Brands Lose In The Boomer Zone Due To Outdated Data

Boomer “Generation” vs. “Cohort” – dude, does anyone really care?  

Dissed as too old to adopt new behavior, as devastating to product image and as infuriatingly slow to switch brands, folks outside the 18-49 demographic score low on the cool rating scale in marketing and tech circles.

the-boomer-zoneNo surprise, hip elites from Madison Avenue to Palo Alto, and from CES to SXSW, have banished the Boomers to The Twilight Zone of assisted living facilities across the country. Florida soon may sink into the ocean under the weight of the incoming hordes, clutching oxygen tanks and shuffling to the rhythm of a disco beat on their vintage Sony Walkmans.

Not a few of the cognoscenti are muttering good riddance. The Onion, ever alert to societal snark predicted this back in 1999:

WASHINGTON, DC—After decades of waiting, the much-anticipated mass Baby Boomer die-off should finally commence within the next five to ten years, Census Bureau officials said Monday … the curtain will at long last fall on what is regarded by many as the most odious generation America has ever produced.

So, who are these people who evoke such dismissiveness among the smarty-pants class?

boomer-definition_old-schoolFor starters, they’re not limited to the conventional definition, born 1946-1964. That was just a handy age bracket chosen by the US Census Bureau to assess the future economic impact of high post-WW2 births. In fact, the Bureau refers to the Baby Boom cohort – key word, cohort – not generation.

There’s a huge difference between an age cohort and a social generation – so brace yourself adland, there are actually far more of us than you feared

Hiding in plain sight: millions more odious Boomers 

The US birth rate boom began not in 1946 but in 1940, when the depression-era decline finally turned around, jumping by 5% over 1939. By 1942 the annual growth rate soared to an unprecedented 10% before WW2 briefly interrupted the boom.


This isn’t just insider statistical chatter, we deal with the foundational culture of the social Boomer generation here – and millions of babies born 1940-1945, including many Boomer-culture icons, grew up in the same vibrant post-war society as their slightly younger siblings. Consider …

  • the-monkees_tv-guideAretha Franklin … Bob Dylan … Chevy Chase … Diana Ross
  • Jimi Hendrix … Janis Joplin … Jim “The Doors” Morrison
  • Simon and Garfunkel … The Beatles … The Monkees

Believe or not, traditionalists shove these greats into the Silent Generation (beginning ≈1922/25). Bro, whatever these cool cats were, silent sure ain’t on the list.

So, forget what you’ve heard about 75 million members of the 1946-1964 age cohort, the social Boomer generation born between 1940 and 1964 numbers 88.2 million.


Here at the 15th Nation we refer to this enormous market as the Boomer-Plus Generation™, bonded by indelible socio-cultural DNA:

  • Optimism: embracing change/technology
  • The fabulous golden age of television
  • The Peter Pan Syndrome, clinging to youth
  • Duck-and-cover: fear of war on home soil

As if piling millions of extra Boomer-Plus consumers into the The Onion’s most odious generation isn’t gross enough, as the infomercials say, wait, wait there’s more!

The Boomer-Plus Blob: absorbing 50+ Gen Xers one year at a time

Blindly obeying 18-49 demo dogma, mainstream brands are now dumping Gen Xers as they cross the 50th birthday divide. Madison Avenue rules with an iron hand; from here on, they’ll only see themselves in ads as dithering grannies who can’t do Snapchat and geezer curmudgeons with issues best glossed over in polite company.

the-blob-1958Like the hungry mass in the sci-fi classic, The Blob (1958), the Boomer-Plus Generation now guzzles up Gen X exiles faster than you can say alien life-form.

Some 8.5 million Xers will have been absorbed by the end of 2016. Yum!

And these Boomer-Blob absorbees assimilate rapidly, finding themselves surprisingly at home. You see, Planet Boomer is actually the world in which they grew up; optimistic, adaptable, TV-oriented, youth-focused and over-shadowed by Cold War tensions until the Soviet bloc dissolved in the early nineties.

And, in the final step to Boomer-Plus bonding, they are ostracized by adland simply because they’re over fifty. Thanks to 18-49 myopia, the 88 million Boomer-Plus Generation will have expanded to over 96 million by year’s end.

The Longevity Economy: the world’s third largest

Last month AARP issued its 2016 update of The Longevity Economy, a treasure trove of data on the 50+ population – folks who possess 83% of US household wealth and about buy half, or more, of most everything sold in America.

The Boomer-Plus Generation represents the lion’s share of this awesome market. At 96 million members, as a country it would be the 15th most populous on Earth (CIA World Factbook); as an economy it would be the world’s third largest.

With a Netflix/Amazon-driven resurgence in mid-century sci-fi, we are already seeing some savvy young adland/techland Millennials checking out our awesome alien world.

Don’t be scared. Come on in – you may never want to leave.


B+CG logoClick link to receive the free 15th Nation newsletter and contact the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group for more profitable engagement with the 50+ space.

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Boomer Wheels Month: The World’s 3rd Largest Auto Market

Bienvenue à Paris: it’s auto show time again

eiffel-towerExcitement is building in advance of the 2016/2017 auto show season kickoff – this year, in Paris (October 1-16).

Rotating annually with the Frankfurt Auto Show, the Mondial de l’Automobile attracts auto makers worldwide to showcase an incredible array of style and innovation.  As the third largest new car market in Europe, France is well-qualified to host the show: according to scorekeepers at the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), almost two million new vehicles are sold there each year.

Also, although little known in the US, French brands Renault and Peugeot are the #2 and #3 best-selling nameplates in Europe behind Volkswagen. Here are the three leading EU nations in terms of 2015 new vehicle registrations.

  • Germany: 3.2 million
  • United Kingdom: 2.6 million
  • France: 1.9 million

These are pretty impressive numbers; it’s no wonder that manufacturers compete so fiercely because, in these markets alone, an extra share point is worth over 70,000 units.

Boomer Wheels Month: celebrating the world’s 3rd largest car market

2015-auto-sales_us-boomers-germany-france-ukIn solidarity with the annual joie de vivre across the pond, we observe September as Boomer Wheels Month.

You see, in 2015, Americans aged 50+ bought about as many new passenger cars, SUVs, pickups and minivans as France, Germany and the UK combined.

Wow, that’s a lot of vehicles! So many that if we were a country we’d be the world’s third largest automotive market; only China and the US itself are bigger.

You’d think that automakers and their ad agencies would be falling over themselves to court our business.

Well, don’t hold your breath.

frankenstein-turns-50Madison Avenue has decreed buyers over fifty to be unworthy of active targeting. Apparently, as we shuffle out of the 18-49 demo, we’re easy to get without trying, too old to change our ways and too wizened to use in ads because younger buyers run for the nearest safe space at the sight of crow’s feet.

OK, we can’t deny the wrinkles – although we prefer “character lines” – but easy to get and incapable of change are just plain nutty! There, we said it; oh yeah, that felt good.

Revolutionizing US auto sales: Boomers are way too young to stop now

In reality, Boomers have been embracing constant change for decades; we invented the modern world and we never stopped adapting. And when it came to passenger vehicles – known in the industry as light duty – Boomers turned the American automotive market upside down. For starters, we …

  • ted-of-bill-and-tedDemolished Detroit domination: in 1970 the Big Three sold 85% of all new light duty vehicles – in 2015 they were down to 45%.
  • Rocketed trucks, vans and SUVs to a 57% market share in 2015, up from 15% in 1970. Back in the day, these were strictly for work – spartan, masculine, rough and down-market.
  • Scorned our parents’ all-American concept of luxury: in 2015 combined Cadillac and Lincoln deliveries were about half (56%) of 1990 levels – total Mercedes, BMW and Lexus sales increased by over 400% in the same  period.


As if all this wasn’t enough, Boomers also welcomed smaller cars – today’s “full-size” would be a compact in 1970 – learned to buy nine brands of “foreign” cars that are actually made in America and got the next-gen fuel segment up and running as the early adopters of EVs and hybrids.

All this – in adland’s quirky world-view – comes to a screeching halt at midnight on our 50th birthday, a millstone milestone that some eight million Gen Xers will have passed by the end of 2016 as they join Boomer car buyers in exile.

13-new-cars-in-a-lifetimeDo you have the appetite for one final auto statistic?

Of course you do. Hey, we know you live for this stuff, so here’s a doozie:

Quoting data from Strategic Vision, a recent Video Advertising Bureau whitepaper reports “of an average of 13 new cars purchased in a lifetime, 7 of those are purchased after age 50.”

Connecting with the world’s 3rd largest automobile market

We’re sure that most automakers and ad agencies know the awesome metrics of the 50+ buyer space – c’mon, 7.6 million new vehicles are hard to miss.

Their failure to address this mega-market has deep roots.

First, the herd instinct – as long as no disruptive brand breaks away to steal sales from complacent competitors, marketers follow the safe, familiar path established years ago by – confession time – then hot-shot young Boomer Mad Men. Second, making authentic connections with older consumers is super-challenging – most ad agency creative departments have a median age around thirty and don’t know how to speak to the 50+ space except in awkward stereotypes.

toast-after-fifty_mommy-and-sweetieThe easy out: dump Boomers from specific targeting and, at all costs, avoid showing “old” people in ads unless it’s a celebrity spokesperson with attention-grabbing cachet.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to increase market share in the world’s third largest auto market. Winning here takes hard work, open minds and expert coaching – not simply to avoid gaffes and goofs, but to build smart, authentic engagement.

And it’s well worth the effort to get things right: remember, Americans over fifty buy as many new cars each year as France, Germany and the UK combined. Zut alors! Ach du Lieber! Blimey!

If there’s a brand out there that could handle the strain of winning an extra share point, aka 75,000 units or so, just honk – nous parlons Boomer-speak.


B+CG logoClick link to receive the free 15th Nation newsletter and contact the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group for more profitable engagement with the 50+ space.

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Boomer Wheels Month: Somewhere West Of Laramie

September is Boomer Wheels Month

2015-us-boomers_vehicle-sales-vs-france-and-germanyEvery fall, car enthusiasts around the world eagerly await the kickoff of the auto expo season. It begins in Europe, alternating annually between Frankfurt, Germany, and Paris, France; in 2016 it’s the turn of The City of Light to play host (October 1-16). Here at the 15th Nation, we celebrate by observing September as Boomer Wheels Month.

It’s only fair.

While almost invisible in auto advertising, consumers over fifty buy half of all the new vehicles sold in America. In fact, at over 7 million units, that’s more new cars than France and Germany combined.

So, with all those check-writing Boomers, why don’t automakers and their ad agencies specifically target buyers outside the 18-49 demo? The usual excuse is that we are too old to switch brands and – anyway – our decrepit presence creeps out younger prospects.

The real reasons are more subtle.

It takes courage for managers to buck conventional wisdom and, even if unleashed by their play-it-safe bosses, most Millennial creatives don’t understand Boomer-speak well enough to authentically engage older consumers.

Unfortunate. With their impressive array of disruptive talents, Millennials would be hell on wheels if given the task of boosting auto brand share in the 50+ space.

Hell on wheels – hmm, we sense a segue …

Bucking conventional adland wisdom: Somewhere West of Laramie

It was 1923.

somewhere-west-of-laramie_blueCar guy Ned Jordan made automotive history with his flashy new model, the Jordan Playboy; more important, he made automotive advertising history with his breakthrough campaign, Somewhere West of Laramie.

Long after the Playboy itself had run its course, Jordan’s revolutionary approach would set the standard for emotion-based auto advertising for generations to come.

Focused on the personality of the car and its driver, he provided no stats, no mechanical data or specs. Instead, he let the broncho-busting, steer-roping girl at the wheel thrill prospects into showrooms.

That’s right, the car was marketed to women: Jordan sure wasn’t afraid to buck convention. And he wasn’t afraid to use the word “girl” either. When Jordan bucked conventional wisdom, he really bucked it.

Here’s the long copy version.


Why Laramie?

Well, in 1923, Wyoming – home to Hell on Wheels, the rowdy end-of-track shanty town that followed the transcontinental railroad construction crew – was part of a Wild West that was still very much alive in the public mind.


Outlaw Frank James died just eight years back, Buffalo Bill Cody only six years ago.

And Wyatt “OK Corral” Earp was consulting for Hollywood westerns, drawing on his colorful past to coach screen cowboy idols like William S. Hart and Tom Mix. When Earp died in 1929, Mix wept  at his funeral.

What Jordan knew full well was that the West symbolized, above all, freedom, adventure and action. As, too, did automobiles. Thanks to the Boomers, his brilliant synthesis still plays out in the modern American auto marketplace.

Boomers and westerns: imprinting that endures 

Boomers grew up with westerns, but we didn’t invent them – they were already big back in 1923. But it took John Ford’s classic Stagecoach (1939) to vault the genre – and its young star, John Wayne – into A-movie status.

By the time we came along, sprawled on shag carpets in front of the world’s first electronic baby sitter, westerns had expanded from movie theaters, radio and comic books to television. Big time.

john-wayne_true-gritIn the late 1950s / early 1960s over twenty westerns ran weekly in prime time; year after year the top-rated series pulled in 30-40% of the viewing audience in their time slots. Today, only the Super Bowl does better.

And “horse operas”, also known as “oaters”, stayed in the mainstream well into the late 1970s.

Gunsmoke (1955-1975), Bonanza (1959-1973) and The Virginian (1962-1971) kept the television trail wide open and at the movies John Wayne ramrodded twenty blockbuster westerns from 1960 through 1976, winning an Oscar for True Grit (1969).

Yep, pardner, we Boomers were well and truly imprinted with that Somewhere West of Laramie spirit long before we got our first set of wheels.

Western wheels in the Digital Age

What makes engaging Boomers so difficult for Madison Avenue is our complexity. Not only did we little cowgirls and cowboys dream of riding the range, but we had this sci-fi adventure thing going on as well.

Even today as the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™ born 1940-1966 embrace the Digital Age – texting, Googling, shopping for a Tesla online – deep inside we’re still captivated by the call of the wild.

2015-us-car-vs-truck-salesAnd that’s why trucks, SUVs and their CUV siblings corral half the American passenger vehicle market. It’s a category rich in escapist western symbolism – rugged, outdoorsy, active and free.

Just mosey down automobile row and take your pick: Ford F150 Lariat, Jeep Wrangler or Laredo, Chevy Colorado or Tahoe – even the imports will gladly sell you a Tacoma, Santa Fe or Tucson. Heck, there’s hardly a place out west left to name a truck for unless anyone is brawny enough to throw a rope on Last Chance or Chugwater.

With all this opportunity, we figure there must be at least a few Millennial mavericks out there in adland willing to quit the herd and head into Boomer territory. Just holler, we’ll help you blaze the trail.


B+CG logoClick link to receive the free 15th Nation newsletter and contact the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group for more profitable engagement with the 50+ space.

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Why Advertising To Boomers Just Got More Important

Shocking new study defines vast Boomer (ugh!) spending power 

Terror in adlandA shocking new study from the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) shamelessly lauds those pariahs of the 18-49 love-fest community, Boomers.

It’s the kind of data we might expect from AARP but not from a respected Madison Avenue insider.

The free report 50 Shades Of Green: Vast Spending Power Of Adults 50+ should strike terror into hearts the length and breadth of adland: it provides a deluge of statistics that demonstrate the folly of ignoring this enormous population – the world’s third largest economy.

Mainstream brand strategists, steel yourself; here are a few disruptive nuggets about the 111 million Americans aged fifty-plus. According to the VAB they …

VAB Report 2016

  • Control 70% of disposable income
  • Account for 58% of retail sales
  • Over-index on high ticket and lifestyle brands
  • Will buy 59% of all new vehicles sold in 2016
  • Will grow by 15 million new members by 2025 – vs. only 5 million new arrivals in the 18-49 demo
  • Will fuel 50% of U.S. consumption growth thru 2030
  • BUT: garner only 15% of marketing dollars spent

Okay, we already hear the defensive group-think chirpers “see, see, we don’t need to advertise to geezers – we get the Boomer business already!”

Well, it’s very chummy that brands agree to only compete in the 18-49 arena and leave 60% of the business uncontested. Hey, the stockholders will understand – who needs more brand share anyway? Evidently not automakers …

New cars bought in a lifetimeThe VAB reports that 7 of the 13 vehicles bought in a typical new car buyer lifetime are purchased after age fifty. So, 45% of the market receives 85% of the specific  targeting dollars. Key word: specific.

Hmm. Kind of answers the old conundrum “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Sure, we understand the “grab ’em when they’re young” philosophy but growing an auto brand is all about conquest business.

BurglarJust ask Elon Musk. Every Tesla sale comes out of the hide of another car company, and, no, at north of $80,000 a copy he’s not just serving avant garde Millennials; half the buyers are over fifty.

Extreme example? Nope. Here’s the point: find the right message, make the right offer, and Boomers business can be stolen from under the nose of complacent rivals – whether its cars, cosmetics, CPGs or smart home IoT devices.

While we’re on the subject of technology … 

VAB – citing Pew Research Center – reports that, while over 80% of Millennials and Gen Xers have a smartphone, penetration lags for Boomers, 58% for 50-64 year olds and 30% among the 65-plus.

However, as we covered in detail in Memo To Smartphone Marketers: Don’t Put Boomers On Hold (November 8, 2015), the Boomer-Plus audience is actually the fastest growing market for smartphones and will add 18-20 million new buyers in the next few years as penetration increases.

Smartphone ownership by age Jan '14 - Jul '15

The late, but inevitable, Boomer arrival isn’t exactly news. For years, marketing experts have explained that while older consumers may be slower to adopt new technology, their huge numbers make them worth waiting for.

Advertising to Baby Boomers_NyrenAnd don’t misread delay as a nostalgic yearning for payphones.  The 50-plus consumer needs smarter reasons to purchase than dude, it’s soo cool. 

In his savvy, easy to read book Advertising to Baby Boomers, adman Chuck Nyren put it this way : “When it comes to new technology, most Baby Boomers learn only about what interests them, what they believe will be useful. They don’t feel the need to know everything there is to know about technology, computers, and the web.”

Mastering Boomer-speak: words bring numbers to life 

Despite the incredible value of the 50+ market, most mainstream brands recoil from the idea of active engagement. Instead, as the VAB reported, they aim 85% of their marketing dollars at the low hanging fruit of the 18-49 demo.

It’s not that advertisers don’t understand the Boomer data – most just don’t know how to communicate with them. And, apart from the work of the few grownups in the field, the occasional attempts they do make are often cringe-worthy.

Stork_Baby to Madison AvenueWhy is this? Well, ad agency staffers have the youngest median age of any profession in the US Bureau of Labor Statistics list of almost 300 occupations. Brilliant though they may be – they’re our kids, after all – without proper coaching it’s impossible for young creatives and strategists to understand, engage and motivate older consumers of mainstream brands.

Jim Gilmartin, principal of Coming Of Age, a 50+ marketing agency explains: “(These markets are) more complex than younger because older minds don’t work through choices the same way younger minds do. The older view of life can be a perplexing mystery to younger people.”

Fortunately, 85% of the 50+ population belongs to a single generation – the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1966. Sure, they all have different stories but they tell them in that most subtle and nuanced of dialects, Boomer-speak.

When your brand is ready to listen, remember, it’s our native language.


B+CG logoClick link to receive the free 15th Nation newsletter and contact the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group for more profitable engagement with the 50+ space.

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How The Boomers Took America Global

The Olympic Games on TV: live pictures from “over there”

Thanks to brand new satellite technology, Americans first saw the Olympic Games on live television in 1964. Tokyo in real time. Arigatou gozaimasu.

Previously, TV and movie newsreel audiences had to wait for the Olympics film to be flown in – from London in 1948, Helsinki in 1952, Melbourne in 1956 and Rome in 1960.

TV penetration 1948-1980_OlympicsTelevision was still relatively new in 1964. Penetration of US households stood at 92%, but just a few years earlier, in 1950, it was a meager 9%. And 97% of viewers watched in black-and-white – only 3% of households had a color TV set in 1964. It would be 1980 before color penetration hit 80%.

OK, it’s not like there’s going to be a pop quiz. No need to memorize the stats, but try to imagine how Boomers felt as we learned to adapt – rapidly, year after year, decade after decade – first to TV itself, then to real-time global satellite broadcasts, to color, to cable to Netflix.

Gilligan's Island_The Skipper_GilliganAnd, wow, in 2016 we can stream the first season of Gilligan’s Island in its original B/W. The circle is complete, little buddy.

Television provides just one example of how adaptability became part of the Boomer persona. Something exciting was always happening – as Walt Disney promised, there was always a big, bright beautiful tomorrow waiting at the end of every day.

The globalization of the American Boomer

The opportunity to watch the Olympics via satellite occurred at a time when Americans were already developing a wider interest in faraway places. Inevitably, this interest was adopted – and intensified – by the Boomers. From the sixties on, we steadily blended global influences into our everyday thinking– sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally and sometimes without even noticing.

TwiggyFor starters, let’s blame the British. Why not – doesn’t everyone?

What with “Bond, James Bond”, The Beatles, The Stones and Twiggy, the sixties took off with an international-lite flavor. After all, sub-titles weren’t required, and there was that special relationship thing in place.

But before long we opened up to French films – personal favorite, 1967 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film, A Man And A Woman – Kung Fu and ethnic food from every corner of the planet.

Today, we Boomers watch our favorite shows on Asian brand TV sets, text one another on smartphones from China and Korea and drive to the movies in one of the import car brands that now dominate the market.

Manny PacquiaoNo wonder more of us know Manny Pacquiao, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat better than our U.S. congressperson. In fact, quite a few of us would gladly switch our current congressperson for Manny Pacquiao, Jackie Chan or Chow Yun Fat.

And Boomers didn’t just absorb new experiences from other cultures, as business people we took America global. We made sure our back-packing Millennial kids could find a Starbucks in 70 countries and decided that, except for James Dean purists, no one would notice – or care – if “all-American” icons like Levi jeans and Chuck Taylor Hi-Tops were manufactured half a world away.

Boomers: participants in progress, not simply observers

One outcome of a lifetime spent constantly embracing change is that we Boomers pioneered mass-market air travel. In 1967 only 20% of Americans had flown in a commercial aircraft; by 2000, the figure was over 90% (Gallup).

We’re not just talking trips to see grandma in Peoria; Boomers became – and remain – the driving force behind vacation travel. According to an Immersion Active whitepaper, Americans aged 50-plus spend well over half of all the nation’s vacation dollars and account for 80% of luxury travel expenditures.

US passports in circulation 1989-2015Along the way, we fueled dramatic growth in U.S. passport ownership, from 7 million in 1989, when the youngest Boomer turned 25, to 126 million in 2015. In percentage terms, that’s a leap from 3% to 39% of the US population.

And, when it comes to overseas travel, Boomers are a far more valuable target than younger age groups. Immersion Active also reports that 60% of Boomers hold a passport, way higher than the under-50 demo – 37% based on U.S. Passport Service data – whose budgets are more limited and, in the family-focused middle years of life, have other priorities.

Meanwhile, backwoods minds stay close to home

Like many insulated backwoods communities, Madison Avenue feels more comfortable staying close to home. Rather than travel to Boomer-world and learn that strange dialect known as Boomer-speak, most mainstream marketers hunker down with their like-minded 18-49 kin-folk and shun outsiders.

Meanwhile, just a passport away, the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1966, lead fascinating lives as the world’s third largest economy. Blissfully unaware that they are supposed to be too old to be adaptable, they spend their days switching brands, trying new products, exploring new technologies and enjoying new experiences.

Homer Simpson said it best: d’oh!

Opportunity_Travel_Homer Simpson

B+CG logoClick link to receive the free 15th Nation newsletter and contact the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group for more profitable engagement with the 50+ space.

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Boomers: The Longevity Economy – Still Stardust, Still Golden

Manhattanhenge: more than a solar phenomenon – a way of life

ManhattanhengeBriefly replacing last week’s Pokémon Go headline deluge, Manhattanhenge grabbed center stage on July 11/12.

Inspired by Britain’s Stonehenge Summer Solstice sunrise observance, the NYC version is both inverted – it occurs at sunset – and belated, trailing the true mid-summer event by three weeks because Manhattan’s street grid pattern runs 29° off true east-west.

Manhattanhenge cognoscenti say one of the best vantage points for this Kodak Moment is at 57th Street and Madison Avenue. The symbolism is hard to miss.

Here, the ancient Druidic cult of demo-worship still thrives. Basking in the creativity sunset, adland reveres the 18-49 consumer with a fanaticism the old Stone Age priesthood would surely have envied.

Like many belief systems, the dogma arose in a bygone Halcyon Age – in this case, the early 1960s, when giants strode the Earth. No, not TV’s Don Draper, but real giants with names like Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, Pappert, Koenig and Lois.

Back then, the 18-49 demographic was considered to define the limits of consumer adaptability; grab’em when they’re young and impressionable, drop’em when they’re old and too set in their ways to waste money on.

Even giants have their day: they never figured that Boomers – the original “question authority” crowd – would refuse to conform to their rigid doctrine. Yep, the sixties changed everything.

Boomers: we are still stardust, we are still golden

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young said it best: we are stardust, we are golden (Woodstock, 1969).

It still holds true today, long after we leading edge Boomers grew up – well at least some of us them – and prospered so well that a 2013 AARP/Oxford Economics study refers to Americans aged fifty-plus as the Longevity Economy.

Manhattanhenge thinkers, listen up: we’re talking about the world’s third largest economy; bigger than Japan, bigger than Germany, France or the UK. Bigger, in fact, than Germany and the UK combined.

Longevity Economy

The third largest economy on Planet Earth – hmm, how can this be?

Well, let’s look at the AARP/Oxford Economics Longevity Economy survey in more depth; they found that in 2012 Americans over fifty …

  • ControlStonehenge Millennialsled 80% of US private net worth
  • Dominated spending in 119 of 123 consumer packaged goods segments
  • Spent $90 billion every year on new cars – 28% more than buyers under 50
  • Were almost half (46%) of the US economy
  • Contributed half of all taxes – 47% Federal and 56% State and Local
  • Provided employment for 100 million Americans
  • Were themselves half the workforce aged 25+
  • Made 70% of all charitable donations

It’s a tribute to orthodoxy and tradition that mainstream Madison Avenue doggedly avoids engaging consumers over fifty. Nielsen reports only about 5-10% of advertising dollars are used to target us – wow, talk about taxation without representation!

Sure, it’s true we get love-bombed for our health and wealth issues – pills, potions and portfolios – but just look at the Longevity Economy data … we’re half the economy. Translation for the mathematically-impaired: we buy half the stuff sold in America.

Boomer adaptability, and how we got that way

Of the 111 million American aged fifty and up in 2016, some 94 million fall into the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1966. If we were a country it would be the world’s 15th most populous nation, bound together by five strands of shared cultural DNA.

DNA tall

  • Adaptability/ constant reinvention — confident in progress through technology
  • Young formative years spent fearing war on American soil
  • Growing up in the Golden Age of pre-cable television
  • The Peter Pan Syndrome – preoccupation with youthfulness at any age
  • Backlash after age fifty – we are persona non grata in ad targeting

Lately, disruptive Millennial clients have begun to ask awkward questions. In self-defense, a few ad agency outliers have re-read the runes and tout a post-Druidic revelation billed as age-agnostic marketing. However, there is no such thing as age-agnostic perception: older brains process communications very differently from those of younger consumers.

Jim Gilmartin, president of Coming Of Age, a Boomer/Senior marketing and advertising agency – full disclosure, a strategic alliance partner of B+CG – explains:

“Empirical studies generally have shown that Baby Boomers are relatively superior to younger adults in understanding emotional states. On the other hand, it appears that older minds tend to be slower in getting the picture when the information representing it is emotionally neutral (expository in nature).”

Here at the 15th Nation we put it less elegantly: Druid-speak isn’t where it’s at. Brands that don’t already have more business than they can handle must dump Dark Ages thinking and connect with the golden stardust program. It’s the future.

Opportunity_We are stardust

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Boomer Tourism, Cold War Era Automaker Thinking And The Cuba Connection

Cuba tourism is booming despite the 1960 embargo

Radio announcerDateline: October 19, 1960, Washington, D.C.

At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy imposes a U.S. travel and trade embargo on Cuba. In other news, Detroit’s boffo all-new models for 1961 are being introduced; Cuba will have to keep calm and carry on with old cars in future.

Before the embargo, and Fidel Castro’s revolution that precipitated it, Cuba was a popular destination for American tourists. A lot has changed since then – not only travel behavior but also in the automobile market. Back in October 1960, when most Boomers’ early memories and attitudes were still forming, it was a very different world …

  • 1961 Top car adsFolks drove cars, not trucks
  • Domestic nameplates controlled 95% of the market
  • Upstart Volkswagen was the top import, with a 2/3 share
  • Mercedes was a small foreign car: it would not displace Cadillac as the Cadillac Of The Industry for another 20 years.

Despite America’s cold shoulder, Cuba has steadily recovered its popularity as a vacation destination. Canadians love the place – over a million visit each year – and the Europeans are not far behind …

  • Caribbean_Cuba travel 20152015 was a record for Cuba visitors (3.5 million).
  • 2014 to 2015 growth (17.4%) was over twice that for the Caribbean overall (7%).
  • Only 161,000 Cuba visitors were mainstream Americans with no family ties to the island – mainly celebrities, academics and politicos  on permitted cultural exchanges.

Boomers … “the driving financial force for travel” (Brent Green)

Some analysts attribute the boom to a rush to experience the “real” Cuba before we American rubes spoil the place with our penchant for efficiency, air conditioning and Starbucks.

You can be sure that a whole lot of Boomers do indeed have Cuba on their bucket list – the Caribbean is already the #2 overseas destination for US travelers behind Europe (our neighbors Canada and Mexico are international destinations not overseas).

No surprise, Boomers are the bedrock upon which the U.S. travel industry is built. Half of all leisure trips are accounted for by those over fifty, and that translates into mega-billions of dollars.

Travel_US 2015 by generationIn 2015 U.S. travelers of all ages racked up almost a trillion dollars in expenditures, $651 billion for leisure and $296 billion for business (U.S. Travel Association).

Given our lifelong curiosity and adaptability, it’s understandable that Boomers should dominate this vast market – after all, we pioneered the mass-tourism business. In 1967, the oldest of us were already grabbing backpacks and taking to the friendly skies at a time when only 20% of Americans had ever ridden in an airplane (Gallup) – today, it’s north of 90%.

It’s also understandable that, following the 1970 advice of Crosby, Stills and Nash to teach your children well, we Boomers went on to introduce our kids to the joy of far away places with strange sounding names. Today, experiencing travel is pretty much a rite of passage for Millennials.

Of course, the industry is smart enough to not lose sight of the big dollars – the fifty-plus space in general, and Boomers in particular

As generational marketing expert Brent Green put it in a recent interview with Travel Pulse “for the next 20 years Baby Boomers are, without question, the financial force behind leisure travel … (and) the sweetest of the sweet spot are leading edge Baby Boomers – those 61-70 years of age.”

The 50+ space: automakers can learn from the travel industry 

2015 Vehicle sales _ US _ Germany _ UKAutomakers should take note of Brent’s insights: applying his time frame to the car business … in the next 20 years, Americans over fifty will buy 150 million new vehicles.

Yes, you read it correctly: in 2015 alone, we purchased 7.6 million – more than Germany and the UK combined. At this rate, with four million newcomers arriving in AARP territory annually, U.S. buyers over fifty will buy 150 million new vehicles over the  next 20 years.

So it’s totally bizarre is that car makers enforce a strict embargo on ads directly targeting consumers outside the 18-49 demographic. Afraid to scare Millennials, they throw away $millions in extra profits by marginalizing older buyers.

Don Draper in CubaThis relic of mid-century thinking is frozen in time, just like Havana’s fleet of pre-1960 automobiles.

If the travel industry can profit enormously from a modern understanding of the Boomer-Plus generation, maybe disruptive Millennials in the car business can persuade the old guard to drop their share-killing Cold War era ban on engaging prospects over fifty. You know – build bridges, not walls.

Of course, they’ll need experienced tour guides to show them around Boomer-World and explain the local language, culture and – crucial – social gaffes that annoy the locals.

Opportunity_Cuba travel

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Gyrating Gasoline Prices? Boomers Have Been There, Done That

Fossil fuel pessimists panic: the good news is the bad news is wrong 

Chicken Little_This time it's trueWe all know bad news boosts ratings, readership and clicks. Day after day we learn the sky is falling, the sky is falling. Makes a person wonder who puts the sky back up every night.

In the eighties, when today’s cutting edge analysts were earning gold stars and smiley faces for tying their shoe laces correctly, the late Ben Wattenberg wrote The Good News Is The Bad News Is Wrong. Published in 1984, it’s available on Amazon, starting at 1 cent (used) and chock-full of facts, stats and, especially, myth-busters about the decades that shaped Boomer-world.

No, we don’t get an Amazon commission.

Gas lines June, 1979Wattenberg’s book was published when the nation – and the world – was recovering from back to back oil shortages triggered by Middle East crises in 1973/74 and 1979/80. Fuel prices spiked, panic buying erupted, gas lines grew and young Boomers, already rattled by rising dependence on foreign oil after U.S. production peaked in 1970, were ripe targets for disaster scenarios of all types.

And, naturally, there was no shortage of “experts” to assure us the sky was indeed falling. All over the place, apparently.

For starters, world oil would run out in 45 years and vital raw materials would be gone even sooner. But it didn’t matter because pollution or the newly-arrived ice age would kill us all off before then.

Today, Boomers deal with falling skies a little more skeptically than we did back then. A lifetime of constant learning and adjustment – we Boomers call it experience and adaptation – helps us to put things in perspective.

Arnold_SUVConsider, for example,  gyrating fuel prices. OPEC power crumbled after the 1979/80 crisis in the wake of attempts to artificially maintain panic level pricing. The result was twenty years of cheap fuel that ushered in the SUV era.

Nothing lasts forever: prices eventually rose again. Eight of the ten years 2006-2015 saw gasoline average $3+ a gallon.

Pessimists felt vindicated. But Boomers who didn’t skip Economics 101 back in the day were not surprised when, spurred on by the profit motive, oil producers discovered new sources. By 2015 daily U.S crude oil production (9.4 million barrels) was close to its 1970 peak (9.6 million).

And it’s not just production that is up; proven worldwide reserves of oil and natural gas have both more than doubled since 1980. Must be that Economics 101 thing at work.

US Oil production 1850-2015 _ World reserves 1980-2014

Now, despite soaring global demand we are in a fuel glut again. According to Reuters, energy companies are struggling to find new markets and ways to store the stuff.

All this is good news because, when EVs really, really, take off – maybe by mid-century – all that pesky fossil fuel will be generating most of their electricity needs and powering the heavy equipment needed to build the infrastructure.

Heck, boys and girls, them big ol’ Caterpillar earth-movers ain’t gonna run on no AAA batteries.

Boomer adaptability: gyrating gas prices – been there, done that

Clearly, Boomers have a long view of fuel pricing – and the attendant personal, political, environmental and auto industry implications. We’ve been there, done that all the way from 36 cent gasoline in 1970 to $2.45 in 2015 (U.S. Energy Information Administration / EIA).

There were plenty of ups and downs along that 45 year road – and let’s not forget what our parents told us about the 1950s. Obviously, to understand what it was really like for Boomers to experience the ride we need informed then-and-now comparisons.

  • US Gasoline prices 1950-2015 current vs 1970 dollarsCurrent dollar comparison … what gas actually costs at the pump. In 1970 we paid 36 cents. In 2015 we paid $2.45 – a 575% jump. Ouch!
  • 1970 constant dollar comparison … adjusting the buying power of money for inflation, we see $2.45 in 2015 actually buys the equivalent of 40 cents in 1970 money. Wow, only 40 cents a gallon … let’s go fill up!

Hmm, measured in terms of Americans’ buying power – constant 1970 dollars – prices have remained fairly stable. In fact, drivers today are getting a great deal, We’re paying 10% more than in 1970 but getting twice the fuel economy from modern cars – so we’re spending less of our income on gasoline than 45 years ago.

So, what part of Boomer adaptability is hard to understand?

It’s weird, but despite dealing with the roller-coaster ride of gasoline pricing – and boom or bust headlines – Boomer adaptability is a tough sell on Madison Avenue. Here, only the 18-49 demo is thought capable of switching its buying behavior, and orthodoxy is rigidly enforced.

Like an 1996 EV1 owner rationing power on a trip to the closest grocery store, adland’s Don Drapers restrict the creative energy of their new Millennial hires to a narrow, safe range.

Too bad. The enormous fifty-plus marketplace is so close at hand for those with enough imagination to visit. The courageous few who venture in will find the space dominated by a single generation – Boomer-Plus, born 1940-1966 – that represents the third largest economy on the planet.

Think of Boomers as vast, untapped energy reserves to power brand growth. All that disruptive thinkers need is an experienced drilling crew to start the gushers flowing.

Opportunity_New power source_BOOMERS

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Boomer Megatrend Embraced By Millennials: Sports Shoes As Everyday-Wear

Running for fun is booming: especially in Boulder, Colorado

Peter Pan 2016In 1970 around 100,000 run-for-funners – or was it runners-for-fun? – participated in a U.S. road or cross-country race. Pretty much all of us were Boomer jocks.

Thanks to their Peter Pan DNA Boomers rejected the idea of aging, and drove the amazing fitness craze of the seventies and eighties. Aerobics, gyms, soccer, mountain biking, running – you name it and Boomers pioneered it.

Data from Running USA shows just how rapidly the run-for-fun movement took off; in 1990 almost 4.8 million people finished a running event, doubling to 9.4 million in 2005, doubling again by 2013 to 19 million. Along the way, the sport went from a strong male skew – around 95% in 1970 and still 75% in 1990 – to one in which over half the participants are women.

Running USA 1970-2014

In 2016 we estimate around 20 million will finish a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, marathon or some other distance race at some 28,000 events across the U.S.

Perhaps the most impressive of these is the Bolder Boulder 10K, founded in 1979 by Baby Boomer Frank Shorter – one of America’s all-time great distance runners and the 1972 Olympic Marathon champion. Run each year on Memorial Day at an elevation of 5,300 feet – a mile high, where the air is 20% thinner than at sea level – it takes a lot more huffing and puffing to get around the course.

The full 2016 stats won’t be available for a couple of weeks, but last year’s were pretty amazing: in 2015, with 45,336 finishers, the Bolder Boulder was the #3 race in the nation. Only the Atlanta/Peachtree 10K (54,752) and the New York Marathon (49,365) had more.

  • Bolder Boulder for bulletsThe number of Bolder Boulder finishers is equivalent to 44% of the town’s population (102,500). New York City would need another 3.6 million Marathon runners to match this ratio
  • Thanks to pioneering Boomer moms of the sixties and seventies, 60% of the 15,000+ Millennial finishers were women.
  • And those Boomer moms (and dads) are still going strong: 21% of Bolder Boulder 2015 finishers were aged 50-plus (9,390) – over three hundred were 75-89 years of age.

How Boomers created the athletic and sports wear industry

All that Boomer running around and working out in the sixties and seventies sure involved a lot of athletic shoes and workout clothes.

Converse 1970s AdIt was the heyday of do your own thing, so we of the jock-wannabe persuasion soon figured out that wearing our running shoes and tracksuits around town was a way to sidestep the domesticated imagery into which our conformist peers were steadily sliding. Of course, they called it growing up but, hey, what’s in a name?

Well, we must have looked cool because by the mid 1970s sales of Nike, Reebok, Puma, Adidas, Tiger and Converse were zooming. Athletic shoes as everyday casual-wear had gone mainstream and sales never looked back.

Inevitably, athletic/sports wear expanded beyond just shoes. In fact, from Air Jordans, Under Armour and Peyton Manning jerseys to Fabletics, just about anything goes when it comes to sporty-cool self-expression. Today, according to data tracker Statista, the retail sporting goods industry – footwear, clothing and equipment – is a $65 billion business.

Athletic_Sports Purchases 2002-2015

Looking closer at the Statista data we see that footwear accounts for around a third of athletic/sporting goods sales – $21 billion in 2015.

Looking even closer brings shocking news …

Peter Pan and Wendy Boomers: still taking care of business

Given the active symbolism of athletic shoe culture, it’s only natural that Peter Pan and Wendy Boomers are still addicted. Okay, okay, we hear the myopic 18-49 demo herd muttering “yeah, maybe a few old timers tottering around rest homes in ancient velour leisure suits.”

Athletic_Sports Purchases 2002-2015C’mon, didn’t we just report that 21% of Bolder Boulder racers, key word racers, not shufflers, were 50 or older in 2015?

Brace yourselves.

Consumers aged fifty-plus buy a third (34%) of all U.S. athletic footwear, far more than any other generation (Statista).

In fact, not only are consumers over fifty the most valuable generation for sports shoe marketers, we are also number one when it comes to automobiles, CPGs and home improvement products, and we’re the fastest growing segment for smartphones.

These massive numbers are hardly surprising: the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940 to 1966, is 94 million strong and the third largest economy on the planet behind the USA and China.

So it’s beyond bizarre that we only get 5-10% of the ad targeting dollars (Nielsen) because mainstream marketers claim we are too old to adopt new ideas or switch brands.

Fortunately, scattered among the old school Florsheim wingtip and penny loafer thinkers along Madison Avenue, a few upstart Millennial Tigers are stirring. We can help them lace up and hit the ground running before the crowds arrive.

Opportunity_Bolder Boulder 2016

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Volkswagen’s Untapped Reserves Of Boomer Goodwill

Volkswagen recovering from diesel downer

VW Herbie Rides AgainU.S. auto sales figures are in for the first four months of 2016, and they are encouraging for Volkswagen.

Not great but, under the circumstances, encouraging.

In fact, the results are better than many predicted when the diesel/EPA cheating scandal hit the news, an event we dubbed VW’s Klingon Moment.

In addition to a PR crisis – which, like consumer stereotypes of diesel engines, was loud, dirty and smelly – the brand would suffer a huge financial hit.

After selling 79,422 diesel models in 2014 – 21.6% of the brand total (VWoA) – some analysts predicted losses up to 25% after the company dropped them.

Well, no doubt about it, Volkswagen deliveries were down in January through April 2016 versus the same period in 2015 – but only by 11.7%, or roughly half the worst case.

VW sales decline_Jan-Apr 2016 vs 2015Even better, the rate of year-over-year loss declined each month. In January 2016 the drop was 14.6% but by April it was down to 9.6%.

Good news isn’t as good for click-bait as bad news, so you might have difficulty finding positive spins. For example, an April Bloomberg headline blared Volkswagen Brand’s U.S. Sales Decline in Fifth Straight Drop.

Except for commercial vans and pickups, diesel has retreated to the tiny realm of the aficionado. In Q1 2016 only 5,380 diesel cars or crossovers/SUVs were sold.

Even before Dieselgate, Volkswagen struggled to reach sales goals

Heisser SommerBy the summer of 2011, it was clear things were heating up for Volkswagen; demand was higher than in decades.

U.S. deliveries that year were 324,000, jumping by 35% in 2012 to 438,000 – the most since 1973, when VW last exceeded 400,000.

Brand planners jumped for joy; the company seemed to be on track to its ambitious 2018 goal of 800,000, way higher than the record of 569,000 back in Beetle-dominated 1970.

But, as the chart below shows, this was not to be. Volkswagen sales had been on a roller coaster for decades and the 21st century is no exception. Even before Dieselgate, in 2013 and 2014 sales fell by 7-10% a year in a market that was growing by 6% annually.

VW Brand Sales 1952-2015

Sadly, that 800,000 sales goal has receded far into the misty future.

America’s counter-culture college sweetheart 

Volkswagen was the progressive Boomer’s counter-culture college sweetheart And its classic Think Small ad campaign resonated by making a virtue of not fitting in.

VW Ads 1960s

But the early 1970s were a turning point. The times, they were – okay, okay, all together now – a changin. VW had trouble adapting to the new realities.

Shameless self-promotion alert:

J. D. Batman and Robin_2

In those days, tiny new startup J. D. Power & Associates – David Power and your humble scribe, aka the Batman and Robin of automotive research – were kept busy consulting with the top four Japanese brands in their drive to connect with American consumers.

Inevitably, in 1975, Toyota passed Volkswagen in sales, soon to be followed by Datsun/Nissan, Honda and Mazda.

Sure, their cars and their savvy young marketers had something to do with it. Maybe a lot. But why spoil a good story.

Volkswagen partially recovered in the late seventies/early eighties with its new Rabbit, Jetta and Scirocco lineup, but was unable to fully rekindle its Beetle-era romance with the Boomer audience.

VW The Low_1993Always prescient, J. David Power nailed it in 1984 “The people who bought Rabbits in the late 1970s are back in the market now, but they’re not looking for Volkswagens” (BusinessWeek)

Sales fell to 48,500 in 1993 and the company briefly considered leaving the U.S. market before successfully re-inventing the brand over the next two decades.

Boomer still have a soft spot for Volkswagen

Fast forward to the 21st century. Call it a Lolita fixation or a Cougar complex, but Volkswagen now chases Millennials. Of course, they don’t buy many cars, but are cool to hang out with. Just being seen with them makes a brand feel young again.

Despite being dumped, we Boomers still have a soft spot for Vee-Dub. After all, we were imprinted in our youth and fond memories linger on.

Which should be good news for the brand because the 18-49 demo alone cannot support the company’s recovery. No way. And there’s hard evidence.

2015 Vehicle sales _ US _ Germany _ UKIn August, 2015 the NADA chief economist reported the median new car buyer age as 51.7 (Automotive News).

Translation: consumers over fifty buy over half the new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. In round numbers, we figure 52%.

Deducting 2.7 million (e) fleet sales from the 17.4 million light duty vehicles sold in 2015, that means the 50+ space accounted for 7.6 million.

That’s more than the top two European countries combined – Germany (3.2 mm) and the UK (2.6 mm). Ausgezeichnet! Good show!

Weird, then, that auto advertisers avoid targeting Boomers directly. What’s up with that?

Granny advice

And it’s not just Volkswagen, but every manufacturer. When was the last time you saw a Boomer-Plus target buyer depicted in an ad?

When pressed, it’s the perennial teenager excuse “OMG, like, OK, everyone, like everyone, disses Boomers. Bruh, they’re like, zero chill. Totally!” 

It’s time for a disruptive, grown-up reassessment of the Boomer consumer.

Of the 111 million Americans over 50, the largest group by far is the 94 million strong Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1966. They still buy millions and millions of new cars, and many never lost warm feelings for Vee-Dub.

So it’s easier for Boomers than the 18-49 demo to put the diesel mess into perspective. They’ve seen their old friend stumble before, and are the best prospects to help the brand repair its market share.

All it takes is a sincere invitation from Volkswagen. And some smart brand mechanics.

Opportunity_Brand Repair

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Risky Shades Of Gray: Millennials Are Aging — And Madison Avenue Is Noticing

Escaping grayscale: colorful Boomer lives

Kodak 1965Boomers knew exactly what Paul Simon meant when he sang “Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colors … everything looks worse in black and white.”

Kodachrome hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in June, 1973, and it’s still worth a listen. Oops. It’s 2016 already. Time flies. Make that worth a YouTube view.

For Boomers who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s most of our little kid pictures were in black and white. But, hey, were we ever cute, squinting into the sun for posterity. Color film was special – a pricey luxury for everyday families.

In fact, color images of any type signaled upmarket and modern. At the movies, Technicolor took top billing, color magazine ads seemed more glamorous and modern and color TV was a wow!

Color TV Penetration 1964-1980When Simon’s hit took off, color television penetration was in the process of exploding, doubling from 39% of TV households to 83% in 1980.

Just a few short years later, the Millennials were born into a rainbow world they would take for granted.

However, for Boomers and older Gen Xers, the arrival of a color television was an exciting, transformative experience, one of many on our life’s journey. Along the way, the iconic Kodak film brand slipped into yesteryear Americana along with the One Hour Photo booth and the film processing counter at the corner drug store.

Meanwhile, we careened from one fantastic new technology to the next.

  • Spectrum_Paint swirl 31964 / 1965: Kodak’s Instamatic camera and Super 8 movie film put affordable, decent quality color photography and 3-minute motion pictures into the hands of folks who couldn’t tell an f-stop from the Hollywood Sign.
  • 1972: Polaroid introduced the instant film SX-70 camera. Easy. Quick. And for those who valued privacy, no eye-rolls or smirks from the sales clerk at pickup.
  • 1975-1990: tape-based VCRs and video cameras triggered a Beta vs. VHS format war in which Boomers hefted bulky shoulder-mounted videocams, looking like ’80s era insurgents toting RPGs around downtown Kabul.
  • 1996-2000: Solid state/memory card digital cameras – still and movie – and DVD players put old school film and tape systems out of business. Expensive at first – 2 megapixels for “only” $900 – prices dropped quickly and capability soared. Moore’s Law in action.
  • 2001-2016: We stream content, can’t live without our iPhones, iPads or their android competitors and no longer see Blu-ray as cutting edge.

Dr Sivana_OldAfter embracing, pioneering – and inventing – this incredible 50-year technology-fest, and creating an amazing world for our Millennial children, Boomers and Gen Xers are irked to learn we are now seen as incapable of adopting new ideas or changing behavior.

So says Madison Avenue, anyway. The ad-biz excuse for what passes for strategic thinking these days is that consumer adaptability defaults to grayscale immediately upon exiting the 18-49 demo.

Millennials are aging: dad bods and mommy-mobiles

Replacing Boomers in advertisers’ affection are the Millennials, born 1982-2000 (U.S. Census Bureau). However, although the youngest have yet to graduate high school, enough have crossed over to their thirties that taste-makers are sensing the warning signs of creeping normalcy, aka the life-stage effect. Millennials are growing old!

Always a little upstream from the herd, already last year we wrote that Millennials are morphing into Boomers.

Family storytime 2We noted they are having babies, forsaking urban lofts for affordable new homes in sunbelt suburbs, buying grownup family cars and worrying about how those used-to-be-cool Spring Break tattoos will look on crepey skin.

It gets worse. Writing in MediaPost (April 4, 2016), Boomer Jack Loechner cites further evidence from Nielsen in Millennials Not A Monolithic Group: Lifestyle Changes Things. Apparently, Millennials who are starting families spend more time on live TV, DVRs and DVDs – and less on smartphones – than their childless siblings.

TV viewing hours per day Q4 2015It’s a sure sign that geezerhood is on the way; adland knows that time spent watching TV increases with age.

But that’s what happens when life involves cuddling rug rats on the couch while streaming old Scooby-Doo cartoons. Yep, the same ones you watched when you were a kid. They wear well.

Recognizing that no generation is monolithic is the liberating first step for brands looking to increase profit and share. In a year or two, maybe three, mainstream marketers will apply this knowledge to the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™ born 1940-1966.

When they do these laggards will be too late. We don’t like to brag, but our gurus already provide disruptive brands with a prism through which to shine bright white light on the 50+ space.

And white light – like Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers – is not monolithic; shone through a prism it reveals an infinite range of rainbow hues.

Opportunity_PrismB+CG logoClick to receive the free 15th Nation newsletter and contact the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group for more profitable engagement with the 50+ space.

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Advertising To Boomers: Shakespearean Thinking Doth Flourish On Madison Avenue

William Shakespeare: gone but not forgotten –  unlike the Boomers

Last Saturday, April 23rd, was the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. Hey, hold the “so what?” eye-rolls; brainiacs from TIME to Google Doodle honored the event, gilding their culture-cred with well-known quotes laid on with a trowel.

Shakespeare_GroovyIt’s no exaggeration – well, maybe a little – to call Shakespeare the Boomers’ poet laureate. After all, perched above the Shakespeare’s Head pub, his effigy looks out over London’s Carnaby Street – surely the most famous UK locale back in the swingin’ sixties when the British Invasion rocked our world. Heck, The Beatles hung out there. The Stones. Maybe even Austin Powers!

At least Shakespeare is still relevant. On the other hand, Boomers – and, recently, older Gen Xers – are condemned to the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns (hat tip, Prince of Denmark). Despite being America’s most valuable consumers, those 50-plus receive only around 5% of ad targeting budgets (Nielsen).

50+ Market shares vs. ads

So, to mark the great man’s anniversary we dispatched eternally optimistic Boomer Alfred E. Neuman to track down movers and shakers at A-list ad agency Groupe Thinke 1600 and pose the following question:

Consumers over fifty buy half the new cars sold in America, over half the CPGs, two-thirds of home improvement products and are the fastest growing segment for smartphones and tablets, plus, they own around 80% of US household net assets, so … why don’t we see them in advertising?

Apparently some of Madison Avenue’s brightest still live by the Bard’s 400 year-old words; at least at Groupe Thinke 1600.

  • Alfred E Neuman_ShakespeareChief Strategist Mark Anthony: Recently I had to report a Millennial to HR for asking the same question – he thinks too much; such men are dangerous. We prefer to bury Boomers, not to praise them. 
  • Media VP Hamlet: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark – and it be not the 18-49 demo!
  • Digital marketing whiz kid Juliet Capulet: Gen Xers are, like, totally turning fifty and becoming Boomers. I’m, like, eew! A pox on both your houses!
  • Chief Creative Officer Macbeth: Bro, advertise to Boomers? It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

A new day is dawning, thanks to the infinite monkey theorem

Shakespeare is not all tragedy and drama; he has his lighter moments. And, because of his famous verbiage, he became the catalyst for one of the most endearingly goofy challenges in statistics – the infinite monkey theorem.

Monkey ShakespeareThe theorem states that an infinite number of monkeys hitting the keyboards of an infinite number typewriters for an infinite amount of time will eventually produce the complete works of William Shakespeare (HT Wikipedia).

Which provides a convenient segue into the realm of really big numbers. Really, really big.

Like the $51 trillion of net worth owned by Americans aged fifty-plus. Really-big-number-wise, that means $51,000,000,000,000 is in the hands of consumers who can be grouped, segmented and clustered in more combinations and permutations than even the infinite monkey team could figure. No offense intended, Bonzo.

2014 US Hhold net worth by demo_barBut the bottom line is easy: just remember Americans over fifty have $51 trillion in buying power … the 18-49 demo, so beloved by mainstream brand thinkers, has only $15 trillion.

No surprise, some of adland’s smartest, most rebellious Millennials are starting to see new opportunities; 51 trillion opportunities, to be exact.

They sense a new day is dawning: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” they ask themselves. Okay, maybe not as cool as Romeo – more like “let’s go steal some market share before the competition wakes up.” But you get the gist.

A brave new world after fifty

The closer one looks, the more appealing the 50+ space becomes. Of the 110 million U.S. consumers in the arena, 94 million belong to the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1966 – either Boomers themselves or Gen Xers aged fifty-plus.

If this amazing generation were a country it would be the world’s 15th most populous –bigger and more affluent than any European nation, and the third largest economy on Earth.

As usual, the loquacious Bard of Avon has an apt description:

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in it!

Fortunately for disruptive brand thinkers, it is also our world – we’ll gladly give you a tour.

Opportunity_Brave New World

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Gen Xers In Marketing Struggling To Avoid The Boomers’ Fate

The prospect of a hanging

Hang em HighIt’s often been said nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a hanging – our favorite humorist, Mark Twain, added the key words especially your own.

The great thing about Twain is the old chap has been dead for so long that quoting him sounds more sophisticated than dated.

Unlike, say, citing Woody Allen, Eddie Murphy or Billy Crystal. It all depends on one’s generational reference points – the drivers of what’s hot and what’s not.

For instance, as we recently wrote, by the end of this year Madison Avenue will have dumped 8.5 million Gen Xers into Boot Hill simply because they turned fifty in 2015 and 2016. In ad biz terms, they are no longer part of the “coveted 18-49 demographic.”

But, recently, media and marketing’s 40-somethings have begun to see the writing on the wall; the race is on to avoid sharing oblivion with those odious Boomers. Sure, everyone knows they deserved it, but, please, not me!

Fans of old western movies know the script: the white hats defend the intended victim and try to calm the mob. A tense situation. It could go either way …

Gen X Home ownership 2005_2015For Gen Xers – born 1965-1981 – the scenario is playing out along familiar lines. The thumbs-down crowd questions their value – dissing their low assets and the lingering effects of a deprived, latchkey childhood – while boosters talk them up as an overlooked treasure trove of spending power.

  • Gen X Is The Most Screwed Generation When It Comes To Real Estate (HuffPost)
  • Housing Bust Lingers for Gen X (Wall Street Journal)
  • Reaching Generation X: Authenticity In Advertising (Nielsen)
  • 5 Reasons Marketers Have Largely Overlooked Generation X (ADWEEK)

Making the case for both Gen X and Boomers

The ADWEEK piece, by Xer Robert Klara – approaching the big 5-Oh himself – is a must-read … on two levels.

Level One, logic. Klara makes a strong case for rescuing Gen X from forgotten status, linking to a pretty cool video to extol its spending power. Based on a somewhat inflated age range of 35-54, we learn Gen X accounts for 31% of consumer spending.

This factoid was enough to encourage one courageous advertiser to actually target folks in their late forties/early fifties. Gasp! Disbelief! Applause! A Cannes Lion Award. Bien sûr.

H-hold income as of Sept 2015 dataLevel Two, unintended irony. While the 35-54 age group controls 31% of U.S. household net assets, no one quoted in the article seems aware that Americans aged 55-plus own 67%.

Left brain translation for young creatives: 67% is twice as much as 31%. Whoa, bro, that’s seriously ridiculous. Macro insane.

Clearly, if anyone deserves re-assessment by Madison Avenue’s fertile minds, it’s Boomers. However, hampered by adland’s herd mentality, that daring level of creativity is unlikely anytime soon.

So, for the foreseeable future, over four million Gen Xers will be run out of town each year as they turn fifty – exiled to the Boomer Badlands, the uncharted dead-zone out beyond the 18-49 demo.

Boomer Badlands: ghost town or portal to the prosperous 15th Nation?

The excuse for dropping consumers over age fifty from mainstream brand targeting is that we are no longer adaptable … unwilling to switch loyalties or to try new ideas. Worse, our uncool presence in ads scares young buyers away. Poor sensitive dears.

Boomer BadlandsWhich is why the Boomer Badlands are so convenient. We annoying old-timers stay out of sight, but renegade brands still sell us half of America’s goods and services through the barbed wire – cars, CPGs, electronics … you name it, we buy it.

Under cover of darkness, of course, when the skittish kiddies are asleep.

Until now, Gen Xers have been slow to speak up for Boomers. But, as they contemplate their own fiftieth birthdays, some are realizing life in the badlands isn’t so bad after all.

They’re discovering that, after a lifetime of embracing change, the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™ born 1940-1966 are actually America’s most adaptable consumers. If we were a country it would be the 15th most populous on the planet – the 15th Nation – and the world’s third largest, most prosperous economy.

So, Gen X marketers, saddle up. We can blaze the trail for disruptives like you into the Boomer Badlands. It’s a big country, it’s wide open for business and you’ll feel welcome.

Opportunity_Golden Badlands

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Marketing Lessons From Las Vegas: Hit The Jackpot With Boomers

Da best kinda advertising: woid of mout’

In 2015, some 42 million people visited Las Vegas; over 15 million were aged fifty-plus.

Las Vegas Visitors 1970-2015_Desert sceneThe city’s popularity as a destination has soared since 1970 when those Boomers first came to play; the visitor count was 6.8 million that year.

There was plenty of open desert along the Strip back then. Most of the empty space between casinos was home to tumbleweed, blowing sand, dust and drab low-rise strip malls.

Even so, ’70s Vegas was way more colorful than today’s formulaic corporate glitz.

Elvis_Caesars PalaceLegendary billionaire recluse Howard Hughes lived on the top floor of the Desert Inn, a James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever, starring Sean Connery – the Boomers’ real 007 – was shot downtown, Elvis headlined at the International and Sinatra’s Rat Pack had the run of the place.

For added – and unique – color, Vegas was reputed to be a well-organized family town … organized, family about covers it. Capiche?

This was the way things were when your humble scribe’s first employer, the biggest ad agency in LA, decided to pitch the account of a major Las Vegas casino.

The agency president and his team arrived around noon and were ushered into the main man’s office where, behind the desk, a pair of trousers hung over the back of a leather chair. When the head honcho arrived, wearing a silk robe above black socks – no pants, no shoes – he looked at the assembled LA suits with disdain.

“Who dese guys?”

A nervous sidekick explained they were here to ask for the casino’s advertising business: “Y’know da best kinda advertising? Woid of mout’ – get ’em outa here.”

Luckily, in those days, traffic was light – McCarran Field was only ten minutes away. The LA suits made it in less than four.

Las Vegas has come a long way since then. And give credit to those visionary wiseguys of the forties, fifties and sixties. Without them, it might still be just a lonely desert pit-stop on the long, long drive from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Instead, since 1970 the city has evolved in ways its founders could scarcely have imagined.

  • Fabulous Las VegasPopulation: 1970 277,230 ♠ 2013 2,027,828
  • Visitors: 1970 6.8 million ♠ 2015 42.3 million
  • Hotel/motel rooms: 1970 25,430 ♠ 2015 149,213
  • Conventions: 1970 296 ♠ 2015 21,306
  • Air arrivals: 1970 4.1 million ♠ 2015 45.4 million
  • Gambling revenues: 1970 $369M ♠ 2015 $9.6B
  • (Data: Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority)

Las Vegas hits the jackpot with Boomers

Pretty much everyone who gambles has a sure-fire system for beating the odds. There’s a “lucky” slot machine out there somewhere. Pile your chips on black. Or red. Whatever.
Madison Avenue Casino 1970 RulesThe Madison Avenue Casino operates much the same way. Its sure-fire 1970-era system still tells brands today to put all their money on the 18-49 demo – don’t waste it on Boomers!

It’s like playing roulette where bets are not allowed on half the wheel – with the most profitable numbers off limits.

In fact, brands can learn much from Vegas about winning in the real world – starting with a 3,600 respondent survey (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Visitor Profile, 2014). 

Las Vegas visitors percent _ expenditures 2010-2014Superficially, in 2014 the case for the under-fifty crowd looked strong: only 36% of visitors were Boomer-Plus (over 50), 37% were Gen X and 27% were Millennials.

But what smart analysis ever stopped at the surface?

Drilling down, Boomer-Plus visitors are actually the most valuable: they visit more often and stay longer. Over the 5-year period 2010-2014 they accounted for almost half (47%) of all visitor expenditures.


Jackpot winnerFull disclosure: the study draws a discreet veil over how much each generation “spent” on gambling. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But total per capita spending by Boomer-Plus on lodging, food, drink, entertainment, shopping and local transportation for 2010 through 2014 is awesome:

  • Seniors:  $5,600 … Index vs. all-visitor average: 106
  • Boomers: $7,000 … Index vs. all-visitor average: 134
  • Gen X: $4,900 … Index vs. all-visitor average: 93
  • Millennials: $3,700 … Index vs. all-visitor average: 71

Bottom line: people over fifty contribute about half of all Las Vegas visitor revenue. No coincidence, that is the same share of revenue they account for in practically all grown-up product categories – cars to CPGs to consumer electronics.

The disruptive lesson for all brands and advertisers is to drop 1970s thinking and take the 50+ demographic seriously. It’s good business and it’s a smart play.

We can help you place your bets – and, yes, we do have a sure-fire winning system.

Opportunity_Fabulous Las Vegas

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Boomer Women: Sustainable Energy For The U.S. Economy

Sustainability: the buzzword for the new century

Despite gasoline prices at a 40-year low – adjusted for inflation – and some 250 million U.S. passenger vehicles running on fossil fuel, the auto industry is looking towards a sustainable energy future.

In the short run this is “encouraged”, ahem, by government and the PR benefits of offering a few electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models. And, in the long run, while the world will not actually run out of fossil fuel, it will – far into the future – become prohibitively expensive to extract.

1970s here we comeSo sustainability is the 21st century automotive buzzword – code for electric mobility, the dream of futurists for over a hundred years.

EVs and hybrids trigger both rational and emotional reactions (see the September 19, 2015 newsletter).

The main rational barriers are price, battery life, replacement cost, the environmental impact of disposal and, for pure EVs, range anxiety.

The jury is still out re disposal issues and price premiums can be steep, but Tesla and Chevy Bolt are softening range concerns. And, according to Automotive News, the longevity issue is subsiding. In Why hybrids should be the standard, reporter Richard Truett quotes impressive data on real-world hybrid battery life.

  • 300,000 miles … Toyota Prius fleet / Michigan Green Cabs
  • 500,000 miles … Ford Escape Hybrid fleet /New York City cabs
  • 200,000+ miles … 2016 Chevy Volt / GM engineering team tests

Solving rational objections is only half the battle; emotions are tougher to overcome. There may be more diplomatic ways to state the emotional barriers, but, for many rejectors it boils down to some version of wimpy and preachy.

Big Ben lighthouseSure, we know EVs can blow the doors off anything else at the stoplight and London’s Big Ben will soon be a lighthouse guiding trans-Arctic shipping on its way to a new deep-water port up in Hobbit Country.

But, well, you know how consumers are.

Despite the space age allure of electrics/hybrids, buyers strike critics as just a little too smug. Drilling deeper into the id, electrics simply lack the bad-boy machismo of good ol’ gasoline – category imagery leans feminine. And as automakers know, women will buy guy vehicles if they make sense, but men – we simplistic knuckle-draggers – cringe at the thought of a chick car.

A chart from sister-company American Consumer Voices study makes the point.

Fossil_electric fuel imagery

Boomer women: the overlooked engine of consumer spending

Adequate sustainable energy resources may still be over the horizon, but when it comes to sustainable economic resources the future is already here. And, like electric mobility, it leans feminine: it’s Boomer women.

Of the almost 110 million Americans over age fifty, around 58 million are women who, according to Pamela Lockard, CEO of marketing agency DMN3, control or share nearly 75% of U.S. personal wealth.

That tracks with 15th Nation estimates; Americans over fifty control 80% of U.S. household net assets, and only 11% of them are divorced or never-married men.

Boomer woman onlineCountering the meme that Boomers are set-in-their-ways and tech-dunces, Ms. Lockard also provides 5 Facts About Boomer Women and E-commerce …

  • She’s a “Digital Diva” … 30+ million women over 50 are online
  • She’s an avid online shopper
  • She outspends young adults online
  • The Internet is the best way to reach her
  • She’s social – 20-25% of all Facebook and Twitter users and 40% of Pinterest users

Despite this stack of evidence, Boomer women are rarely depicted as real people in advertising. More sexist than Don Draper emboldened by a three martini lunch, Madison Avenue routinely disses women outside the 18-49 demographic. And when they do appear, all too often, it’s as stereotypes.

The standard excuse for excluding women – and men – over fifty from mainstream brand targeting is that they are no longer adaptable or open to switching.

Let’s dispel this lazy thinking.

2014 Pew_Women 40-44 who are childless

Before there was Google, Yahoo or Yelp there were moms, giving advice, guiding choices and molding  brand experiences. You know, the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.

And since 80+% of American women have at least one child by age 45, that’s a lot of brand influencers rocking a lot of cradles.

Almost before they know it, those Boomer moms are grandparents. And on call again – back to giving advice, guiding choices and molding  brand experiences. Rocking new cradles, too.

As Lori Bitter, principal of The Business of Aging and author of The Grandparent Economy: How Baby Boomers Are Bridging the Generation Gap, points out, becoming a grandparent actually boosts adaptability. Overnight, she says, there is “an openness to trying new products and services that they may have not considered in the past.” 

A few brands are finally liberating their thinking, but are also realizing they don’t know how to engage the 50+ arena in authentic Boomer-speak. We can help – but be warned, we don’t do baby-talk.


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Advertising To Boomers: Lessons From The Great American Desert

The beaver on the mountainside

Lomgs Peak BeaverJames Michener’s historical novel Centennial describes how Native Americans imagined a giant beaver climbing the mountain now called Long’s Peak (14,259 ft).

That’s still how it looks from 50 miles away in the thriving little Colorado cities of Longmont and Greeley, where travelers crossing the prairie start to run out of flat land and look up to the sky for a way westward.

Le CarThe mountain is named for Major Stephen Long who was dispatched in 1820 to explore the Louisiana Purchase (1803), America’s best trade deal with France until Renault Le Car arrived in 1976, just in time for the nation’s bicentennial.

Okay, your humble scribe is biased, having owned a Le Car in LA back in the eighties. Cruising Wilshire Boulevard, with that big sunroof open, one could almost smell la soupe a l’oignon – even when passing the La Brea Tar Pits on a smoggy day.

Well, anyway …

Stephen Long is not just famous for his peak. He also labeled the region between the 100th meridian and the Rocky Mountains “the Great American Desert” – a name used on maps for more than half a century – and “almost wholly unfit for cultivation.” 

To be fair, mostly treeless and with few major rivers, it was very different from his native New Hampshire, where trees and water cluttered up the place and crowded out the cactus.

In one of the great ironies of U.S. history, the “desert” later became a huge contributor to the nation’s incredibly productive breadbasket. By 1893, when Katharine Lee Bates wrote the poem that provided the lyrics for America The Beautifulthose famous “amber waves of grain” she gazed on from Pike’s Peak, Colorado, stretched over 500 miles, clear across Kansas, to the Missouri River.

All it required was enough disruptives with vision.

Colorado: home to two of America’s top five “best places to live”

Wow, what a difference a few generations of free-thinking disruptives can make.

Best places to live in the USAJust last week, March 2, 2016, U.S. News released its list of Best Places to Live in the USA. Among America’s 100 most populous metro areas, Denver and Colorado Springs ranked #1 and #5 respectively.

Not bad for a couple of hick towns out on the edge of the Great American Desert.

Horace Greeley, the New York newspaperman for whom Greeley, Colorado is named – hey, you remember, right, the beaver climbing Long’s Peak – is also credited for the mid-19th century advice “go West, young man, and grow up with the country.”

Young people – women and men – have done so ever since. In 2011 the Brookings Institution ranked Denver #1 among “cool cities” for in-migration among 25-34 year olds. ADWEEK figured those footloose Millennials were “looking for a hipper vibe.” 

Not just livable and hip, but classy – heck, we got gobs of class

Eventually, to save face, easterners renamed the region beyond the 100th meridian The Great Plains. But when it comes to culture and cultivation of the mind, many believe the desert moniker still fits today.

Frozen Dead Guy Days 2016The annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festival in the tiny mountain town of Nederland, Colorado, proves them wrong. Dead wrong, actually.

Nothing at the Lincoln Center, or MOMA – or even Trump Tower itself – can match the class and style of Ice Turkey Bowling, The Newly-Dead Game, The Frozen Salmon Toss or, a personal favorite, the Coffin Race.

Good news, sophisticates – there is still time to register, but hurry; FDGD runs this weekend, March 11-13, 2016.

Boomers – the new Great American Desert

It’s no secret that, viewed from Madison Avenue, the Boomer arena is the new Great American Desert. “Almost wholly unfit for cultivation.” 

Boomers in the Great American DesertAfter crossing the symbolic Missouri (or is it the Hudson?) of our 50th birthdays we are largely ignored. Except, of course, as the rich breadbasket that feeds ad campaigns directed to Millennials.

Not that we really object to subsidizing our kids’ ads – we love the little techie twerps.

But you’d think mainstream brand decision-makers could show a little curiosity when it comes to the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1965.

After all, if we were a country it would be the 15th most populous in the world. Plus, as owners of over 70% of U.S. household net worth, we’re the third largest economy on earth and buy about half of just about everything marketed in America.


It’s time for adland’s young disruptives to “go Boomer, and grow up with the country.” We recommend racing to arrive before the land-rush – we’ll help you get there first.

Opportunity_Race across the desert

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Boomers and Minivans: Listerine On Wheels Or Cupcakes?

Boomers must have loved minivans … well, comme ci, comme ςa 

There’s a popular misconception that Boomers and older Gen Xers must have loved minivans. Just look at the numbers: over 20 million were sold between 1985 and 2005.

Plymouth Voyager 1984When Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan arrived in 1983, except for the VW van – sales of which were only 14,700 that year (HT – there was no such category as “minivan.”

Thanks to their brilliant design brief, the Chrysler twins were pretty much an instant hit; they sold 210,000 units in their launch year, more than doubling to 474,000 by 1987.

US Minivan sales 1983-2015Competitors soon jumped in; by 1991 U.S. consumers could choose from 21 different models, and sales had pushed past one million units.

The peak year was 2000 (1.37 million), but sales still topped 1.1 million in 2005 before a steep decline back to late-80s levels today.

Conventional wisdom claims that mommy-mobile imagery has finally marginalized the minivan to those who – ugh! – actually like that sort of thing. The truth is that a solid block of buyers don’t like minivans all that much.

Even in their heyday, there was major resistance. Many buyers were drawn – kicking and screaming – by their logical left brains to a utilitarian purchase that gave their emotional right brains the shivers.

Freud would have understood. Consider the ingrained van imagery that prowled through prospects’ nightmares in the mid-1980s …

Vans were for – choose your poison: blue-collar work; neo-rednecks à la Ford Club Wagon (see below, outside a gun store); hippies; party animals in gaudy rolling bachelor pads that sent fathers reaching for their shotguns when the boogie-wagon arrived to pick up Cindi, Debbi or Traci for a date.

1970s Vans

Minivan culture: from cupcakes to Listerine on wheels

Back in the day, most early minivan advantages were practical rather than emotional:

  • Mask_comedyVisibility/control: sit higher than in a car – the command position
  • Car-like handling and fuel efficiency vs. classic station wagons
  • Big side door: easy to load children and attach their car-seats
  • Removable rear seats: accommodate occasional bulky items
  • Hatchback and low load height: great for all kinds of family “stuff”
  • Pass-through: mom could move front to back to tend to kids

However, aside from full size van imagery, there were ’80s era emotional barriers:

  • Mask_tragedyDetroit: many ’80s yuppies previously owned on-trend imports
  • Brand: after a major financial crisis, Chrysler cachet was at low ebb
  • Reliability: usual new model jitters overlaid on Chrysler survivability
  • I’m a boring parent” signal: no more harmless stoplight flirtations
  • Hatchback: strong associations with cheap econo-boxes of the era
  • Boxy, dated lines in a world that was rapidly going aerodynamic.

Minivan buyer attitudes spanned a continuum running from cupcakes to Listerine on wheels. Depending on our kids’ behavior on any given day, most of us skittered back and forth between the two zones.

Cabbage Patch Kids spreadIn the cupcakes zone, moms and dads not only embraced their fate as parents but actually reveled in it.

For them, the minivan symbolized family-first – old-fashioned and corny, perhaps, but warm and fuzzy. McDonald’s Happy Meals and cupcakes, S’mores and hot chocolate. What could be nicer?

ListerineThe Listerine mouthwash slogan The taste you hate twice a day could have been written for reluctant minivan buyers; we need it but, yuk, we hate the way it tastes!

When SUVs boomed and added third row seating, by 2000 many “Listerine” buyers who could afford to switch did so – gratefully.

But the key word is “afford.” To get comparable interior volume in an SUV meant, and still means in 2016, a major jump in price. Minivan world remained a schizophrenic place where many still drive the taste they hate twice a day.

For more on SUVs/CUVs, visit How Boomers And Gen X Invented The SUV – And Can’t Let Go.

GM’s “Dustbuster” minivans: the naivety of accepting easy answers

Here at the 15th Nation we’re into Boomer-speak – seemingly so easy to understand but, in reality, complex and steeped in secret code.

Misinterpreting Boomer-speak is nothing new. GM did so big-time when they decided to enter the minivan segment.

Their planners listened to Chrysler owner complaints – boxy, van-ish, uncool – and they smiled. Such an easy language. Got it. Dude, no problemo.

DustbustersThe solution: Chevy Lumina APV, Pontiac Trans Sport and Oldsmobile Silhouette. All had nifty, evocative names and swoopy, space age styling. Jokers would come to call them “Dustbuster” minivans, after the famous compact vacuum cleaner.

Focusing on consumer feelings was misleading. Reluctant buyers still favored Chrysler minivans in spite of their emotions because, after thinking, they made a practical decision.

You see, that long-nosed, swoopy space-age styling resulted in vans that were longer than the extended Grand Caravan/Voyager but – a doozy – had only about the same interior space as the compact Caravan version.

Minivan dimensions

Disclosure: in 1990, your humble scribe strategized for Chrysler and watched owners ooh and aah over GM’s cool styling before sobbing over the specs. In this category, utility trumps styling. Si hay un problema.

The Dustbuster minivans were gone in six years. The vacuum cleaner is still around.

Boomer-speak 2016: the naivety of accepting easy answers

Research routinely confirms the obvious family-stage appeal of the category; data from J. D. Power and TrueCar suggests half or more buyers are aged 30-50.

Most analysts jump to the easy answer: Gen X is the sweet spot. Well, yes, if we just focus on first time buyers. But the bigger picture is that Boomer-Plus also represents a huge segment.

Keep calm and drive a minivan after 50In fact, surveys show the median minivan buyer age is between 45 and 50; Power published the following median ages for the market leaders in 2009.

  • Midsize Van Segment: 50 years
  • Dodge Grand Caravan: 52 years
  • Chrysler Town & Country: 51 years
  • Toyota Sienna: 48 years
  • Honda Odyssey: 43 years

Any way you slice it, the 50+ buyer – older Gen X parents and Boomer-Plus grandparents – represents close to half the market.

Toyota SiennaBut you’d never know that from the 18-49 demo fixation in most minivan advertising, brochures and websites.

You’ll see lots of little kids, sure, and – huh? – cool millennial chicks (you go girl, look how many H&M bags you can stack in that cargo area). OK, we get it, and Toyota Sienna market share is growing in tough times, but how about some gray hairs too?

Cupcake bright ideaAfter all, in a reduced and more competitive market, it make sense for all brands to target the most committed customers in the category – we of the grandparent persuasion. We don’t need to be sold on cupcakes minivans … but we do need to know why YOUR cupcake minivan beats THEIR cupcake minivan.

One challenge – as GM discovered – is that authentic Boomer-speak is a hidden language. The few adland attempts to engage consumers over fifty usually get the accents, idioms and inflexions wrong.

The no problemo syndrome – the naivety of dealing in easy answers – is alive and well.

Too bad. Americans over fifty represent the third largest economy in the world and buy half of all new vehicles sold in the US – including well over 200,000 minivans in 2016.

When the idea of actively targeting the 50+ space goes viral, marketers will be scrambling for a crash course in Boomer-speak. Fortunately, we offer translation services … and we’ll provide the cupcakes. Any flavor you want.

Opportunity_Cupcake heaven


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Paul Revere Williams: Master Of Boomer-World Design Language

February 18th: architect Paul Revere Williams’ birthday

Each year, on February 18th – his birthday – Los Angeles commemorates the career of one of America’s greatest architects, Paul Revere Williams (1894-1988).

If you want to understand the against-all-odds confidence the Boomers inherited from those who paved the way, spend some time getting to know this remarkable man at The Paul Revere Williams Project.

His versatility and range were prodigious, from gorgeous historic-revival homes for Hollywood’s elite – he was known as the “architect to the stars” – to hotels, churches, department stores, country clubs, office buildings and affordable housing.

Paul Williams at the LAX Theme Building

One of his most famous projects is the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Theme Building (1961). The LAX commissioners wanted an iconic symbol of modernity for America’s first custom-built jet airport. With Williams on the design team they they got all that and more.

Fifty five years on, the building remains a classic example of what is known as Googie style. It still captures the upbeat essence of the world in which Boomers grew up; optimistic, adaptable and confident in a better future through technology.

Which is why the 15th Nation/Boomer-Plus Consulting Group pays homage to the LAX Theme Building – and Paul Revere Williams – in our website header.

Googie: The design language of Boomer-World

Googie style began with a humble Los Angeles coffee shop  – yes, named Googie’s – in 1949. Combining playful, even goofy, space age motifs with mid-century modern, it quickly became a metaphor for the exciting, prosperous new era dawning in post-WWII America.

Googie soon evolved from buildings – diners, gas stations, hotels – to influence the design of furnishings, home appliances and even automotive styling. Detroit further capitalized on architectural modernism in its advertising, lending flair and a sense of innovation as each model year arrived.

Mid century modernism in auto ads

Our moms and dads had never had it so good. Exuberance was in vogue. Chrome, daring new colors, shapes and materials gave them permission to indulge in a level of flamboyance they could never have imagined in their own Depression-era childhoods.

1950s_60s household goods

We, their adorable little Boomer darlings, were the recipients of all this largesse. The theme of the world into which we were born was upward mobility, and Googie was its design language.

Little did our parents know that we would take Googie for granted and eventually come to see it as dated, even a little embarrassing. We were young men and women in a hurry.

In the 1970s we embraced import cars, dumped pastels for avocado and earth tones and careened through brash clothing styles that the word “exaggerated” cannot even begin to describe. Through the ’80s and ’90s we settled down, morphed into domesticated yuppies and adopted the HR department-approved, muted palette of Euro-cool … any color you want, as long as it’s in the gray-scale range.

Karma Inn

As we Boomers raised our own little darlings, the Millennials (turncoats!), it was our turn to suffer eye-rolls for our so last week ways. Karma time.

No wonder our parents – their grandparents – have such satisfied smiles these days.

Well, what goes around, comes around. Including mid-century design. A revival is underway, largely due to Boomer die-hards who kept the faith and avant garde Millennials who are discovering that classic motifs still work well in the 21st century.

Adaptability: the constant in changing Boomer lives

Thanks to the Googie subtext of our youth, the constant theme in Boomer lives has always been confidence in a big, bright, beautiful tomorrow – we embraced change. We still do.

So, it’s ironic that, as we leave the 18-49 demographic, the reason mainstream advertisers give for no longer targeting American consumers is that our buying behavior is now frozen in time, like the tail fins on a ’56 Chevy Bel Air.

Leaving irony aside, it’s also dumb. Born 1940-1966, the 94 million strong Boomer-Plus Generation now includes Gen Xers over fifty, with more arriving each year. That makes us the 15th most populous nation on the planet. And, as the owners of over 70% of US household assets, we’re the world’s third largest economy.

Best of all, we’re open for business to brands smart enough to ask. Politely.

Paul Williams would have smiled at the notion creative thinking stops at age fifty; he was 67 in the year the LAX Theme Building opened.

Opportunity_mid century style

B+CG logoClick link to receive the free 15th Nation newsletter and contact the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group for more profitable engagement with the 50+ space.

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The Adland Tourist’s Guide To Boomer-World Etiquette

Let’s start in Latvia. Doesn’t everyone?

It’s always smart to know a little about a place before you visit. Take Latvia, for instance.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has acquired – don’t ask how – an awesome amount of data on this small Baltic nation, including …

  • Latvia_CIA primerArea: 24,938 square miles / high point 1,024 feet
  • Languages: Latvian (56.3%) and Russian (33.8%)
  • Population: 1,986,705 / median age 42.9 years
  • Adult obesity rate: 25.6%
  • Mother’s average age at first birth: 26.4 years
  • Physicians: 3.58 per 1,000 population
  • GDP per capita: $24,500
  • Fixed line telephones: 390,000 – but you knew that

The capital, Riga, is famous for its rich history, ancient churches and rowdy British tourists: UK TripAdvisor reports that by 2006 the city had become the “#1 stag party destination in Europe.”

Riga stag partyA midweek round trip from London-Stansted Airport on budget carrier RyanAir will run you about $100. But keep in mind a helpful TripAdvisor tip: “Most of the stag party members who get into trouble do so only as a result of going into the wrong type of strip club.”

Isn’t that always the way?

Advertising to Latvian consumers – as easy as targeting US Boomers

Well, now we have everything we need to create a Latvian ad campaign; big data and social insights. Hey, don’t quibble – we’ve learned as much about Latvia as Madison Avenue knows about American Boomer-World.

Maybe even more. Adland’s Millennial-fixated take on Baby Boomers is there’s a lot of them but they’re outside the 18-49 demo, and they’re annoying – so who cares? 

Well, as every good travel writer knows, tempting imagery can open a tourist’s eyes to new experiences. It’s time for marketers to reassess Boomer-World – put it on the bucket list along with Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat and, of course, Frozen Dead Guy Days.

As for temptation, well, how about this:

Experience Boomer-World94 million Americans belong to the Boomer-Plus Generation – born 1940-1966, raised in Boomer-World, ignored after age fifty, but who …

  • Own over 70% of US household assets
  • Are the third largest economy in the world – a bigger, more affluent market than any EU country
  • Buy half of all new vehicles sold in the USA
  • Buy over half the CPGs as well. Plus two-thirds of all home improvement products
  • Are the fastest growing market for smartphones
  • Think active – buy 20mm pairs of sports shoes a year
  • Dominate travel industry revenues
  • Start more new businesses than any other cohort

Best of all, they speak English. Well, sort of – it’s special, highly nuanced dialect that was learned during times that can never be relived and which no outsider can truly master.

The frustrating part for visitors is that, on the surface, Boomer-speak looks so familiar and easy. Rather like the wrong type of Latvian strip club.

The Adland tourist’s guide to Boomer-World etiquette

Boomer-World passportThe allure of Boomer-World is slowly beginning to dawn on a few adventurous mainstream brand marketers. So, sometime soon, they will instruct their agencies’ bright young researchers and creatives to grab their backpacks and visit us.

But before they zipline through our colorful ecosystem, in order to clear immigration, Adland’s Millennial tourists need a few basic pointers on Boomer-World etiquette.

  • Keep an open mind – leave your 18-49 demo dogma behind:
    • We invented the 21st century and we never stopped adapting. Give us an engaging story, persuasive features and benefits and we’ll switch brands in a heartbeat.
  • Practice good manners:
    • Don’t smirk. We’re not your daffy mom, your doofus dad or grumpy Uncle Joe. They may have to put up with your snarky eye-rolls, but we don’t.
    • Don’t point. Unless your story is inherently generational, don’t single us out for attention based on our age – just include us along with everybody else.
    • Don’t swear. No matter how we behave in private, we don’t appreciate public bad language or overtly rude-and-crude ads. Yes, it’s a double standard. Deal with it.
    • Don’t pander. We didn’t grow up in grainy sepia or faded Kodachrome; if you must show our yesterdays, spare us the faux atmospherics – that’s not how things were.

As the old saying goes, travel broadens the mind: click here for your passport to Boomer-World. And we’ll assign a highly trained, certified local guide to keep you away from tourist traps.  Oh yeah, just to be clear: we don’t do stag nights.

Opportunity_Boomer-World tourist

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Super Bowl 50 Is Boomer Appreciation Day

Super Bowl Sunday: Madison Avenue on parade

With its mega audiences, the Super Bowl is the showcase for brands and ad agencies to strut their creative stuff. Each year, countless media stories and columns are devoted to picking winners and losers among Madison Avenue’s exciting offerings.

1984 MacintoshNo one ever strutted better stuff than the Chiat/Day 1984 commercial launching Apple Macintosh in, of course, 1984 (full disclosure: your humble scribe consulted with C/D back in the day – cars, not for Mac. Bought one, though).

True to the old adage it’s not creative unless it sells, the 1984 spot was phenomenally successful at generating sales.

Agencies hoping to replicate 1984 memorability will have to ante up $10 million for the privilege – a 30 second spot this year runs around $5 million, and Macintosh spent a full minute to tell its story.

The Boomer-Plus audience: the largest Super Bowl viewer generation

All this money changes hands because, over the decades, the Super Bowl became the most-watched television show of the year.

In 2015 it topped out at 114.4 million viewers (Nielsen); at 125 million, only the farewell episode of M*A*S*H (1983) had more. Experts are predicting a new Super Bowl record for 2016; it’s possible Nielsen’s US in-home TV audience could be close to 120 million.

The rule of thumb is the 18-49 demo dominates mainstream brand targeting. So, for conventional thinkers, 57 million viewers is a bonanza. Yee-hah!

For disruptives, another statistic is even more fascinating – and appropriate as the Super Bowl observes its fiftieth birthday. At around 45 million, Boomer-Plus consumers who have passed their own fiftieth birthday represent the largest viewing generation of all.

Super Bowl Audience 1967-2015 _ B+CG estimates by generation

Boomer Appreciation Day: celebrity spokes-geezers rule 

Many Super Bowl 50 ads hope to break through the clutter by using celebrities; 18 of 42 commercials previewed at feature well-known entertainers or athletes.

And with good reason; the right celebrity can work wonders for a brand.

Liam Pierce DennisLast May we reported Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan shared top honors as the most influential and likable, with Dennis Haysbert, Jeff Bridges and J. K. Simmons also among the top ten spokespersons (Nielsen).

There’s just one catch: all are aged 60-plus – a decade past the 18-49 demographic – and, according to Mad Men folklore, too old to be targets for the brands they promote. But, despite this outdated theory, the power of, ahem, spokes-geezers isn’t lost on adland.

Of the eighteen Super Bowl 50 ads using celebrities, eleven (61%) feature someone over the age of – wait for it – not just 50, but 60. In fact, three involve actors over age 70!

And none – repeat, none – promote geriatric products; they all represent mainstream brands. It’s the one day a year when Boomer-Plus characters are depicted as we see ourselves; fun, interesting, in charge and active.

  • Alec Baldwin and Dan Marino for Amazon Echo
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger for Mobile Strike
  • Christopher Walken for Kia
  • Harvey Keitel for MINI
  • Helen Mirren for Budweiser
  • Anthony Hopkins for Turbo Tax
  • Jeff Goldblum for
  • Liam Neeson for LG
  • Scott Baio for Avocados from Mexico
  • Steven Tyler for Skittles
  • Willem Dafoe for Snickers

Kudos to the creative teams.

None of these ads use clumsy Boomer stereotypes – grumpy “get off my lawn” curmudgeons, old hippies, befuddled techno-dolts or, worse, pathetic relics. OK, there are a few cringe-worthy moments in the general Super Bowl 50 batch, but we won’t go there.

Boomers grew up with the Super Bowl 

The first Super Bowl was held in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 15, 1967; the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs handily, 35-10.

Super Bowl 1

Five out of six TV households saw the game in black and white – color set penetration was only 17%. No one could tweet, Pin, Snapchat or Instagram. And gloating Packers fans could only send selfies – aka Polaroids – to KC rivals via the US Postal Service.

On the upside, embarrassed parents didn’t have to cover their little kids’ eyes during the half time show.

A lot has happened in the meantime. A whole heck of a lot. And Boomers adapted every step of the way, year in and year out.

Consider that 1984 Macintosh commercial for example.

Opportunity unleashedApple founders Steve Jobs (b. 1955) and Steve Wozniak (b. 1950) relied heavily on fellow Boomers for success. Ever-adaptable and future-friendly, our early adoption helped Mac jump the chasm and usher in 21st century thinking.

Since then Boomers supported a dazzling array of tech innovations – cell phones, the Internet, e-mobility and green energy, to name a few.

So, it defies common sense that after the last play of Super Bowl 50 is done, Madison Avenue will revert to 1967 thinking: 

Consumers over 50 just aren’t worth targeting or depicting in ads because they no longer adapt, switch brands or adopt new buying behaviors.

And, anyway, oldsters taint brand image and frighten young buyers away.

Free advice: don’t tell Arnold to his face.

Fortunately, at the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group, every day is Super Bowl Sunday. Kick off here to learn how to break the mold and engage the 50+ space all year.

You know, think different. Grab a hammer and break something.

Opportunity_Macintosh 1984_Think different

B+CG logoClick link to receive the free 15th Nation newsletter and contact the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group for more profitable engagement with the 50+ space.

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