Advertisers in the winter of Boomer discontent
Anyone in adland worth their paycheck knows Americans aged 50+ represent the world’s 3rd largest economy, hold 80% of US household assets, own two-thirds of the homes and account for 55-60% of the national expenditure on new vehicles. This is beyond Big Data, it’s humongous!
Nevertheless, over 90% of mainstream product ad budgets target the 18-49 demo (Nielsen). The go-to excuse is “our marketing is age-agnostic.” C’mon, folks, let’s get real: there is no such thing as age-agnostic perception.
To be fair, the travel industry is one business sector that does a good job of romancing Boomers, older Gen Xers and their Silent Generation parents. This is especially true in the luxury segment, where 80% of spending is generated by travelers aged fifty and up (HT Grace Creative, Los Angeles).
However, one high end destination absent from most 50+ vacation lists is a ski resort.
It’s unfortunate, because so many young, highly-paid brand decision makers are on the slopes at this time of year. And, with so few Boomers around, even pricey ski goggles can’t protect them from creative snow blindness: in the dazzling sunshine, everyone who matters is active, cool and – especially – under 50.
So well-heeled Millennials, younger Gen Xers and their cute little Gen Z tykes schuss, slalom and stem christie their way through the powder without ever worrying about slamming into grandma and grandpa as they suddenly stop to search the trail map for a bathroom.
In fact, only a tiny, rugged minority (10%) of US downhill skiers are 50-plus.
A few more go in for cross country (14%), but figures for Boomers involved in near-death freeski aerobatics or gnarly snowboarding are minuscule (5%, 3% respectively).
Colorado: where Boomer culture lives on – thanks to cryogenics
For upmarket fun in the snow, Colorado is the place to be. According to a survey by Colorado Tourism/Longwoods International the state is the nation’s top winter sports destination, with a 19% share of America’s overnight ski trips.
The survey also shows that skiing is the big dog of the state’s tourism economy, accounting for 38% of Colorado’s overnight visitor expenditures in 2016. But with an average 4 night ski vacation and a daily spend of $1,306 per person, we’re not exactly talking Mike and Marilu Mainstream here.
However, Colorado offers plenty of affordable trips too. Dude, we know what you’re thinking – but no, not that kind of “trip” … we mean camping, hiking, biking, rafting, touring, exploring frontier history and downing buffalo burgers in Old West hangouts. So, it’s not surprising that the number of leisure tourists doubled from 19 million in 1996 to 38 million in 2016.
Happily, for those with really low budgets – and, some elites suggest, really lowbrow tastes – Frozen Dead Guys is the perfect solution.
This coming March 9-10-11, a brief 30 minutes away from Boulder’s breweries, bistros and buff bicyclists, as it has for 17 years, the tiny mountain town of Nederland honors America’s coolest geezer, Bredo Morstøl.
Mr. M – the frozen dead guy – was packed in dry ice and shipped over from Norway for cryogenic preservation; since 1995, thanks to some creative re-zoning ordinances, the Viking VIP’s personal Valhalla has been a well-insulated Tuff Shed at the edge of town.
What’s great about FDGD is that it’s Boomer-friendly. It gives the après ski-career crowd a chance show off its waning athletic prowess in events for which the only prerequisite is a total lack of embarrassment; age is no obstacle.
Kicking off with the Blue Ball Bash (ouch!), the festival progresses/degenerates to the Hearse Parade, Coffin Races, Ice Turkey Bowling, Dead Poet Society Readings, The Newly Dead Game and a Frozen T-Shirt Contest that’s even worse than you think.
Grandpa Morstøl is not actually a Boomer, but (yeah, you saw this coming) a member of the Silent Generation. However, his festival is one of Colorado’s many subtle touchpoints of – and secret portals to – mysterious and surprisingly alive Boomer World.
- Hippie culture – from the start, Boulder was one of America’s hippie-friendliest cities
- Marijuana – for better or worse, those Rocky Mountain High fumes have gone legit
- Back to nature – health/wellness foods … think Celestial Seasonings and WhiteWave
- Mork & Mindy (1978-1982) – older tourists still flock to take selfies in front of their TV home, 1619 Pine Street in Boulder, and greet passersby with a cheery Nanu, Nanu.
- Coors – what Boomer east of the Mississippi doesn’t remember when the neatest gift you could bring dad from spring break out west was a six pack of Banquet Beer?
In an even more eerie connection, the Bredo Morstøl saga bears an uncanny resemblance to Woody Allen’s 1973 Boomer favorite, Sleeper, in which nerdy Woody plays a health food store owner awakened after being in cold storage for 200 years.
The movie features several Boulder/Denver area landmarks, including the iconic Spaceship House and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building (1961), a modernist architectural classic designed by the renowned I. M. Pei who, by the way, is still going strong at age 100.
This hip sub-text is not going unnoticed.
As a result of those luxury ski trips to Aspen, Vail and Beaver Creek, many young E/W coast professionals now take a day or two to check out the Front Range cities, from Colorado Springs to Denver to Fort Collins.
They’re amazed to learn that, not only did Boomers get there first – pouring in since the 1970s – but also those old, stuck-in-the-past, slow to adapt, can’t find their text messages inhabitants of the 50+ space actually managed to create an entrepreneurial, tech-savvy, youthful and (huh?) sophisticated culture. In fact, the Denver/Boulder metro is America’s #2 startup center after Silicon Valley. Light bulb time.
It’s impolite to boast, but Colorado is actually #1 for Millennial growth as a percentage of total population: 25,000 young newcomers have a heck of a lot more impact in a state with 5 million residents than 33,000 do in Texas with 25 million. Just sayin’.
Boomers: OK with being adland’s off-piste – but not with being piste-off
Colorado consumers in the 50+ space are not all that different from those in other states, so it’s high time for brand decision-makers to rethink their approach to a national market that’s bigger than any economy except for China and the USA itself.
We know they’re brave enough for Black Diamond runs – persuading C Suite execs to take brands out beyond the 18-49 safety fence requires only slightly more courage.
OK, maybe a whole lot more courage. But no pain, no gain.
Those who persevere know Boomers and Gen X offer exciting off-piste experiences.
And they will be sure to hire experienced guides who can navigate that beautiful back country without making dangerous, amateurish blunders: Boomers are independent-minded, so they’re cool with being off-piste – but not with being piste-off.