Recently, a financial industry client asked my opinion about a photo they were considering for a brochure and how Boomer women would feel about it. The image portrayed what appeared to be an 18-year-old with grey hair who had just crossed the finish line of a marathon. It wasn't that the creative got it “wrong.” Appearances, qualities, and characteristics that one normally associates with youth were long considered by many Boomers as aspirational. My concern, however, is that while this message might have worked in the past, the Boomer generation is a moving target, so it might not work as effectively now.
Smart marketers already realize that the “Boomer demographic” represents multiple segments, income and educational levels, geographies, ethnic backgrounds, and political variations. But my advice: forget all the segments.
Signs are already afoot that Boomers are beginning to sort themselves into two big buckets that will take precedence over all other considerations. The first: Boomers who are in denial about aging and still respond to aspirational messaging about acting and looking forever young. (Let's call them Pre-Bs, as in Pre-Breaking Denial.) The second: Boomers who have broken denial to embrace aging and are increasingly irritated with brands that imply that young is good, old is bad. (Let's call them Post-Bs, as in Post-Breaking Denial.)
Boomers don't identify with pictures of those who have fallen down and can't get up. However, marketers who go to the other extreme, portraying Boomers twisted in advanced yoga positions and climbing mountains, can just as easily be missing the mark with the growing number in the Post-B crowd.
In fact, when Boomers break denial about their own aging, they can turn on a dime against brands that have fostered anti-aging messages. Marketers who put their ear to the ground will pick up early rumbles of a move away from the definition of “aspirational” as looking and acting like people a decade or more younger. In its place is the yearning for “authenticity” – the hunger for images of “people like us” living in vital, but age-appropriate ways.
The savvy marketer who wants to keep Boomers' loyalty can stay ahead of the curve by checking all branding collateral against these five criteria:
1. Comments, satire, or jokes, including asides, that revile, infantilize, or marginalize aging and old people. Do not allow age-based self-deprecation to masquerade beneath the thin disguise of false humility or humor.
2. Youth-centric language, as in “young at heart” or “youthful.” Replace it with age-neutral words such as “vital” and “passionate.”
3. Separating one out from peers, as in “Can you believe she's 60 years old?” or “60 is the new 30.” Do this and you are actually saying that your expectation of 60 is that it normally looks decrepit and that all others who are 60 look worse.
4. The wrong definition of again. Avoid definitions of successful aging that are based solely or primarily on your target having attributes normally associated with individuals younger than their own age.
5. Romanticizing or sanitizing images of aging. Watch for formulations that whitewash the shadow side of aging. Of course, you can appeal to aspirations regarding the best-case scenario, but Boomers appreciate authenticity above all.
Boomers will be increasingly on alert for sanitized projections and fantasies designed to make them feel good at the expense of the broader spectrum of addressing realistic and ultimate concerns. Make sure your notion of “aspirational messaging” doesn't put you in the cross hairs when they go from Pre-B to Post-B.
Carol Orsborn, PhD, is CEO of Fierce with Age, a communications company that helps marketers get it right with the Boomer demographic. She cofounded Fleishman-Hillard's FH Boom in 2006 to help brands connect with the Boomer consumer. Orsborn can be contacted at Carol@Fiercewithage.com.