Madison Avenue Overlooks Boomers…Really?

Boomers are on track to spend $7 billion online this year alone.

MadisonAve_300In advising Fortune 100 Companies, Nielsen’s NeuroFocus Company has discovered what David B. Wolfe and those of us he mentored have been saying for 20 years…older brains process information differently. In a recent press article in Convenience Store News, this Berkeley, Calif.-based agency that specializes in neurological testing for consumer research provided the following advice in a bullet point:

Baby Boomers are a segment often overlooked by Madison Avenue, yet they continue to hold strong and influential in terms of purchasing power. According to the latest statistics, boomers are on track to spend $7 billion online this year alone. By understanding what triggers certain emotions with this consumer group, marketers can adapt their messaging in order to communicate more effectively. Really, “Baby Boomers are a segment often overlooked by Madison Avenue.” Madison Avenue has spent the past 45 year paying attention to little else. The exploding market they have and continue to overlook is “older adults.” Like it or not, the Baby Boom is getting older and are embracing the same values held by both the Greatest and Eisenhower Generations and those who came before. While Convenience Store News not the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, this blind fascination with Boomers is nothing more that the ageism that has plagued the Madison Avenue for years.

While the report clearly shares solid brain science, an ageist bias is evident throughout. Some examples:

  • Brands and marketing executives can better understand the most effective way to reach the Baby Boomer demographic – in fact the research is about older brains and minds not just Baby Boomers who currently range in age from 66 to 48.
  • The boomer generation doesn't want to feel old or be treated as such – nor do those ages 65 and older. Using stereotypical language such as senior, elderly, senior or seasoned citizen and even Baby Boomer and cute terms like Zoomers are turn offs for older adults.
  • Boomer brains process information differently, as they may ignore messages and images that are too cluttered, or scene changes that are too rapid – again this statement applies generally to all adults over the age of 45, which includes all boomers.

What this article seems to be saying is that the businesses served by Madison Avenue remain interested in only those under age 66. They have convinced themselves that the Baby Boom generation will develop a unique set of values in later life rather than embracing the values older adults have been embracing for over 200 years according to developmental psychologists. This is just yesterday’s ageism with a new coat of Boomer paint…and it will not wear well in the coming years.

The following facts clearly demonstrate the importance of the older, age 50+, market segment:

  • There are 56 million consumers age 60 and older (most are not Baby Boomers)
  • By 2050, there will be over 88 million age 65 and older
  • Another person turns 50 every 7 seconds on average
  • By 2015, those aged 50-75 will represent 40% of U.S. adult consumers.
  • The 50-plus audience is the largest demographic in our history, and will be for the next 40 years.
  • The 50-plus demographic reached the 20 million mark in 2011. To compare: it will take each of the 18 to 34 segment, and 35 to 49 year old demographic, past the year 2050 to reach that number.
This Dove ad campaign saw a 700% rise in product sales in the United Kingdom and 600% in the U.S. within the first two months of the its launch.

While they are few and far between, there are exceptions to Madison Avenue’s resistance to communicating with older consumers. Dove challenged ageism through its award-winning Campaign for Real Beauty with the help of Ogilvy and Mather. One advertisement and billboard featured a 95-year-old model and posed the question: “Withered or Wonderful?

Result: a 700% rise in product sales in the United Kingdom and 600% in the U.S. within the first two months of the campaign’s launch. Dove’s new mission: to make women feel more beautiful every day by widening today’s stereotypical view of beauty and inspiring them to take care of themselves. With the aging of the population, you would think American businesses would be rushing to learn more about the power of positive aging rather than the bizarre fascination with the Baby Boom.

McDonald's "New Kid" masters the art of ageless marketing.
Another McDonald's masterpiece "Golden Time".
"Ogilvy Taiwan" embraces later life values

Madison Avenue seems to openly ignore Einstein’s observation that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” They seem to think that calling the aging marketplace the Boomer marketplace will somehow extend yesterday’s youth dominated market.

There are of course other campaigns that have had excellent results in addition to Dove. The Ogilvy Agency clearly mastered the art of ageless marketing a couple of decades ago with its fantastic “New Kid” and Golden Time commercials for McDonalds. More recently Ogilvy Taiwan created a fantastic bank commercial that embraces later life values in an emotionally powerful 3 minute spot.

Rather than using the aging of the Baby Boom to battle ageism, advertising agencies and self-serving consultants are lining their pockets by convincing clients that Baby Boomers are an anachronism. As a result, they continue to attempt to reach older consumers using yesterday’s youth oriented, features and benefits approach to advertising with dismal results. Rather than considering their marketing paradigm may be outdated, which clearly it is, they conclude the older consumer is not worth the bother. Or, the consultants and ad executives are themselves baby boomers who lack a positive aging self-image.

The solution: Rather than focusing on Baby Boomers, agencies and companies should follow the magic formula clearly identified in the NeuroFocus results. Rather than continuing to pitch features and benefits of products and services to the logical neocortex portion of the brain, the message needs to communicate with the limbic portion of the brain which houses feelings and emotions. Dove and Ogilvy both understand the magic. To gain the attention of the older market, incorporate messages of autonomy, choice and empowerment into an emotional story format and watch the magic happen.

We should not lose this opportunity to advance the principles of successful and active aging by embracing later life principles in marketing communications materials. For future success, businesses will need to stop driving marketing campaigns using only the rear view mirror…there’s nothing there. A marketplace dominated by middle age and older adults has never existed. If we can change the youth market paradigm that has dominated advertising and marketing for over 4 decades, we will not only improve the quality, and quite possibly quantity, of later life; we can help lower health care costs and increase the bottom lines of businesses. It is time our nation recognized and begins benefitting from the wisdom of the growing majority of older adults. Whether we like it or not this new consumer majority will dominate the marketplace in the next decade…as always the Majority Rules.