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

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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