November 2, 2006
By RUTH SOLOMON Staff Writer

Making Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" the soundtrack for your ad won't prompt Boomers to buy your product.

That's a piece of advice from market researchers who have studied Baby Boomer behavior.

"The Baby Boomers are insulted by 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' being used to sell products. It would be like trying to sell something to a 22-year-old by using someone with tattoos and an iPod in his hand," marketing expert and author Chuck Nyren said at an Oct. 20 marketing conference in Chicago.

Boomers are generally defined as the generation born between 1945 and 1963 -- people 43 to 61.
Boomers reach Big 5-0

The oldest Boomers are starting to retire, but are anticipating much longer and healthier lifespans due to better medical care. Some time next year the majority of Boomers will be older than 50.

Baby Boomers still outnumber and out-earn Generation X-ers (roughly speaking, those born in the '60s and '70s) and Generation Y-ers (born in the '80s and '90s). But the huge market of aging Boomers is often overlooked by advertisers.

The focus is on younger generations with longer lifetimes ahead of them to buy and become loyal to a particular product or service, speakers at the conference said.

But Baby Boomers expect to live to be 82; the statistical average is 77. That means many Boomers turning 50 still have more than a quarter-century of consumer spending in front of them.
'Ask your doctor about...'

People 45 and older make up 77 percent of the drug market ($43 billion) and 53 percent of the new-car market ($107 billion), said Linda Fisher, director of national member research for the AARP, the advocacy organization for older and retired Americans.

And the 50 million Americans in the 60-plus market spend more than $1 trillion a year, she said.
Too old to be sold?

In addition, many in marketing and advertising have a mistaken belief that Baby Boomers are so brand-loyal that it's not worth trying to wrench them away from their favorites, conference speakers said.

"We keep hearing that the older market will not change brands. But every age group says that if you better meet my needs, I will switch and I will pay more," Fisher told the conferees.

Not only are advertisers overlooking Boomers, but ad agencies almost universally hire only twenty- and thirtysomethings, who know little about how to appeal to their parents' generation, said Nyren, author of Advertising, Media and Baby Boomers.
Reverse generation gap

"For the last 30 years, the average age in advertising has been 24, but people in their 20s and 30s are trying to reach a demographic they know nothing about. The victims are the advertisers who are not getting their money's worth," said Nyren.

Those who run the firms that buy the ads, Baby Boomers in their 50s, are in denial, said Mike Irwin, president and CEO of Focalyst, a company formed as a joint venture between the Kantar Group and AARP.

"It is especially hard to convince execs of the need to focus on the 50-plus market, even though most of them are 50-plus themselves," Irwin told the conferees.
It's the product, Stupid

Ninety-two percent of CEOs told Focalyst they did not have adequate research on Boomers. Nyren said all the research could be boiled down to one message: Appeal to Boomers by talking about your product.

"All the consumer cares about is the product. You are not selling Baby Boomers, you are selling a product," Nyren said.

Marketers and advertisers must also realize that Baby Boomers are not a monolithic market.

Keynote speaker Maryellen Molyneaux, of Natural Marketing Institute, said her company's research identified five different types of Baby Boomers of about equal size: arrivers, strivers, worriers, bewildered and Peter Pans, plus a smaller group of unknowns.

Businesses must market to each group differently, she said. "Strivers," the Boomer group on the way to achieving its goals, will be brand loyal. The "bewildered" group is open to guidance on a new product. Peter Pans have a "buy-now, pay-later" attitude, she said.

Baby Boomers also want information presented in a simple and straightforward fashion, Molyneaux said.

"They want an authoritative source of information, not just a story by the media on the latest hot topic," Molyneaux said.

Snoring, boring not the agenda

Boomers turning 60 are saying they're hopeful and confident; only a third think their "mature" years will be boring. Seven of 10 plan to keep working or go back to work, while others plan to spend more time with loved ones, travel, volunteer and take classes. About 30 percent plan to move, evenly divided between downsizing and upsizing, she said.

Health is a key concern for Boomers, particularly mental health.
Where are my keys?

"They are very afraid of losing their minds," Molyneaux said.

This remark resonated with Erin Vogt, a geriatric social worker at Alexian Brothers Medical Center, in Elk Grove Village and Hoffman Estates who has made the same observation about Boomers.

"Dementia is such a devastating disease," she said.

Vogt said she attended the conference because she wanted to learn how to reach Boomers, both to provide preventative care and to teach them how to navigate the system, particularly Medicare, she said. Many Boomers have a misconception that Medicare provides more services than it really does, she said.
Crackerjack idea

Evanston resident Karen Harris Sudah, senior director of business development at The Marketing Store in Lombard, said she attended the conference to discover ways to market premiums to seniors, similar to the way McDonald's offers toys in Happy Meals.

The premiums could be offered in hearing aids or eyeglasses or haircare products, but Sudah didn't want to reveal the premiums she has in mind.

Sudah said her research has revealed another influence on Baby Boomers: 8- to 14-year-olds. She said they help their parents and grandparents make buying decisions, particularly for technology.
'Tween' guidance

These "tweens" are the children of today's Baby Boomers. Sudah cited her children's recent help when she chose an iPod for work that is so sophisticated it could almost function as a laptop computer.

"I wouldn't think about buying it without asking my children," she said.

This use of technology will become increasingly important to Boomers and seniors, who purchase almost all of their airline tickets online, said Fisher of the AARP. Convincing Boomers to buy things online involves better security, easier returns for merchandise and better customer service, she added. Her key message: Focus on value, not price, in advertising, and don't be condescending.

"Don't be too weird, and don't insult them by saying only the young are beautiful."
© Copyright 2006 Sun-Times News Group