Boomers Lost In The Creativity Gap

A brave new world of neglected opportunity

In a popular Boomer-era sci-fi theme, dazed survivors cautiously emerge from caves, fallout shelters, basements or – in the case of The Twilight Zone – cheesy downtown Los Angeles bars – to discover some apocalyptic event has changed their world forever.

Well, you had to be there: we spent our early years ready to duck and cover at any moment.

When Worlds CollideIn a modern parallel, tucked away in Madison Avenue’s cozy group-think caves, fallout shelters, basements and – no offense intended – cheesy bars, mainstream brand decision makers remain blissfully unaware of events in the outside world. They would be amazed to learn it’s a bright and sunny place, ruled not by throwback primitives, mutants, or triffids, but by Boomers.

It’s friendly and profitable, too, hiding in plain sight just beyond the forbidden outer limits of the 18-49 demographic.

Writing in MediaPost, AARP research director Mark Bradbury lays out the geography of the lush and thriving 50+ consumer world (10 Key Facts Savvy Marketers Know About Boomers). Here are some highlights:

  • Opportunity_opensThe 50+ space accounts for 51% of all U.S. consumer expenditures … including over half the spending on new cars and trucks, personal care products, home furnishings, appliances and entertainment
  • 50+ consumers have a median net worth of $304,000 vs. $175,000 for people aged 18-49 and own 60% of the nation’s investment instruments
  • Within ten years 50+ consumers will represent half the U.S. population

One would think that brands would be falling over one another to grab market share in this booming economy. However, afraid to buck conventional wisdom and uncertain how to engage older Americans, it’s easier to dismiss us than to venture out into our alien territory.

Boomers: lost in the creativity gap

With 1985 the meme of the week, thanks to the 30th anniversary of Back to The Future, we’ll go with the flow and note this was also the year Benton & Bowles ended its solo run to merge with D’Arcy McManus Masius. At the time, it was the biggest ad agency merger ever (HT Rance Crain, Advertising Age).

Benton & Bowles’ slogan was It’s Not Creative Unless It Sells. 

Curmudgeon alert: today that might read Unless It Offends … but, recently grossed out by Toyota’s Mirai / defecating cows spot, we digress. (No, we’re not going to link to it; if you’re into that kind of thing, Google it yourself).

Ad Age_Gary VaynerchukThe concept of creativity as a means of actually moving product is not totally dead.

If you have two minutes to spare, and are open to radical straight talk, watch Gary Vaynerchuk’s high energy diatribe against marketing for headlines and awards versus sales (Advertising Age, Digital Crash Course).

But before ad agency copywriters, art directors and production teams can work their magic, the process begins with strategic creativity – an innovative vision of the marketplace.

In the 50+ arena this means senior decision-makers must drop the old dogma that we no longer adapt or switch brands. The current buzzword for such courage is disruption.

Meanwhile, Boomers are lost in the strategic creativity gap separating theory from reality.

Understanding the Boomer-Plus world

Before brands can engage us, they have to acknowledge we exist.

Horatio NelsonCase in point: in its October 12, 2015 print issue, ADWEEK reported on generational attitudes in For Marketing, Age Is Just A Number. Boomer-philes eagerly took the bait only to discover the age ranges cited were 13-20, 21-35 and 36-50. Hmm. Who can possibly be missing from this analysis?

History buffs will recognize this as the Horatio Nelson syndrome, aka the blind eye strategy.

Meanwhile, up on the prosperous sunlit surface of planet real-world, Jim Gilmartin, principal of the Coming of Age* ad agency and a proponent of inclusive ageless marketing, preaches that shared values, not demographics, are the key to brand prosperity. But, he advises, engaging consumers over fifty requires very different techniques and tonality than for younger generations (Baby Boomers Are Still The 800 Pound Gorilla).

Or, as we say here at the 15th Nation, advertisers must learn Boomer-speak. It’s a complex dialect with its own subtleties and nuances, but one worth mastering.

Within the 50+ space, some 93 million consumers fall into the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965 and bound together by shared cultural experiences, the life-stage journey and, inevitably, by under-appreciation as we exit the 18-49 demo.

Fortunately, for those daring enough to leap the creativity gap to Boomer world – most likely adland’s venturesome Millennial go-getters – experienced guides, coaches and interpreters are just a click away.

Opportunity_Leaping the creativity gap

*Disclosure: CoA is a strategic alliance associate of Boomer / neXt.

Boomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

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