How do you reach Baby Boomers who dislike marketing?

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on December 26, 2006

Why do so many Baby Boomers dislike marketing messages, and what can marketers do to reach them? There is perhaps little motivation for creative marketers from the Millennial Generation to pay close attention to how they are marketing to the leading-edge Baby Boomer, according to a newly published book entitled 'After Sixty: Marketing to Baby Boomers Reaching Their Big Transition Years', which details not only the problem but also the solution.

As Baby Boomers enter their sixties, they will face some of the biggest transitions of their lives. In this sequel to the widely read book After Fifty, co-editors Leslie Harris and Michelle Edelman examined the industries that will be most affected by the aging Boomer market. For example, the book explores how Boomers are redefining many existing notions of "health", and which methods will prove most effective for health care marketers trying to appeal to the female Boomer segment.

The industry sectors covered by the new book include advertising, apparel, education, financial services, health care, fitness, fast food, housing, home improvement, personal care and beauty, transport and travel. Specific topics that the authors have covered include product development and repositioning, economic transformation, human resources, grandparents, and Boomers in the United Kingdom.

Marketing self-examination
According to the book, apart from money, what motivates many creative marketers is fame. In the creative industry, fame comes in the form of creative awards. In fact, Advertising Age reported that about US$37 million dollars is spent annually by US advertising firms simply entering awards shows. For many agencies who believe in the sanctity of these awards, the position and pay of a creative worker at 40 is quite dependent upon how he or she does ten years earlier at the hands of awards show judges.

The editors of the book analysed the 2005 nominee short-lists for the Cannes Lions, arguably the most prestigious and celebrated of all the advertising awards. Here are some interesting statistics:

  • Total number of communications short-listed: 1,836
  • Most short-listed product categories: alcohol, entertainment, and pro bono
  • Percent of nominated creative in product categories in which Boomers participate heavily: 83%
  • Percent of nominated creative actually targeted at Boomers: 7%

Indeed, the most celebrated and coveted campaigns, from a creative perspective, do not consider Boomers at all. Only Mercedes, A&E Network, and a well-known drug seemed to have targeted Boomers in their award winning advertising.

Cultural compass
So as an up-and-coming creative, the best of the best will be clamouring to work on the next anti-smoking, Orange, Mini-Cooper, or Altoids campaign. All target young adults and teens. This means they will set their cultural compass to "young". They'll study what teens are doing and thinking. They'll listen to college bands and hang out at conferences on youth trends.

Meanwhile, Boomers continue to purchase Mini-Coopers, Altoids, cellular contracts, mortgages, and digital cameras. They derive pleasure from these brands, because they aid in their own youthful self-image. But they don't necessarily understand or like the marketing of these brands.

Boomers surveyed
In the book there are results from a quantitative online study of 200 consumers, aged 55 - 60, to see how they responded to the Cannes Lion 2005 Winners reel. The authors wanted to investigate comprehension (i.e. do Boomers understand the main message of the ads), connection (do Boomers identify with the ads), and purchase intent (do Boomers plan to purchase these products more or less as a result of viewing the ads). Boomers were invited to a secure website to view a random sample of Cannes winners. They were then asked a battery of questions about their experience. They were encouraged to expound upon their answers in open text fields.

In terms of comprehension, Boomers agreed that the main messages of the ads they viewed were clear. Almost all (93%) of the ads communicated their benefits successfully to this group. However, Boomers almost universally had trouble understanding the context of the advertising. Only 35% of Boomers related to half or more of the ads: "I can't picture myself in any of these circumstances," reported one 59-year-old woman from Oregon. "It's like watching some foreign fantasy," said a 61-year-old man in Massachusetts.

Why the advertising distance?
So why do Boomers feel as though the ads were filmed in another world? There are two prevalent reasons, the book suggests:

  1. The advertising sets social contexts that are foreign to Boomers
    When asked to describe the character of street basketball players being depicted for Adidas, Boomers were likely to portray them as unsuccessful and non-aspirational people. However, younger agency creatives view these people as "the undiscovered greats". Thus, the ads send different underlying messages about the brand, even though the overall communications message of everyday performance was universally understood.
  2. The characters in the advertising are generally not relatable to Boomers
    Where their contemporaries do star in ads, there seem to be two treatments of Boomers in advertising: Caricatures and Replicas.

    Caricatures: In one bank's fraud advertising, older Americans are depicted as victims of financial fraud at the hands of younger cyber-thieves. These caricatures are a double-edged sword. On the positive side, Boomers feel these characters are cartoonish. They don't feel offended that these people aren't "like them," because they realise that the advertising is a mini-sitcom meant to put emphasis on the situation, not the characters. On the other hand, an underlying message of the ads is that older people are more susceptible to fraud than younger people because Boomers aren't as competent in the digital era. There appears to be an underlying stereotyping that exists in these ads.

    Replicas: Where advertising is clearly meant to portray characters related to the target audience in order to make a connection on a deeper level, the characters are mainly seen as typecast. These portrayals are mainly seen as superficial, not reflective of real people. Others - such as the blood donation appeal ads in which consumers speak for themselves - are seen as capturing a truth and connecting on a deeper level.

    This lack of an appropriate connection generally disengaged the respondents from wanting to purchase the products. Of the Boomers who claimed to have purchased these products in the past, a full 59% of them said they would reconsider their purchasing behaviour in the future based on seeing the advertising. And of those who claimed not to have purchased the products, only 10% claimed they were positively predisposed to the products after viewing the ads.

The research and findings above were excerpted from the book, After Sixty: Marketing to Baby Boomers Reaching Their Big Transition Years, edited by Leslie Harris and Michelle Edelman (copyright 2006 Paramount Market Publishing, all rights reserved). Details of the book are available on the publisher's web site - click here.

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