Special Report: Breaking down the baby boomers

By AdNews | 6 April 2012

Everyone knows the baby boomers are a lucrative consumer segment that should not be ignored. But which brands are cutting through the clutter and effectively engaging them, and how are they doing it? John Davidson finds out.

Social researcher Hugh Mackay calls them unique, the first ‘me’ generation. Researcher and industrial psychologist Dr Lucia Kelleher describes them as wanting attention, doing what they want, when they want and refusing to be segmented. Karl Bates, national planning director at McCann Worldgroup, says they’re part of the experiential generation, the inventors and first adopters of technology.

Whatever the terminology, baby boomers are a frequently misunderstood, much talked-about and much-analysed part of the population. They are a valuable group of consumers - a fact which marketers started to cotton on to several years ago - for their purchasing power, habits and their distinct consumer wants and needs.

Baby boomers are those born between 1946-1961, aged today between 51 and 66. They vary greatly within this segment, because of the discrepancies in age, but need to be marketed to in specific ways. This valuable audience group is vastly different to the others, demonstrating particular beliefs and behaviour patterns that set them apart from the pack.

According to a 2011 Roy Morgan Single Source study, engage them accordingly. One brand doing this well is tourism outfit Odyssey Travel, a not-for-profit provider of educational travel for over 50-year-olds. Baby boomers make up one third of the company’s customers.

Odyssey Travel chief executive Mark Banning-Taylor says the business has had a 10%-35% increase in first-time travellers in the past year “because we’ve changed the way we engage with customers”. Odyssey Travel uses a mixture of media to target consumers.

“Boomers are finding things more on the web, they’re using electronic media,” he says. “There’s been a real shift, you need to have both print and electronic media.” In November last year Odyssey Travel launched a Facebook page to build brand awareness. The company uses it to post news and travel stories. “It’s working,” Banning-Taylor says.

Nostalgia is a big theme among baby boomers as they look back to simpler times and the Australia of their past. “They’re heavily into nostalgia,” Mackay believes. “They see themselves as forever young. They see themselves as the youngest generation ever.”

Coca-Cola Amatil relied heavily on nostalgia in its campaign to unite six different state-based soft 65% of baby boomers have some employment while 35% are unemployed. Nearly 40% have an annual income of $50,000 or more, while 35% are considered big spenders and 35% medium spenders. Baby boomers are getting older and some are heading into retirement, but they do not exhibit the same behaviour as their parents or those in their 70s and 80s.

“Their parents called them the ‘me’ generation,” Mackay says. “They’re famous for their impatience and voraciousness. They embraced instant gratification as a kind of generational ethos.”

To target baby boomers successfully, marketers must understand their intricacies and drinks under the master brand Kirks. The company reintroduced the brand and provided a link to the provincial labels of people’s childhoods, making them feel they remembered Kirks. Partnering with McCann, the campaign went on TV with a jingle around the line of ‘Australia quenches its thirst with a Kirks’, an approach that aligned the history of the brand with the memories of the consumer and the aesthetics of an advertising approach long proclaimed out of date. The results were impressive, with an 800% return on investment and a 30% year-on-year increase in sales.

Gill Walker, managing director of Evergreen, an agency focusing on older consumers, says there are several brands that have got it right when it comes to targeting baby boomers. Dove and L’Oreal, she believes, are two that are doing well. “Dove has shown that women can be beautiful at any age,” she says. “L’Oreal uses a range of different models of different ages.”

Walker nominates the more modern retirement villages and the likes of supermarket giant Woolworths as brands that are making hay with baby boomers. “Lend Lease, Stockland, [their ads are] showing people more active,” she says. “Woolies has ads that are inclusive with people of all ages.” Odyssey Travel’s Banning-Taylor agrees. “Stockland does a good job of communicating to over 50-year-olds,” he says.

According to Walker, baby boomers don’t want to see stereotypes about them or to have advertising shoved in their face. They want to be seen as the hero in advertising, not as the idiot. “Don’t be so obvious,” she advises. “Baby boomers don’t want stereotypes. They like inter-generational imagery, they like the element of the small surprise.”

Health and wellbeing are huge concerns for baby boomers, as they seek to maintain their lifestyle and keep living life to the fullest. Researcher and industrial psychologist Dr Lucia Kelleher believes baby boomers refuse to see themselves as ageing. “They are obsessed with their health and wellbeing,” she says.

Uncle Tobys successfully tapped into this theme with its 2011 ‘Cholesterol Challenge’ campaign, which set out to re-frame baby boomers’ relationship with Uncle Tobys. The campaign had a big digital focus, with a TVC inviting baby boomers to go online to get recipes, meals and to follow the story of six ‘Cholesterol Buddies’ who went on a journey to lower their cholesterol. The videos and stories of their experiences sought to inspire baby boomers to join the challenge, with Uncle Tobys aiming to create a movement around reducing cholesterol.

The belief that baby boomers do not use electronic media and are behind when it comes to technology is a myth that needs to be expunged. According to a recent Roy Morgan study, 89% of all baby boomers surveyed own or use a mobile phone, 90% have a personal computer in their household and 11% own a tablet computer. McCann’s Karl Bates points to the impact of baby boomers such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Vincent Cerf, as well as the incredibly high smartphone penetration among Australian baby boomers. “They are all over this technology,” Bates says.

So how should a brand go about reaching out to baby boomers? Cheryl Field, editor of national newspaper The Senior, believes that using celebrity baby boomers in ad campaigns is a good way to get attention. “APIA Insurance are doing well with Max Walker and Denise Drysdale,” she says.

Field, who helms seven papers in six states across the country, including a separate travel edition, has altered her publication to interest more baby boomers. Most of The Senior’s readers are aged 65-75 but Field says “we’re starting to pull in the younger ones”. The Senior changed its story mix five years ago to include more content on subjects such as active living, the transition to retirement, part-time work and aged care.

“[Baby boomers] want to know that their parents are being looked after and how to look after themselves in the future,” Field says. “[Another] big thing is volunteering. The wants and needs of 70 and 80-year-olds are completely different to those in their 60s.” The Senior has a monthly circulation of 404,763 copies nationally, according to the Circulations Audit Board, with a monthly readership of 1.5 million. The publication has recently redesigned its website and increased its daily online offering to meet baby boomers’ growing demand for digital content.

While the potential of the baby boomer consumer segment is now well known, there are still some brands and categories that are missing out. Health advertisers are one sector that could lift their game in this area, according to industry experts, while condom brands are another. Hugh Mackay describes baby boomers as “the most divorced generation Australia has ever seen”, while McCann’s Bates says dating websites for baby boomers are “booming”.

“They get a second wind, a second gap year,” he says. “We’ve seen more promiscuity [among baby boomers].” Evergreen’s Walker believes fashion, telcos and department store brands are others that aren’t maximising their opportunities with baby boomers. She says fashion advertisers “having models that are 15 years old” doesn’t work, while these brands also rarely tailor their products to appeal to mature men. Property development is another sector that is largely missing out on the baby boomer dollar. “It’s all about happy young families, but they don’t have the money,” Walker says. “[Baby boomers] just get ignored.”

The Senior’s Field believes the baby boomer market has changed because of the GFC, making it tougher for brands to engage with them. “What many businesses did not take into account then was the fact that these people are discerning and demanding, and not willing to part with their hard-earned easily,” she says. “Anyone looking for quick profits from the group soon learned the boomers were not to be taken for granted.”

Lifestyle Realignment:

Dorothy Dudley outlines the changing perception and behaviours of baby boomers.

What's inspiring boomers:

It's about great experiences. While not necessarily slashing spending, their focus is moving from possessions to experiences.

Working hard at staying healthy. Baby boomers have an unwavering desire to stay active and live independently for as long as possible.

The thrill of bargain hunting. Whether through research or savvy negotiation, they expect to make their dollar go as far as possible.

Making room for flexibility. As retirement approaches there is room for flexibility and spontaneity that weren’t possible when careers and family commitments dominated day-to-day life.

Technology keeps them connected. The ability to stay in touch through technology motivates baby boomers to spend time and money keeping up to date with online and mobile.

The pressures of perpetual parenting. Baby boomers can feel an unending demand from both directions, with attention redirected upwards to ageing parents requiring time and attention.

Keeping it close to home. Baby boomers can feel stuck between the dream of a sea-change and wanting to stay in their current homes close to family, friends and trusted healthcare services.

A soft launch into retirement. A strong enjoyment of work and a desire to engineer a slow transition into retirement can be frustrated by unaccommodating employers.

Feathering the nest egg. Boomers are concerned about the need to fund a comfortable lifestyle and will be looking for financial products that will deliver a secure and steady income.

The Bottom Line:

When developing campaigns, advertisers and marketers need to be mindful of:

• Their desire to stay active and engaged, and to be portrayed in this manner.
• Their willingness to embrace technology as a means of connecting with family and friends.
• Their focus on relationships and experiences over material possessions.
• The financial and non-financial motivations of staying in the workforce longer.
• Their tendency to consider their ‘third age’ as a lifestyle realignment or refocusing, not retirement."

Dorothy Dudley is director of the Ipsos Mackay Report.

Feeling Ignored:

Liberated, cashed-up baby boomers are ready to spend and younger than you think, writers Neer Korn.

According to the baby boomers, when it comes to advertising and marketing there are two fundamental problems in Australia today: firstly, they are ignored; secondly, when targeted they are made to feel old and over the hill.

The boomers cannot understand why no one is speaking to them anymore. They used to be the focus of society and now all they read about themselves in the media is what a burden they will be on society as they age.

Ask them about advertising or campaigns that speak to their life stage or age group and most segments of society can reel off many ads they connect with. Not the boomers. They struggle to name any. One participant in my recent study Boomers Leisure & Communications aptly concluded: “There are some ads that do target us, like the pay-in-advance funerals!”

What perplexes them about being ignored is that they are in spending mode. With mortgages largely paid off and kids independent, they are living for today and are keen to experiment and experience. “We’re one of the biggest spending generations that there is, we’re baby boomers,” one says.“We’ve got spending power more than any other generation, X ,Y, Z or whatever. And still they’ll be more interested in the younger demographic.”

And when they are spoken to, the boomers are made to look older than they are, and certainly much older than they feel. While their bodies are in slow decline, they feel young and sprightly. They recognise they have a few good years left and are determined to make the most of today.

More than anyone, they are on the lookout for brands and products that meet their changing needs and lifestyles. They have the time to shop and are free to trial.

Speaking to the ageing boomers is not that difficult. The criteria they seek from advertising are fairly straightforward.

Here are a few areas that hit the mark:

Intelligent advertising. Their greatest fear is losing their intellectual abilities. It is one area of health that they are actively preventative. They see advertising which tells a story or a plot twist, which takes you in one direction and then an about turn to another. But when it comes to advertising, they are literal, not lateral. While they see themselves as wise and above the influence of marketing, they are not all that savvy. If the message is too cryptic it tends to pass them by.

Children and animals. The old adage of not working with children and animals does not apply to boomer communication. Puppies and small children are perennials and they never get tired of their on-screen antics.

Mind your manners. There’s a growing clash of values of society. The boomers once thought they were edgy and cool, but the media has gone too far. Young people are pushing the boundaries further than ever. There are no sacred cows for them and the more ‘wrong’ something is, the more they like it. This makes the older generations uncomfortable. They seek islands of safety where sex, violence and swearing are not to be found.

The boomers are heading towards retirement. But it’s the wrong word to use. It suggests a decline or opting out. They see this stage of life as one of freedom and opportunity. They can pick up all the passions and interests that have been dormant during the child-rearing decades.

There are two core messages about the boomers for marketers and advertisers: speak to them, and they are younger than you think.

Neer Korn is director of The Korn Group.

This article first appeared in the 5 April 2012 edition of AdNews.

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