exclusion of everyone else. This old “truth” simply won’t
The new truth is consumers have more choices than ever and have what can only be called “drive-by” product loyalty. If they happen
to be in the vicinity, they’ll buy it for awhile until they see something they like better.
Strangely enough, the most inflexible and brand loyal consumers are in the 18-24 year old group. They are the least likely to switch
brands or try new products. And, many depend on their parents (Boomers) to define their brand choices. They tend to buy what their
parents buy. The reality is Boomers are actually driving the purchasing decisions in the 18-24 year old market.
Consumers between 25 and 36 are the most demanding in terms of product safety and durability, and like to buy brands they know
and trust. They are unlikely to use generic brands or to switch brands once they’ve settled on one.
The most adventurous consumers are over 45! Boomers embrace new ideas faster than any other group – with obvious exceptions
being products and trends that are not “age” appropriate; some even adopt inappropriate trends like hip hugger jeans or belly rings,
much to the chagrin of their children!
The old truth originated with the Boomers because 30 years ago they were that magically 18-24 year old age group, and started the
“truth” that young people are more adventurous consumers. That “truth” has been shown not to hold true today. Those adventurous
consumers have steadily grown older and are still the Boomers.
It’s time to look at consumer groups for general characteristics, rather than demographic age. For instance, young professionals
(early 20’s) are more like Boomers in their thinking when it comes to money – they are more interested in saving for retirement and
having a steady paycheck than those in their 30’s. And, Boomers have opened their own businesses in record numbers, which is
similar to women in their early 30’s who have small children.
Some of the ways advertisers and marketers have missed the mark are:
Housing. Despite hard sales numbers showing smaller homes sell faster than larger homes, builders continue to build larger and
larger homes. It isn’t a secret Boomers are demanding smaller homes as their children leave the nest. And, it isn’t a secret 60% of
all marriages now end in divorce, creating twice as many single people over 40 compared to previous generations. And, it isn’t a
secret young people just starting out simply don’t have the income to purchase a large home in pricier housing markets. And, it isn’t
a secret only 35% of households today consist of a married couple with children. So why are homebuilders ignoring the most
lucrative and long-range homeowners – Boomers and singles?
Home builders are still stuck on the notion smaller homes have to be “starter” homes - stripped down, cheaper versions of homes
directed at lower income home buyers. And, they build gigantic homes as “luxury” homes – upscale, expensive amenities and
upgrades. The truth is over 45 year old home buyers want smaller homes with luxury upgrades, outstanding communities, premier
recreational facilities, upscale shopping, restaurants and adult-appropriate services in walking distance. Boomers don’t want to
settle for something less. Many Boomers looking for smaller upscale homes are forced to move into condos, lofts and townhouses
for lack of affordable and appropriately sized homes.
Cars. The same old starter vs. luxury thinking applies to cars too. While many Boomers are used to and enjoy a larger car, it’s
usually because of the luxury features not the size. One reason the Lexus has been so successful is because it is smaller with the
feel of a larger luxury vehicle.
And, car advertisers are still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to selling cars to the over 45 market. The word safety is frequently
used. This is a word for parents with small children, not for Boomers who have finally reclaimed their lives from their kids. Safety
means boring; they want sporty and fun to drive, excellent handling and luxury. Companies like Mazda have pulled the over 45
market inadvertently through their “zoom zoom” campaign that emphasizes the fun side of driving. The campaign was meant to
attract younger drivers but has attracted older drivers too. The ads opened Mazda cars to a wider audience by shifting their ad focus
to not be so “young” focused.
It’s time to rethink marketing to Boomers. Boomers may be aging in the body but they aren’t aging in the spirit. And, they aren’t their
parents and maybe more open-minded than their children.
Copyright Kathryn Lehan 2009. Permission required to reproduce or use anything on this site.
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