Time for Aging Tributes?

Twenty years ago, Rick Lingberg and I owned a marketing consulting firm created to specialize in middle age and older markets.  While most businesses in the 1980’s and 90’s had little interest in older adults as a viable market for products and services, we were fortunate to have a couple of clients with the vision to pursue a mature market positioning strategy.

While our company was undercapitalized, we tended to be creative problem solvers. We had assisted Sioux Valley Hospital (now Sanford Health Systems) create one of the nation’s first aging Centers of Excellence, and proposed a joint venture to create a series of PSA’s to Celebrate that accomplishments of older Americans. The resulting Tributes to Aging® series won numerous awards and generated positive results for the senior living communities, aging services organizations and health care centers wise enough to license their use. The joint venture was profitable, but the market demand did not justify expanding the series…not much money to be made by being ahead of your time.

In 1997, we closed Phoenix Systems and Rick and I went our separate ways. When I returned to Sioux Falls in 2010, we began reminiscing about our successes and Tributes took center stage. Since we still had video copies, we decided to offer the spots at no cost to any interested organizations for use on their web sites, for staff education or public relations while retaining the copyright. The initial response has been very rewarding.

We invite any organization interested to use the materials to launch their own local Tribute to Aging campaigns or events. Of course, we are available to consult on such efforts, keynote positive aging events or assist with positioning strategies. To discuss the possibilities, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to initiate a dialogue. In 1996, we were clearly ahead of our time, but the time to realize the potential of an aging society has arrived.

Watch All Tributes to Aging videos

These spots featuring Grandma Moses and Michaelangelo provide a sample of this upbeat campaign that was licensed by multiple organizations throughout the country that added their own tag line and logo to the ads. Sadly, too many organizations, then and now, do not fully understand the potential an aging market place offers; nor do they understand how to communicate with them.

While we are now entering two decades where old consumers outnumber those under 18 for the first time in history, the media, ad agencies, marketing strategists, and businesses continue to ignore the aging market. Instead, there is a myopic focus on aging “Boomers” as if they were mutants with totally unique needs, wants and desires. Sure they shared some unique events and life challenges, as did every previous generation. The sheer size is what made baby boomers seem unique as this “pig in the python” demographic impacted each life stage as they aged.

When Landon James coined the term Baby Boomer in his book, Great Expectations: America and Baby Boom in 1980, he was referring to a demographic phenomenon and how it would impact the country. I doubt he intended his use of the term baby boomer to be a label for 76 million people born over 18 years. Others such as Yankelovich Inc. in the 1960’s and author Sylvia Porter in 1951 used the term. The term was picked up by the media and a few authors and consultants and popularized over the past three decades. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that they will not all become older consumers at the same time or in the same way. Few were at Woodstock, lived in communes and protested the Viet Nam war. No doubt a like number listened to country music, went to church every Sunday and served in the military.

Just as the vast majority of advertising agencies never learned to successfully market to older adults; they are likely to fail with aging Boomers as well if they make the mistake to focusing on Boomer myths and legends rather that shared lifestage values. Wouldn’t it make sense to focus on the shared values of an aging population rather than one segment? Learn to adapt marketing approaches to appeal across generations? These are just a few of the questions we will address in future articles.

For now, we invite you to join us in paying tribute to your current and growing number of aging consumers by viewing later life for all its potential rather decline and loss. Media images and general misconceptions have resulted in negative aging stereotypes and a culture of ageism that generally goes unchallenged. The winners in the coming decades will be those embracing the power of ageless marketing and advertising principles. Of course, if you are interested in learning more about the Tributes to Aging series for your business or organization, we would love to hear from you. Maybe the time is now right.