Categorized | Sondra's Musings, Features

Are advertisers finally discovering our sweet spot?

Couple, shopping, bags, consumer

By Sondra Shapiro

Our parents looked forward to living their golden years, a stage of life defined as retirement and less responsibility.

When it comes to those who control advertising budgets, the term, “golden years” has a very different connotation when referring to us boomers. Our 78 million demographic is worth its weight in gold — $15 trillion in global buying power by the end of this decade.

Traditionally, marketers have shied away from targeting older consumers, assuming the age group was brand loyal and unswayable by new products.

But the statistics are difficult for marketers to ignore. Baby boomers are just 44 percent of the population, but represent nearly 83 percent of consumer spending power in the United States.

We spend money online and dominate in nearly all consumer product goods categories, according to

According to Bloomberg, we watch 174 hours of television a month, 63 percent more than millennials, the 18-to-34 year-old age group. Yet for years advertisers have wooed the 18-49 age group.



And in 2011, the peak age of vehicle buyers shifted up from 35-44 to 55-64. More than half of us are on Facebook. So, there’s a treasure trove of advertising potential here.

Boomers don’t want to just spend money on the things they need; we have the dollars and the desire to splurge on the things we want, according to a report in Bloomberg.

Different Than our Parents

We are different than our parents or at least we like to think we are different. Our demographic disdains the cookie cutter concept. We prefer to break the mold and have been doing so with each life stage. From our youth to adulthood and now to our “golden years,” the only thing predictable about us is our unpredictability.

Tapping into our desires is especially challenging. Yet trying to understand us is the admirable goal of the Live Well Collaborative (LWC) — comprised of University of Cincinnati students and faculty and corporations. Boasting participants such as Procter and Gamble Co., General Mills, Boeing and Pfizer, LWC has been meeting since 2007 to research ideas and develop products for America’s aging population.

LWC has completed dozens of studies that include airplane boarding and understanding the future traveler; geriatric medical form redesigns; hospital gown redesign; and how the physical infirmities of age make it difficult to handle various products. It has several patents pending that cater to the aging population.

The Big Challenge

The big challenge? The boomer demographic doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all profile. Not to mention that our age-phobic proclivities make it difficult to sell us products that we may need but not want. After all, what boomer wants to be associated with adult diapers or false teeth adhesive? Contrary to traditional marketing assumptions about boomers, our interests transcend youth-enhancing products and services. We are not that one dimensional.

The “golden age” for us, is much different than that of our parents in every way possible.

We spend money differently. While our parents were more frugal, we are spendthrifts.

Both generations like to spoil the grandkids, but we also indulge our pets.

We may need mobility aids and denture cream, but we require a different message when selling to us. While previous campaigns marketed to our parents embraced the morbid implications of aging, we need a positive spin to convince us.

Our parents are challenged and baffled by evolving technology, but we boomers are technologically able and willing to buy the latest gadget. If there is any doubt, just ask my friends who salivate over every newly-released system for their iPhones and iPads, or dedicate hours choosing between Roku or Apple TV because they want the perfect video streaming box. One of our favorite pastimes during dinner parties is to compare and share iPhone apps.

While our parents prefer to shop brick and mortar, we eschew the mall for online shopping. Groupon, Rue La La and Amazon are popular sites visited among my friends.

Buying Habits Similar to Our Kids

For the first time in recent memory, older folks’ buying habits are more similar to those of their children than to their parents’.

Even the traditional preferred television demographic is being revised. As far back as 2003, more than 1,000 media professionals from ad agencies and buying firms participated in a study that found that baby boomers were more valuable to their clients.

The study, conducted by Insight Express in partnership with MediaPost, found that the 35-64 age demographic was tied with the 18-34 demographic in terms of advertiser appeal. Finally, a statistic that backs up the spending habits of this television-addicted boomer.

So while advertisers are starting to take a first look, they and product developers need to learn how to capture us. For a product to be successful, it must tap into our emotions in a positive way. It seems impossible to come up with a product or market plan that sells us something we need, without making us feel old about needing it. Yikes, it sounds impossible even to my baby boomer ears.

Finding Our Sweet Spot

Sure its a challenge to find our sweet spot — to discover our unmet, unspoken needs. Compounding the challenge is marketing research is starting late in the game, so now it’s playing catch up.

The aging market was mostly stereotyped and ignored for years by youth-obsessed advertisers and product developers. Then one day this massive demographic became old and the same neglect and preconceived notions were applied to us as they were to our parents’ generation. Let’s not even begin to talk about the ways in which our parents got short shrifted by Madison Avenue.

“I have been in meetings where I ask Fortune 500 CEOs what they would do about this market, and often their minds jump to assisted-living devices for dementia or grab bars for showers,” said Ken Dychtwald, who runs a consultancy called Age Wave. “They don’t think of Lexus convertibles. They don’t think of Amazon. They should,” he said in a Bloomberg report.

We have a complicated collective psyche that makes it difficult for companies to successfully meet our desires. Marketing to a stereotype doesn’t cut it. It takes more. But we are more than worth it.

So as boomers have done with every phase of life, we are once again challenging the status quo, this time in terms of negative aging stereotypes. While brandishing our credit cards might not be the best way to change attitudes, if it takes spending a bit of gold to make them take us seriously, so be it.

Sondra Shapiro is the publisher of Fifty Plus Life. She can be reached at Read more at Follow her at


5 Responses to “Are advertisers finally discovering our sweet spot?”

  1. Eric Brody says:


    It is amazing how so many companies are disregarding the prize that is right in front of their eyes –– the soon to be $15 trillion market. From a business standpoint, this is the definition of a really sexy market.

    But to reap this reward, it requires the washing away of stereotypes to really opening one’s eyes to view this market in a fresh new way. To understanding that there’s an incredible opportunity to respond to the aspirations of this exciting and vibrant market, beyond simply providing the “must-have” products that sometimes go along with aging.

    To disregard this population is to the detriment of your business. To paraphrase the words of Cher when she slaps Nicholas Cage in the movie Moonstruck — “snap out of it” marketers.

    Eric Brody
    President, Trajectory

  2. Amy Blitchok says:

    It is bad enough the general population makes certain assumptions about seniors and baby boomers, but it only gets worse when marketers and manufacturers encourage a narrow view of what it means to be 65+ through their products and business practices. There are millions of baby boomers who have a wide variety of needs. You are absolutely right when you say that we are really missing the mark if we focus on grab bars and mobility equipment and ignore the tech savvy seniors with spending power.

  3. Bernadette Collins says:

    Thank you for this article. When I sit at lectures and discussions about the “elderly” and I hear of 50 year olds as “seniors”, I am tempted to explode laughing but then I realize the 35 year old speaking hasn’t done His/her homework. Unfortunately, this article may be reaching folks like us who are in your demographic and those who need to read it will see the headline and glaze over.
    Again, thank you for your insight and research.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I teach yoga and fitness to people over 50. None of the folks who come to my classes consider themselves ‘elderly’ – even the eighty-year- olds. These are people who have fantastic levels of fitness and take very good care of themselves. Even if some of them do need ‘adult diapers’ and have arthritis they don’t let it stop them from being active, feeling attractive, and feeling vibrant. They don’t use words like ‘silver’ or ‘senior’ or ‘mature’ to describe themselves. In targeting this market, its important to keep in mind that they have broken the mold and continue to do so. These grandparents aren’t like my grandparents. You’re right, it important not to stereotype them.


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