A booming market

PR is in the sweet spot when utilized to target baby boomers.

PR is in the sweet spot when utilized to target baby boomers.

Today, 10,000 Americans will celebrate their 50th birthday. The same is true for tomorrow - and the day after that. In fact, for the next 10 years, each day will be a milestone birthday for 10,000 aging baby boomers. It's just another thought-provoking statistic associated with the demographic that includes those born between 1946 and 1964. The number of baby boomers in this country is almost 80 million. But even more impressive is the group's spending power, which hovers around $4 trillion per year. "Boomers don't buy; they inhale," says Ken Gronbach, author of Common Census: The Counter-Intuitive Guide to Generational Marketing. "They are the most attractive spenders on the planet." All of this makes baby boomers a desirable group for marketers. But as members of this generation get older, reaching out to them gets a bit trickier. Megan Svensen, EVP of healthcare at Marina Maher Communications, who has worked with a number of brands targeting this demographic, says marketers will have to adjust their plans to accommodate the aging boomer. "This is a completely different consumer than we've ever had before - this is a generation of super-consumers," she says. "They changed the way products were marketed and developed for a generation, and they're going to continue that, especially as they move into their 60s and beyond." Svensen says age should not be part of the equation. Instead, the campaign should focus on life stages, such as being a parent, grandparent, or caregiver of a parent. "Their self-identity isn't tied up in their age," says Matt Thornhill of the Boomer Project, a marketing consultancy focusing on the baby boomer segment. "That's the recalibration that marketers need to take." Some companies have already taken this cue. Last year, Pillsbury announced plans for a product and campaign geared toward empty nesters. Titled "Cooking for two," the push is designed to help baby boomers learn to adjust to cooking, buying, and organizing meals for a smaller household. It centers on Pillsbury's line of rolls and biscuits, which are packaged in resealable bags, making it easier to cook just one or two. But the industry that stands to be the most affected by the aging boomer is healthcare. "People start consuming healthcare at much greater quantities as they age," Svensen says. "Boomers have a sense of entitlement. They know they're going to age, but they want to age well." Phil Sheldon, MD of Lippe Taylor, says the firm has received requests by several healthcare clients to specifically target boomers. It has worked with Ortho-McNeil on behalf of Johnson & Johnson to promote Ditropan XL, a drug used to treat overactive bladders. As part of the campaign, Lippe Taylor arranged a program with the National Association of Female Executives. The right approach Even when addressing issues associated with the aging boomer, it is important to approach it in just the right way, says Jody Quinn, EVP and creative director for Edelman. "This is an age group that is very freaked out about getting older," she says. "Don't say 'retirement' to a boomer. They're not going to retire." Indeed, the choice of language is often the most important aspect of a campaign. Quinn suggests referring to retirement savings as saving for the "next best stage of life" or "best savings." And this philosophy is something that should permeate all areas of the effort, from spokespeople to events. Quinn says Edelman has a few programs in development to address this demographic from across all practice lines within the company. She stresses the need to look at baby boomers from a holistic standpoint and determine what values are important to them. "To simply look at this market as tens of thousands of people with trillions to spend is not right," she says. "This isn't about packaged goods." In addition to requests from healthcare clients, Sheldon says, Lippe Taylor has taken a proactive approach in its other practice areas, incorporating the boomer audience into its direct-to-women practice. With client Jenny Craig, Sheldon says, targeting boomers has factored into the strategy when pitching the media. The firm will sometimes bypass publications like Glamour and instead focus on those likely to be read by boomers, such as Real Simple, Family Circle, and Woman's Day. For the recent launch of the Botanical Nutrients line for Bath & Body Works, Lippe Taylor worked to appeal to female boomers. Instead of holding the event at a restaurant or hotel, the firm chose botanical gardens in Denver, where the effort kicked off. The one-hour program highlighted the product's important role in stress relief, specifically in relation to the multigenerational caretaker role of many baby boomer women. It also tuned into their vast community of friends, relatives, and coworkers. "The baby boomer population is really networked," Sheldon says. Invitations were sent to customers asking them to bring a friend. Honing the message Despite best efforts, marketing teams might still be a bit off in targeting this demographic. Thornhill says national research conducted by his firm shows that baby boomers simply aren't getting the right message from the marketing community. "They feel like they're being left out," he says. "They think advertisers are not doing a very effective job of reaching them at all." Gronbach emphasizes that the most important part of the marketing mix could be PR, with event and cause marketing also playing a big role. "Mainstream media and mainstream advertising right now are in big trouble," he says. "Reaching the boomers with their own popular culture and establishing brand awareness in a different way than mainstream advertising is probably the only way to reach them." ---------- The AARP perspective The AARP has been around for more than 46 years. As more baby boomers approach membership age, CEO Bill Novelli shares some thoughts on reaching out to this demographic. Has AARP changed over the years? It has changed in a number of ways. It used to be called the American Association for Retired Persons. About six or seven years ago, we changed the name. About half of our members are working at least part time or full time. It's gotten younger. Right now, about one-third of our members are between 50 and 60. As the boomers come into their 50s and beyond, the organization will recruit them. How has AARP changed its communications strategy to align with the aging baby boomer? We do more segmentation than we've ever done. And the easiest way to segment is by age. But you must look at people in other ways besides age. Demographics are not destiny. You must realize that boomers are different in many ways. I don't think a smart marketer should just stop with boomers. The whole older market is enormous. How will aging boomers impact American business? First of all, they are newly discovered, so more and more marketers are working this out. If you look at Anheuser-Busch's Michelob Ultra advertising, which advertises in [AARP] magazine, you'll see it's aiming at active people who want to watch their diet and weight. I think you'll see more companies working this out and designing their own marketing strategies, but definitely targeting this older audience. Boomers claim they intend to work long past their retirement years. So the older worker segment in America is growing. You're not aiming at a rocking-chair population necessarily; they're getting out and going to work. And if they're not working for pay, they're active volunteers. The whole world is changing. If you're going to market to someone, you have to understand these things. Are there issues facing baby boomers that marketers are overlooking? There are a lot of underlying fears and concerns, even though they're healthier than previous generations. I think they're worried about their security. A lot of people are working not because they want to, but because they have to. These are uncertain times. That doesn't seem to have curtailed consumption, but maybe this can lead to some marketing strategies for an insurance company or a healthcare plan. What are things to avoid when targeting boomers? Age stereotypes are going to come under increasing attack by boomers. First of all, they have an attitude. Secondly, they have money. As they get older, they're not going to like stereotypical ads and entertainment-media gibes. I think they will vote with their feet and vote with their dollars. Sometimes you look at some of those [ads], and you wince and think, "Boy, they're going to punish that guy."

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