NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Marketers who bypass the baby boomer generation are in for a very rude awakening.Gen Y or Millenials outnumber boomers today, but the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that a significant portion of the U.S. population will be much older, with the number of Americans aged 65 and up projected to hit 88.5 million by 2050. Of course, 2050 is a long way off, but if you consider that more than 7,000 of boomers born between 1945 and 1964 are turning 65 each day, according to the AARP, it's easy to see why marketers still clinging to their beloved 18-49 demographic are setting themselves up to miss out on a sizable chunk of the nation's disposable income.
|It's the $230 billion conundrum troubling marketers everywhere: how to appeal to the traditional 18-49 demographic while convincing more than 70 million boomers to buy their products.|
Millenials, or young adults born between 1980 and 2000, might fancy themselves old enough to call the shots at home, but for college graduates of the recession still shacking up with mom and dad, it's probably their parents buying the laundry detergent. As we've reported, the unemployment rate for college graduates under the age of 25 shot up from 3.7% in 2007 to 8% at the height of the recession, and many of those post-grads resigned themselves to living off the Bank of Mom and Dad just to get by after finishing school. Saddled with student loans, credit card debt and a bleak job market to boot, millenials today have little, if any, disposable income to speak of, and according to Joseph Templin, author of The Financial Mistakes of New College Grads, are more dependent on their parents than any generation before. Contrast that with boomers, who, unlike their retired Depression-era parents, matured in the age of consumption and were conditioned by advertisers to spend, spend, spend, says David Ibsen, a business consultant who covers advertising trends on his award-winning site, 5 Blogs Before Lunch. Boomers on the whole are more educated than their parents, and this, too, accounts for their higher disposable income, adds McDonough, the Nielsen researcher. "The retirees are dealing with fixed income and are coupon shoppers," Ibsen says. "They're Depression-era babies, and they're very conservative and tight with their finances. Baby boomers are not that; they've spent their lives spending on things ... and will continue to spend because they're still relatively young and will be in the workforce longer, for lifestyle and financial reasons." So while 60 or even 50 might sound prehistoric to the millenials reading this, for today's active boomers, Ibsen's statements are right on the money.
The real issue, then, is how to appeal to both the younger Gen Y demographic and aging boomers who, despite being outnumbered by the millenial "echo boom," still hold the lion's share of this country's purchasing power. Thornhill says he thinks marketers should adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to campaigns that makes products feel "ageless" by focusing on their functionality, or what they can offer in practical terms, over the lifestyle they can help one aspire to. "The companies being successful across all generations are looking at desires across all needs," Thornhill says. The idea has certainly taken hold this year, as evidenced by Weber Grills' "Have Fun With It" campaign, which features 20-something hipsters, along with a female boomer, a young father and his son, and a heavyset Gen Xer dancing next to their grills. Likewise, the 2011 commercial for Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Minis, "which features light type and some statements about the fact that it's peanut butter and chocolate," says Thornhill, is even more effective because it eschews actors, focusing instead on what Thornhill calls its "rational product attributes," namely tasty, well-packaged candy. Ultimately, the ad sends the message that "if this product is what you're looking for, this is for you," Thornhill says. A fragmented era
But while the ads pack a punch, balancing the lifestyle aspirations and day-to-day needs of two distinct age groups may be a tall order, says Ravi Dhar, professor of marketing and psychology at Yale University. Both generations are widely segmented, especially millenials, which Nielsen predicts will be the most diverse of all. And as any boomer will tell you, no two million of them are alike. "It's very difficult to have a campaign that would cut across generations," Dhar says. "For packaged goods, the product is mundane, but for products embedded with emotional stuff, whether it's luxury or packaged, marketers will need to take into account different appeal that will matter to different age and ethnic groups." Another problem with trying to target both age groups using a one-size-fits-all campaign is the medium in which the ad is presented itself. Our media consumption varies across age groups, and Dhar notes that marketers are troubled by millenials' notorious multitasking habits, whether it's watching TV with a Mac on their lap or going to sleep (or school, or a party) with their smartphone by their side, as The Associated Press recently reported. Our technology use is fragmented, and marketers fear that it's getting much worse, Dhar says. Still, there may be room to experiment with "segmented" ads, or campaigns that target a specific kind of viewer and media consumer.
Despite the daunting issue of what to advertise to whom and on what, there may be reason for shrewd marketers to take heart. In her research with Nielsen, McDonough found that a large segment of boomers aren't quite as glued to the TV as we like to think. Yes, boomers clock the most time in front of the TV (6.5 hours per day), but they're also a bit more active online compared with 12- to 24-year-olds. In fact, boomers log around 15 minutes more time on the Web, a sign they're not quite the luddites marketers thought they were. "If we look at the people buying some of the digital products, you come up with this cool new digital phone and picture it in the hands of a 19-year-old," McDonough says. "But in reality, with products like Apple ( AAPL) Macs, over 40% are bought by boomers. They buy it for themselves or their college-aged kids. There are fewer differences between the age groups' media consumption than the perception is." And with boomers ranking Facebook as their fourth-favorite site in the Nielsen study, Why Marketers Can't Afford to Ignore Baby Boomers," there is reason for deal-savvy marketers and retailers to keep their eyes on this lucrative demographic. Whether it's a smartphone, TV screen, laptop or desktop, we're excited for the next installment. >To submit a news tip, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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