Friday, October 15, 2010

Don't Forget the Baby Boomers

Not too long ago a friend sent me a link to this article about "Why Marketers Can't Afford to Ignore Baby Boomers." In a culture that endlessly focuses on youth, the article warns marketers not to overlook a group that has tremendous buying power: the 78 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. today.

My first reaction was less than sympathetic. Are you kidding me? I thought. Has the person who wrote this never watched television? Or flipped through a magazine? Who do they think all those prescription drug and car commercials are for? Millennials? There's a reason why Pfizer uses Queen to sell Viagra.

But ever since getting this message I've been paying closer attention to the advertisements I see and who they seem to be aimed at. And I must admit, I'm seeing more and more that are aimed at younger generations. But even those, I find, are being sure to include Baby Boomers in their campaigns, even when the products being sold appeal to much younger demographics.

My favorite example is Verizon's Rule the Air ad campaign. I see these ads everywhere--magazines, airports, bus stops--even online (I don't watch much TV). They always seem to feature young people as the models we should emulate. This video clip contains a line that pretty much says it all. Air..."does not filter out an idea because I'm 16 and not 30." Gosh, 30, huh? That is old.

But if you go to Verizon's website and check out all the faces they're using in this campaign, you see that they are, in fact, covering all the generational bases. There might not be any Silents in their montage (but they, after all, have their own special cell phones), but everyone else is there. And if you start paying really close attention, you discover that the faces change depending on the media outlet the ad appears in. Those that cater to younger audiences get the younger faces. Those that cater towards older audiences get the older ones. And why shouldn't they? The marketing folks at Verizon, after all, are no dummies.

But having said all that, I still see no evidence that Madison Avenue has forgotten about the Baby Boomers. I tried but couldn't find statistics that show what percentage of advertising is aimed at each generation, but from where I sit Baby Boomers are still the champs. Like every generation, they have products that are pitched directly to them but, as the Verizon campaign shows, they're also included in campaigns for products that skew younger. In other words, you'll find ads for cell phones in the pages of Newsweek, but you won't find ads for prescription drugs on


Chuck Nyren said...

Glad you're catching on. I've been writing and speaking about this since 2003. Here's just one of many blog posts:

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the comment, Chuck, and the link to your blog. You've obviously got some expertise in this area. Do you know what percentage of advertising is aimed at each generation? I have a hard time believing that the Boomers are the forgotten generation when it comes to advertising.

Chuck Nyren said...

I don't know of any study - marketing/ad companies don't like to say that they are NOT targeting a demographic - nor do they break down age demo stats of their customers for public consumption.

Here's one more post that relates to your post:

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks, Chuck. I'm fascinated by this. Do many Baby Boomers actually believe that Madison Avenue is ignoring them?

David M. Patt, CAE said...

Hey, Eric, You can find a list of oldies used on current commericals at

I linked to it on a blog post at describing how advertisers are still trying to attract Boomer customers.

Eric Lanke said...

Thanks for the links, David. The list of songs from the 1960s and 1970s now being used to pitch products is fun reading, and further evidence that product marketers of all kinds are targeting Boomers as one of their primary customer bases. Where's the list of punk and grunge songs being used to sell products to GenXers?

Chuck Nyren said...

I don't quite see it that way:

Eric Lanke said...

Chuck, I appreciate the on-going dialogue. I'd appreciate it even more if you would engage in some dialogue here rather than just providing links to your blog.

Speaking of which, I've reviewed all the ones you provided, and you seem not to be complaining that advertisers are ignoring Baby Boomers, but that they are desperately trying to woo Baby Boomers, but are not doing it right.

That I get. No one likes to be patronized. But my orginial blog post was in reaction to the idea that advertisers need to be reminded to include Baby Boomers in their advertising plans. I see no evidence that such a reminder is needed and nothing I've read on your blog changes my mind.

Chuck Nyren said...

I started writing about advertising and boomers in 2003. My book came out in 2005. Back then the ad industry was ignoring baby boomers. Now they're embracing boomers only for health/age/financial related products.

Automobiles? Not really. Sometime soon I plan on blogging about the Nissan Leaf campaign.

All those old songs: You already know what I think about using these songs - but when they're redone they're new. Most people under fifty don't know the songs and probably have no idea that they're old songs. They're good tunes, and work today with a more modern interpretation.

In the early seventies, there was a rock & roll TV show, "The Midnight Special". Johnny Rivers sang the theme song. My much younger brother said, "Johnny Rivers, what a great songwriter," when he heard the theme. I said, "Johnny Rivers? He wrote that?" My brother said, "Yes." I got out an old Leadbelly album from the 1930s and played the song for him.

I listen to KEXP in Seattle. They play the cutting-edge music of today. About every fifth song is a tune from the Sixties redone by young musicians. (The Velvet Underground seems to be a favorite.)

Just because a commercial beds a tune from the 1960s doesn't mean that they are targeting Baby Boomers.

Eric Lanke said...

So, Chuck, when an advertiser uses a song from the 1960s to sell a product, you say they're doing it to appeal to people who have never heard the song before?

And automobiles? Who's this ad for?

Chuck Nyren said...

Using tunes from the 1960s - yes, most times the spots are are not directed at Boomers. Sometimes they are.

Luvs diapers is a good example, using a Beatles song (All You Need Is Love) - but redone. Not too many Boomers have toddlers. It's directed at young mothers. And ... a lot of people who grew up with the song take it very seriously and are offended by using the tune to sell diapers (or anything). But they're not the target market, so I have no problem with it.

The Corvette spot isn't really targeting boomers. It's age-neutral, which is often a good idea. The spot certainly doesn't exclude people over fifty. C'mon - you want that car after seeing the spot. Looks like fun.

I remember being a teenager and doing very stupid things - like racing with someone around blind corners. (I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it now.)

Today, I'm not so interested in driving fast. I'm more interested in comfort for extended periods, getting in and out of cars, knowing I can see everything clearly in the rear and side view mirrors - and being able to read the dashboard without trifocals. And I'll toss in 'green' - or at least a nod to the environment.

Sure, there are some people my age who would love a Corvette - but they also need therapy.

Eric Lanke said...

Believe it or not, Chuck, I definitely don't want that car after seeing that spot. It doesn't appeal to me at all, and I bet it doesn't appeal to many people in the generation coming up behind me, either:

I personally have never seen anyone driving a Corvette that wasn't a white-haired man. I think the car manufacturers have figured out that certain brands appeal to certain demographics, and they pitch their advertising appropriately. That's way they make more than one kind of car.

You make a good point about the use of Boomer music to sell products to younger generations, though. I'll have to keep an eye (or an ear) on that.

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