Why are marketers still neglecting Baby Boomers?

They are cashed up and willing to spend, but Baby Boomers are still being stereotyped and snubbed, writes Amanda Taylor.

This article originally appeared in The Generation Issue, our June/July 2017 issue of Marketing magazine.

Amanda Taylor headshotFrench author Jules Renard once wrote, “It’s not how old you are, it’s how you are old”, and it is fair to say that today’s over-60s are redefining the meaning of seniority.

Compared to their parents, who witnessed the Great Depression and World War II, Baby Boomers have led a privileged life. They grew up in the era of The Beatles, Woodstock and feminism, rode the property boom and, with the help of credit cards, were encouraged to spend freely for the good of the economy.

Boomers also have a very different attitude to retirement than their more frugal parents, who invested and saved hard for old age. Today’s older generation are working and living longer, travelling more, buying new cars, eating out and spending more on entertainment and attractions. Clearly they are more set on living for today than saving for tomorrow.

On paper, Baby Boomers are a marketer’s dream, making up a quarter of the population and growing. By 2031 the population aged over 65 will increase by 85% from 3.1 million to 5.7 million (The Ageing Revolution). They hold 53% of the nation’s wealth, with an average household net worth of over $1 million (McCrindle Research). A tech-savvy group, they are heavy consumers of television programming and spend just as much time online.

What is clear from these numbers is that Boomers are no niche market. So why then is this demographic so often ignored by businesses, with less than 10% of advertising dollars currently targeting them (Mi9 research)?

 

Getting the message right

MK0617 cover generationOne major issue is the mismatch between the reality of the over-60s audience and the perceptions held by younger people.

“Most ad agencies employ people in their 20s and 30s who don’t understand the Boomer market,” says Brian Conroy, principal and Founder of My Generation Adver- tising, which is run by Boomers for Boomers.

“They think they are set in their ways, not interested in new products and not spending time on social media – none of which are true,” he says. “The fact is, many Baby Boomers are still working, so they have a high disposable income. They don’t have kids in private school, spend more on groceries than younger people and buy new cars.”

Conroy says those companies that do target Boomers are getting the message wrong. He cites a study by Mi9 Research, which found that 94% of Boomers are unhappy with the way they are stereotyped by marketers.

Most of the ads you see portray the over-60s as old fuddy-duddies with grey hair and blankets on them, sipping tea with funereal music,” he says.

“It is a missed opportunity – there are half a million people out there with buckets of money who are ready to spend. They still like to have fun and are not ready to be put out to pasture.”

One consulting group seeking to change perceptions about ageing is The Ageing Revolution. It works with businesses and community groups to develop better products and services for older people. Its partners include the Queensland Government, Brisbane City Council, non-profit group Able Australia and consumer organisation Cota.

Founder Simon Lowe recently undertook a tour of Australia, conducting pop-up workshops and storytelling events to give older Australians a voice and to gather insights to share with businesses.

“What we found is that people over 60 are a very diverse group and want to be treated as such,” he says. “They prefer to be communicated to on the basis of their interests or their ‘tribe’ rather than their age. They want to be heard, so go and listen to them.

“We also found there are big differences in the issues people face in metropolitan areas versus regional and rural areas. Isolation is an issue in metropolitan areas and lack of services is a problem in more regional areas.”

Lowe is currently working on an event for Vivid Ideas that will bring together people from various creative industries to discuss the issue of marketing and designing products for older people.

“We have a list of things we want to improve and are working with partners like the Queensland University of Technology who are willing and able to design better products to respond to demand from Boomers. The di cult part is finding companies to make and sell them.”

 

Who is reaching the Boomers?

Arguably, the businesses that are doing the best job of marketing to Baby Boomers are start-ups.

Dominating the market is Starts at 60, a Brisbane-based digital media platform launched in 2012, which has been named number one seniors influencer by Branddata every week since the category launched and recently attracted strategic investment from Seven West Media.

Starts at 60 was launched by Rebecca Wilson, who spotted the need for an online community for the over-60s audience. Today the site attracts a whopping 1.2 million unique visitors globally every month and employs 23 staff and contractors.

As well as a website offering money, health, lifestyle, entertainment and property news, Starts at 60 also recently launched a travel website, Travel at 60, which can be accessed through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Wilson says Starts at 60 is appealing to a range of advertisers including Dymocks, Uniting, Priceline and Specsavers, who want to reach Boomers via the digital space. “Not long ago newspapers were the only way to communicate to this market, so it was difficult to do targeted ads and segment while still achieving your ROI. In digital you can split and target everything,” she says.

Starts at 60 works closely with its advertisers on messaging, advising businesses on how to speak to a 60-year-old rather than at them. “It is a very challenging and disappointing space,” says Wilson. “Travel companies, for example, are doing an OK job of marketing but they are still ignoring who their customer is. If a customer is 80% of your target market, why wouldn’t you want to own that space and make it cool?”

Wilson says the attitude of marketers is slowly changing, however, and Starts at 60 has been invited to present to a number of advertising agencies, as well as consulting with businesses on how best to reach this important demographic.

 

Fashion and beauty still lead the way

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 10.52.28 AMDespite the lacklustre marketing tactics of most other industries, the fashion and beauty markets remain at the forefront of changing attitudes to the over-60s by featuring older models in their advertising.

While the women we see parading down the catwalks still tend to hover at a median age of 18, lately the tide has been turning towards the inclusion of a much wider range of models in advertising, in an attempt to reflect the diversity of actual customers.

UK high street stalwart Marks & Spencer has been using a broad range of models for some time, recognising that consumers don’t always shop based on distinct age demographics. Similarly, in 2016 fashion brand H&M began featuring 60-year-old model Gillian McLeod prominently in its advertising.

In Australia, Pacific Brands underwear brand Bonds is leading the pack when it comes to including a diverse range of ages in its ads. Recently the brand has been featuring model and yoga teacher Kate Bell, 48, in the ads for its Comfytails collection, accompanied by the tagline ‘With Wisdom Comes Great Undies’.

Bonds head of marketing Emily Small says the Comfytails range has been specifically designed to cater for women seeking more comfortable products for a changed body shape as they age.

“All women buy underpants and we believe that while your needs change, your spirit and youthful attitude don’t. We like to talk to different groups with our advertising – our customers go from eight seconds to 80 years old,” she says.

Research by Bonds shows it is not only Boomers who react positively to images of their age group, but also the younger generations, who find images of older people empowering.

“We have had amazingly positive social commentary about how beautiful people think the Comfytails image is and the fact that we are showcasing a woman in her late 40s. There is no reason why those women shouldn’t be represented,” Small says.

In the beauty industry, it has been 13 years since Dove launched its ground-breaking ‘Campaign For Real Beauty’, a worldwide marketing campaign launched by the Unilever brand that includes ads, videos, workshops, sleepover events, a book and the production of a play.

Dove’s campaigns famously feature real women of all different shapes, sizes and ages, and the brand rejects the use of what it calls ‘digital distortion’ in its advertising.

While Dove’s efforts have not been without controversy – including the 2008 ‘Pro-Age’ campaign scandal in which the brand was accused of retouching images – research from Harvard psychologist Nancy Etco found Dove has succeeded in making a positive impact on attitudes to beauty. As a results of the campaigns, more women today define beauty on a wider array of qualities beyond looks, such as confidence.

Another brand that is set on disrupting the youth obsession within the beauty industry is L’Oréal. Recognising the fact that women may actually want to look their age, its Golden Age campaign is a great example of how to engage with consumers in their fifties and older.

The ads use the outspoken Helen Mirren, along with language that highlights the freedom that can come with growing older and the use of the tagline ‘We’ve Still Got It and We’re Still Worth It’.

Yet there are still very few older men featured in today’s advertising campaigns. Emily Small says Bonds occasionally features men who are not stereotypically young and youthful – “more of the dad bods” – and last year ran a series of ads for Father’s Day. “There is a small group of men in this age group who are interested in shopping, but the percentage of female shoppers is much higher,” she says.

 

It’s their time

Despite the handful of success stories, Starts at 60’s Wilson says marketers still have a way to go before they understand the Boomer market.

“People need to realise that a 60-year-old isn’t their 80-year-old grandma. There are still a lot of preconceived notions,” she says.

“Baby Boomers are so excited about this phase they are in. When they were younger they did sensible things like buying a home, so this is their time. That is the mindset we need to market effectively to them.”

 

 

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Image copyright: Racorn – 123RF

BY Amanda Taylor ON 3 July 2017