Farewell In 2015: Three Boomer Icons Who Mainstreamed LA

Los Angeles: From no “there” to “too many there

Until the 1970s Los Angeles’ population influx had mainly come from middle America. Establishment easterners snarked that the place was an intellectual desert. Should the occasional elite Bostonian, New Yorker or Philadelphian venture out there to see the sights, the usual complaint was “there’s no ‘there’ there.”

LA population 1940-2010It’s not that Los Angeles was some little cow town: the 1940s and 1950s had seen tumultuous population growth – over 50% per decade.

By 1970 the greater LA area had 9.9 million residents, triple the 1940 level; only six states, including California itself, had more people.

But the sunny Southern California image of a laid back playground for dreamers and escapists, while seductive, seemed a little too hedonistic and flaky to staid folk back east. Ski in the morning, surf in the afternoon. Rub elbows with movie stars. Buy a convertible and a pad at the beach or a brand new tract home with orange trees in the backyard. Maybe start a cult in your spare time.

Toyota ad 1972All that began changing in the early ’70s as soaring Toyota, Datsun and Honda sales brought top New York advertising talent out to “the coast” and most TV entertainment migrated to Hollywood. Overnight, Los Angeles was discovered by hip tastemakers who proclaimed it was cool, super cool.

Within a couple more decades there was a whole lot of “there” there – and too many people as well. With a 1990 population approaching 15 million, LA had become the poster child for congestion and urban sprawl. Forget skiing in the morning and surfing in the afternoon – choose one and go really, really early to avoid traffic.

Farewell in 2015 to three Boomer icons who helped to mainstream LA

Many popular TV shows of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were set in Los Angeles, inspiring millions to load the family car and head west, all California Dreamin’ of a better life.

Three TV icons who helped to mainstream LA and shape the dream for its Boomer children, passed away in 2015. We bade them a fond farewell.

Martin Milner: December 28, 1931 – September 6, 2015

Michigan transplant – blond, clean cut and surfer-dude handsome – Martin Milner showed America the way to Los Angeles. In a Corvette convertible, no less. Cowabunga!

Martin Milner Route 66His first TV hit, Route 66 (1960-1964) was a metaphor for a self-confident country eager to explore new places and new experiences.

Actually, few shows were set along US 66 – Milner’s adventures took him coast to coast and north to south. Still, this was the Mother Road from Chicago to the Santa Monica pier that so many heartlanders traveled on their own transformative journey west.

Within just a few years the newcomers had settled into an LA life that was more routine than daily glamor. What paradise needed now was law and order, and in his second hit, Adam-12 (1968-1975), Milner provided it.

Adam-12The show followed Los Angeles police officers Pete Malloy (Milner) and Jim Reed (Kent McCord) on daily patrol as a black-and-white squad car team.

For seven seasons Milner and McCord imbued their characters with fortitude, humor and empathy as they handled human-scale problems in the familiar old neighborhoods that LA Boomers remember from their youth.

Although not a huge star, Martin Milner put a decent, friendly face on everyday life in a city that had, finally, grown up into real place.

Donna Douglas: September 26, 1932 – January 1, 2015

One of the most successful TV comedy shows ever, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971) humanized Los Angeles as somewhere plain folks could enjoy the good life.

Beverly HillbilliesThe Premise: the good-hearted, naive Clampett clan, Jed, Granny, daughter Elly May and nephew Jethro strike oil – black gold, Texas tea – on their ramshackle property in hillbilly country, move out to Beverly Hills and buy a mansion.

To the dismay of the establishment, symbolized by their fawning banker’s snooty wife, they retain their old down-home values, live by the golden rule, drive a 1920s truck and eat backwoods cuisine. “Oh boy, possum jowls for supper – and they is just as good the second day.”

Despite being panned by The New York Times – or maybe because of it – mainstream audiences loved the show; it was number one in the Nielsen ratings in its first two seasons and in the top twelve for another five.

Elly May Clampett

Elly May – in real life a former Miss New Orleans, Donna Douglas – was the little kids’ favorite.

Innocently unaware of her beauty, a tomboy who could easily “rassle” her hulking cousin Jethro into submission, and cuddling all kinds of critters season after season, it’s easy to see why Elly May resonated with Boomer youngsters.

During the nine year prime time run of The Beverly Hillbillies, LA’s population grew by over two million people (28%), mostly from middle class backgrounds. Donna/Elly May, who died aged 82 on New Year’s Day, 2015, helped them realize it was okay to still be themselves in tinsel town.

James Garner: April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2015

Oklahoma-born James Garner’s fifty year career reached from the Old West (Maverick) to the Space Age (Space Cowboys).

But it was his role in The Rockford Files series (1974-1980) and made-for-TV movie sequels (1994-1999) that spanned the transition of Los Angeles from a semi-manageable sprawl of 10.5 million to an intense megalopolis of 16.4 million.

In 1974, when the original series debuted, an unprecedented high-rise construction boom was underway. Multi-story condos were springing up in trendy West LA and a flock of skyscrapers had begun to transform downtown. Although a tad stunted by Manhattan standards, anything over 40 floors was considered adventurous in earthquake country.

Through it all, amiable, down-to-earth private detective Jim Rockford maintained his balance, resisting the trends and fads of the day.
Jim RockfordRockford seemed to be a remnant from LA’s past. From his Sears-style outfits, his beach bum trailer lifestyle at Paradise Cove, his all-American wheels – a gnarly copper-mist Pontiac Firebird – to the red naugahyde booths in his favorite old school hangouts, this was a guy comfortable in his forty-something skin. Los Angeles might change, but he sure wouldn’t.

If you want to hear, feel and breathe low-rise Westside LA and the San Fernando Valley back in the SoCal Boomer heyday, head over to Netflix. Sadly, James Garner left us in 2015, but happily, Rockford will never age and 1970s LA lives on – cool at last – forever.

Boomer world: even more changes than TV’s Los Angeles

The Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1965, is 93 million strong – five times more populous, far more affluent and way more diverse than Los Angeles. And, like The City of Angels, we never stopped evolving and changing.

The parallels don’t stop there. Echoing eastern elites of bygone decades who dismissed booming LA, Madison Avenue brushes us off in advertising because outside the 18-49 demo, they say, there’s no “there” there. Fortunately for the venturesome few, experienced Boomer-world tour guides are on hand; we know exactly where to find the “there.”

LA Skyline

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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Boomer Spending Power: Pew, Chicken Little, Pollyanna and Wile E. Coyote

Chicken Little and Pollyanna analyze the latest Pew income data

There’s an old story about the corporate CEO who insisted all analysts present their findings to management with one arm tied firmly behind their backs. The boss was tired of wishy-washy reports that concluded “on the one hand … but on the other hand.”

Pew_Share of adults by h-hold income tier 2014Legendary or not, when a new Pew Research Center report proclaimed The American Middle Class Is Losing Ground, that wise CEO came to mind.

The headline grabber was that the 2015 middle class share of typical 3-person U.S. households is way down from 1971 – 50% versus 61%.

Most commentators were in two-handed analyst mode, unconsciously channeling Boomer childhood favorites Chicken Little, the sky is falling, and Pollyanna – play The Glad Game – to achieve balance. Whatever that is.

Pew_Improving income status 1971-2015Well, Pew’s fact-packed report provides fodder for both hand-wringers and cheerleaders

The Chicken Littles focus – with socially conscious angst – on how America’s economic pie is shared, how the down-to-earth core, the middle class, is being hollowed out aka losing ground and why the low income ranks are growing.

The Pollyanna takeaway is how much bigger the 2015 pie is for all income groups versus 1971.

Chicken Little

Still, Chicken Littles find enough facts to claim the sky is falling:

  • Economic progress masks financial setbacks since 2000
  • Lower tier households grew 1971-2015, from a 25% share to 29%
  • Income grew fastest among “upper” households
  • Upper-income families have seven times as much wealth as middle-income families – back in 1983, the ratio was only three times.
  • Americans over 65 are the most likely age group to be lower income

To Pollyannas, the data proves everyone is better off in 2015; sure, the rich more than others, but – Pew’s snappy title notwithstanding – no income tier actually “lost ground.”

  • PollyannaIn 2014, median lower tier household income was up 28% vs. 1971; the median middle-income household jump was 34% (2014 dollars.)
  • OK, for upper-income households the increase was 47%, but that also generated more taxes to support lower income folk.
  • Yes, the middle class share of households shrank – but almost twice as many moved up (7%) as down (4%.)
  • The 65+ age group improved their income status far more than any other demo: 26% net upward movement since 1971.

For Boomers and the American economy that last statistic is the most important.

The Wile E Coyote method: cut to the chase

Question: who out in the real world, far from the gray domain of statisticians and social trend-trackers, actually experienced the personally beneficial changes between 1971 and 2015, you know, as in “hey, I don’t know about the rich folks across town, but my family is way better off.”

Answer: why, older members of the Boomer-Plus Generation of course.

Pew_Improving income status 1971-2015Just starting out in the 1960s/70s, they have the long view of American household income growth – up by around one third since 1971 (in constant 2014 dollars).

They also know older consumers today have higher incomes and spending power than back in their grandparents’ time. In fact, Pew data shows the 65+ age group is the only one whose middle and upper income brackets increased in share 1971-2015.

So, after the Chicken Littles and Pollyannas have had their say, it’s time to turn to Wile E. Coyote for actionable analysis; his relentless, hungry, cut to the chase focus on the endgame should be an inspiration to disruptive C-Suite thinkers everywhere.

Wile-style bottom line: let’s go get those juicy, plump Boomers. They’re all tasty.

The Financial Times summed up the Pew data in more erudite terms, but the bottom line is the same (hat tip: Charles Shillingburg, B+CG Senior Mentor).

Wile E Coyote_Let's eat

“The US middle class is already being reshaped by its aging population, and older citizens are set to play a swelling role in the economy as their weight in the middle and upper income brackets mounts.” 

(FT quoting projections by the McKinsey Global Institute) “Americans aged 60 and over are forecast to drive half of all U.S. spending growth between 2015 and 2030.”

Hungry brand alert: you have to work for your share

The Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965, owns over 70% of U.S. household net worth and would be the world’s 15th most populous nation if it were a country. That’s more spending power than Germany, or the UK, or Italy or France.

But, so far, Madison Avenue has not gotten hungry enough to chase us down; the FT quotes Jaana Remes, a McKinsey Global Institute partner as “surprised she had not heard corporate leaders express more interest in this group.”

When adland is finally prodded into action by disruptive client managers, they’ll find it takes hard work – and smart work – to win a bigger share of business in the 50+ arena. Here at the 15th Nation we don’t offer Acme surefire Snag-a-Boomer kits, but we do know the territory. Meep, meep!


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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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How Boomers Revolutionized The Luxury Car Market

Boomers and the demise of domestic luxury cars

The 2015 LA Auto Show – the first of the U.S. 2016 model year events – closed on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Who knows, maybe somewhere in the glittering array there were vehicles as transformative as in the 1990 show when the shiny new Lexus LS400 and Infiniti Q45 were on display. Thanks to the Boomers they would play key roles in the luxury car revolution that would humble Cadillac and Lincoln over the next 25 years.

1959 Cadillac Eldorado USPS stamp artLittle Boomers grew up hearing the Cadillac of “such and such” meant the “such and such” was simply the best. The 1959 Eldorado, the pinnacle of Caddy cool, tells you everything you need to know about why our parents told us so. And back in 1990 American luxury still ruled: Cadillac sold over a quarter million units and Lincoln had its best year ever at 231,660.

But their leadership was on a slippery slope; the times they weren’t just a-changing, they had already changed.

Since the 1960s Boomer buyers had been crucial to import economy car acceptance. We appreciated their zippy handling, buzzy engines and stiff road feel versus floaty domestic suspensions and big car parking issues. And, to offset the macho allure of V-8 Detroit brawn, we told critics they were the intelligent choice.

1970s European engineering_intelligenceAs our careers prospered, many turned to intelligent import luxury models as well.

Employing advertising themes that stressed engineering, rationality and form-follows-function design through the 1970s and 1980s, European brands steadily acquired a patina of sophistication, upward mobility and intelligence.

Our parents grumbled and snarky neighbors muttered “yuppies”, but in 1990 we bought 78,400 Mercedes, 63,600 BMWs and thousands of Porsches and Jaguars. Also, the near-luxury, category was firmly established – led by Volvo, Saab, Audi and Honda’s new Acura line which hit sales of 138,000 that year (Motor Trend).

External events hadn’t helped domestics while all this was happening. Back-to-back oil supply crises in the ’70s/early ’80s, the rise of environmentalism and pressure to downsize in the name of energy efficiency had forced Detroit to make hasty product decisions that backfired on quality and brand respect.

When true Japanese luxury arrived, upwardly-mobile Boomers were primed.

Selected Luxury Auto Brand Sales 1990 v 2014In 1990, its first full year, Lexus sold as many cars as BMW. And its amazing quality forced the German marques to up their game to stay competitive.

As competition intensified, luxury import sales exploded in the coming decades.

In 2014 Americans bought almost two million luxury/near luxury vehicles – 86% of them import brands; Mercedes (356,100), BMW (339,800) and Lexus (311,400) each sold more units than Cadillac (170,800) and Lincoln (94,500) combined (Automotive News data.)

Infiniti, however, lagged from the get-go; 1990 sales were only 38% of Lexus – 25 years later the ratio still holds.

The culprit was “creativity.”

Gravitas vs. too cool for school

The Lexus launch ad campaign patiently told an intelligent product quality story focused on fit, finish, power and driving smoothness – key attributes of the luxury car segment.

Lexus BalancedAt first, the work was criticized by advertising “experts” as staid and unimaginative. However, with 20/20 hindsight – after hugely successful sales – it won belated recognition, most notably for the “Balanced” TV commercial.

Experts aside, the work refuted stereotypes of Japanese products as econo-boxes for the masses. And how! In 1990 the campaign gave 63,500 early buyers specific bragging rights to support their intelligent decision-making.

Meanwhile, Infiniti stumbled.

It’s usual to blame the introductory “rocks and trees” ads (link hat tip: Jalopnik.) Sure, their attempted Zen-like aura – serene nature scenes and sophomoric voice-overs – had less authenticity than Walmart sushi. But the product itself also contributed, again with the misplaced notion that unorthodox equals creative.

Despite a beautiful interior and superb driving characteristics, the Q45 stylists were so determined to stand out in the prestige car club that they forgot to fully complete the membership application: the car had no grille and its fussy afterthought badge was clunky.

Q45_Ford TaurusThe Q45 nose resembled the Ford Taurus so closely that until a 1994 update added a grille and a cleaned up logo, most ads avoided the front view – the focal point of top tier marque prestige.

Infiniti’s creative overload unintentionally created an image of style over substance, the uncool antithesis of intelligent European and Lexus branding. Sadly, the Q45 debuted as a discounted model and the butt of late night TV jokes. Only 24,000 were sold in 1990 and the brand is still regarded as a 2nd tier luxury player today.

Boomers still rule the luxury car market

It is well known that consumers aged fifty and up buy at least half the new cars and light trucks sold in America. According to automotive researcher, IHS, in 2013 the median age of all brand buyers was was 52.

Kiddy carIt’s also well known that automotive marketers – eager to avoid being tagged as geezer pleasers – direct the bulk of their targeting to younger prospects. And, because conquesting customers from competitors is costlier and more difficult than retaining existing buyers, the mantra is grab ’em when they’re young.  

However, both these strategic goals leave a great deal of money – brand share – on the table, especially in the luxury segment.

  • First, IHS reports the highest brand loyalty rate is only 58% (Mercedes Benz) and falls off significantly among Tier Two brands. So there is plenty of brand-switching opportunity out there for disruptives willing to intelligently persuade prospects.
  • Second, most Millennials are decades away from the earning power that allows luxury car indulgence. Long term brand building – rebuilding in the case of Lincoln and Cadillac – is vital, but not at the expense of sales. Unless, of course, those ever-patient dealer principals are happy to forego extra profits and wait until the Millennials start turning fifty around 2030. Sure.

Luxury brand loyalty 2014_IHS

Engaging Boomer-Plus luxury car buyers, really engaging us, isn’t easy; after all, Madison Avenue is primarily staffed with Millennials who are great at – rocks and trees alert – creativity but are mostly inarticulate when it comes to Boomer-speak.

But, for those willing to “actually strive to do the deeds,” intelligent help is close at hand.

Opportunity_Bully for Boomers

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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Advertising To Boomers: Big Ideas, Chainsaws And Scalpels

Big Ideas start with a chainsaw

The thing about a Big Idea is that it starts out rough. We channel our brawny inner lumberjacks and lumberjills, chainsaw up and set to hacking and hewing. It’s hard work, and for sure we’ll have the callouses and the splinters to prove it.

ChainsawEven though it may still be a little rough around the edges, a really worthwhile Big Idea signals the world we’ve made a breakthrough.

And breakthroughs mean upsetting the status quo, generating as much resistance and skepticism –  maybe more – as wow!

So it is with the hugely profitable Big Idea that mainstream products and brands should actively target the 50+ space.

In this case, the challenge is to overcome ancient dogma from the distant days of the Mad Men – beliefs so firmly entrenched that the marketing faithful do not dare question them.

influent50 Open 82%The myth claims that when consumers leave the 18-49 demo their buying behavior is so rigid that they are no longer worth targeting. Even worse, they scare Millennials away from the brand. Poor sensitive dears.

In 2014, AARP announced it was joining a small group of visionary ad agencies by opening its own shop aimed at the 50-plus space, influent50.

Its heretical chainsaw revving to the max, the new team quickly slashed through the dead wood of Madison Avenue folklore. In a landmark survey of 1,000 Boomers aged 50-69 (May, 2015) they found 82% are actually willing to consider new brands when they make purchases.

Even more disruptive, the researchers asked Boomers to assess their openness to new brands and services compared to 20 years ago. To the confusion of the establishment, nine in ten said either they hadn’t changed or – heresy alert: prepare the rack and thumbscrews – are now more likely to try new things (40%+).

influent50 Try new vs 20 yrs ago

The time for scalpels

When it comes to targeting consumers over fifty, chainsaw-scale work is only the beginning. Going forward it requires intelligent and deft engagement.

Geezers never changeBecause, when the herd eventually turns, jostling en masse towards the new Big Idea, only brands that know how to connect – really connect – with Boomers on a human level will succeed.

Hint: the usual blundering stereotypes and knee-jerk reactions won’t work.

Engaging the 50+ space isn’t about a quick study of syndicated surveys, old TV shows and back issues of TIME magazine.

Success requires what ageless marketing proponent Jim Gilmartin, president of the Coming of Age ad agency calls empathy. And let’s be clear: for marketers, the purpose of empathy is not feel-good inclusiveness but the ruthless conquest of brand share from less savvy competitors.

Empathy in the service of brand growth requires the ability to communicate with Boomers based on what they think and feel and how they process their ever-evolving life experience as they make future buying decisions. Key word: buying.

All of which means refining the Big Idea with scalpels to add texture, personality, warmth and nuance. The work is too fine for chainsaws.

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears …

83% make mistakesGood news for disruptive strategists: for most, the chainsaws in the Boomer-Plus forest are just too distant – in territory too daunting and unfamiliar – that they go unheard.

Even the few brands with acute hearing tend to misunderstand the muffled roar. According to the influent50 survey, eight in ten (83%) Boomers say marketers are making some kind of mistake when trying to appeal to their age group.

And these mistakes cause huge opportunity losses among the 93 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965. Owners of over 70% of U.S. household net worth, we’re the third largest economy in the world and America’s most adaptable generation – so thoroughly conditioned by decades of rapid change that it’s way too late for us to stop trying new ideas now.

We Boomers have empathy too. We’re happy to help Madison Avenue’s Millennial Wunderkinder brave enough to hew and hone their own disruptive Big Ideas – after all, we know the forest trails because we made them.

Opportunity_Through the forest

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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Little Boxes: Experts Perplexed That Millennials Are Growing Up To Be Boomers

Little boxes

Pete Seeger – folk singer and social activist – was big on radio as leading edge Boomers were growing up. We’re talking old school late night FM, not Beach Boys or Top Forty; Seeger was deep, man, like real deep.

Born in 1919, and far from being a Boomer himself, his renditions of Where Have All The Flowers Gone, If I Had A Hammer and We Shall Overcome nevertheless galvanized young counterculture progressives of the 1960s and early 1970s.

One of his most famous songs, Little Boxes (1963), written by kindred spirit Malvina Reynolds, mocked the alleged suburban conformity of the post WWII years. Inspired by the San Francisco suburb of Daly City, the opening verse became something of an anthem for urban planners and green space advocates on the public policy level and for free spirits and individualists in everyday life.

Little boxes Daly CityLittle boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same

The little box syndrome: alive and well as generational stereotyping 

Among other causes, Reynolds and Seeger were lifelong crusaders against bias – shoving people into handy little stereotypical boxes.

Fortunately, in the marketing, media, academic, entertainment and political arenas there are exceptions. We elites always find ways to protect our turf.

So we discuss branding, segmentation, communities, identity groups, audiences, constituencies and – our personal favorite – generations. The standard boxes go like this:

Little box bullet listBoomers: Once optimistic, now facing retirement crisis … digital laggards … White Hats: idealistic, pro equality, question authority / Black Hats: greedy, self-centered, resource guzzlers.

Little box bullet list grayGen X: Overlooked … latchkey kids … skeptics who saw the American Dream slip from their grasp … early tech adopters … self-reliant balance seekers … squeezed between Boomer bosses and Millennial upstarts.

Little box bullet list pinkMillennials: The generation du jour … digital whizkids …  struggling to pay college debt and find good jobs, but caring and collaborative … making a difference …  diverse … cool, urban-focused anti-car; walk and bike.

Well, it ain’t necessarily so.

Millennials are growing up to be Boomers: “experts” perplexed

Last August we discussed the relatively slow rate of Millennial home purchases – also noting, contrary to the hip urban meme, when they do buy homes it’s more likely to be in Applebee’s-enabled suburbs than in city center lofts a là NPR’s Hipsterfication of America.

The trending suburbia story has been in the news again recently, to the predictable surprise of “experts” in big bi-coastal media centers.

Score one for ticky tacky boxes.

In So Much For The Death Of Sprawl: America’s Exurbs Are BoomingJoel Kotkin, executive editor of NewGeography.com, cites the Brooking Institution (2015) to explain that newer, outer suburbs developed in the 1990s and 2000s are growing more rapidly than dense inner rings. This refutes, he says, the conventional narrative that most American job and housing growth occurs closer to metro area cores.

Kotkin also quotes data from another NewGeographer writer, Wendell Cox, to suggest the greatest suburban growth potential is among Millennials.

Millennial population trends_major metro areas

Looking at where Millennials live currently (latest data, 2011) is deceptive, Cox finds. In that year a little over a third (39%) were in newer, outer suburbs (see chart).

However, this superficial view masks key dynamics: 90% of 2000-2011 population growth among Millennials occurred in suburbs, with 75% of it in newer, outer suburbs and exurbs. The flow is out of the city, not inbound.

So, hype aside, as Millennials age and settle down to the family lifestage, they begin to resemble their suburban Boomer parents. Good news for appliances, kids’ clothing, toys, compact SUVs and family restaurant chains.

The little Boomer box: no longer able to adapt or switch brands

The marketing stereotype about Americans over fifty is that we are no longer willing or able to adapt. And, therefore, no longer worth specific targeting by mainstream brands.

Basically, we don’t fit into the 18-49 demographic box assigned to us by the same “experts” who predicted our Millennial kids would all morph into urban sophisticates biking and Ubering around trendy downtown enclaves.

Attention, experts! It’s time for some disruptive thinking.

There are around 110 million Americans in the 50+ space. Of these, 93 million fall into the Boomer-Plus Generation™, owners of over 70% of U.S. household net worth. Evolution and lifelong change has moved us from slide rules, black and white TV and station wagons to Facebook, solar panels and Whole Foods.

So, when it comes to generational stereotyping, remember, we’re America’s most adaptable; learn to engage us – outside the box.

Opportunity Megaphone

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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Memo To Smartphone Marketers: Don’t Put Boomers On Hold

One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In was a Boomer TV favorite in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It debuted on NBC Television as the top-rated series of the 1968/69 season with an average rating of 31.8 (TV Facts, Cobbett Steinberg).

Eat your heart out, Big Bang Theory (9.8 rating, week of October 26, 2015, Nielsen).

Okay, it’s not fair to compare 1969 ratings with 2015; there’s so much more choice today. Well, that’s true in many other arenas too. For instance, when Laugh-In ruled, Americans had only one choice for telephone service: Ma Bell aka AT&T.

One ringy dingyWhat’s more, an AT&T subsidiary had a lock on making the handsets folks leased from “the phone company” – ownership was not an option for private individuals.

Laugh-In star Lily Tomlin nailed our frustration in her hilarious sketches as “one ringy dingy, two ringy dingy” Ernestine, the saccharine sweet phone company rep who cheerfully extorted customers to pay for erroneous charges … or else.

Supposedly, the phone company tried to drive Ernestine off the air. However, in the end it was AT&T that lost out and, today, legions of service providers and equipment suppliers compete for our business.

Well, compete for half the market, anyway. The over-fifty segment is so undervalued that occasional brief vignettes slipped into hip, youth-oriented ads are considered enough to claim the mantle of inclusiveness without scaring off the Millennials.

“One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy, we’re the (smart) phone company – we don’t care … “

Smartphone ownership update: fastest growth is in the fifty-plus demo

In July 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds (68%) of U.S. adults owned a smartphone – 17.2% market growth from their January, 2014, reading (58%).

But this impressive performance was not evenly distributed; the 18-month increase among consumers aged 65-plus (57.9%) and 50-64 (18.4%) was far greater than among Gen Xers (12.2%) or Millennials (3.6%).

Smartphone ownership by age Jan '14 - Jul '15The bad news: the 18-49 demographic is becoming a saturated market for smartphones.

The good news: fifty-plus is a vibrant, fast-growing segment for smartphone services – one where smarter marketing, not just smarter phones will win out as competition from lower cost entries heats up.

Smartphone shipments worldwide 2015

Data miner Statista, reports Huawei, Lenovo, Xiaomi and others have already squeezed the Samsung and Apple worldwide market share down to 37% of 2015 smartphone shipments. And they are making inroads here in the U.S. too.

As the inevitable conversion of older Americans to smartphones continues, and competition intensifies, ignoring us is anything but smart.

New smartphone customers: what’s at stake

Just how many potential new smartphone customers are at stake as the market matures?

Well, projections are always tricky – you know, lies, damned lies and statistics, yada, yada – but we estimate almost two-thirds of converts from basic cellphones will come from the 50+ space.

Channeling our inner guru, we started with the conservative assumption that by 2015 everyone aged 18+ who wants a mobile phone already has one – i.e., 92% (Pew), split between smartphones (68%) and basic cellphones (24%). We also assumed:

  • Guru ChuckThe smartphone share of mobile phone ownership will continue to grow, maxing out at different levels by age:
    • … 95% among 18-49 year olds
    • … 80% among 50-64 year olds
    • … 65% among 65+ year olds

Applying a little simple math and U.S. Census Bureau data, we conclude Americans aged fifty-plus could provide 18+ million smartphone customers in the coming years versus only 10+ million from the 18-49 demographic.

Smartphone potential growth 2015 forward

SMS from the 50+ space: put us on hold at your peril

Smartphones are all about communication and conversations – two-way conversations.

But before they try speaking to the 50+ space – especially the 93 million strong Boomer-Plus Generation™ – marketers must first learn to listen. And they must learn to listen and speak very carefully if they want to go grab some other, less agile brand’s share.

We know this is tough for 18-49 demo diehards who – true to Laugh-In era thinking – put Americans over fifty on permanent hold. But learning to engage our 18+ million smartphone prospects is just one ringy dingy away.

Make that one clicky clicky. It’s never too late to learn.

Opportunity Chuck

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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Boomer Revolt! No Ad-taxation Without Representation

It’s time to stamp out inequality in the 50-plus market

This year is the 250th anniversary of the infamous Stamp Act.

Back in 1765, the British parliament decided the rubes out in the American colonies needed to pay more taxes. Good show. Hear, hear, harumph, harumph.

Stamp ActEnter the Stamp Act, which required the purchase of an official stamp to affix to almost all things paper, from legal documents to newspapers to playing cards and pretty much everything in between. If you snoozed through history in high school, read the full story at the Colonial Williamsburg Journal, War of Words by Professor Gordon S. Wood. It tells you all you need to know about why we don’t drive on the left and bangers and mash isn’t the national dish at Thanksgiving.

When the colonials griped about taxation without representation, Parliament loftily proclaimed the rubes – although voiceless and invisible – were “virtually represented.” So pay up and shut up.

Well, we all know how that turned out.

Today, 250 years later, the same old arguments are playing out once again. This time the establishment is composed of mainstream brand strategists and we American consumers in the 50+ space are the folks being taxed without representation.

In 2014, U.S. advertisers spent $141 billion in conventional media (Kantar Media) and $19 billion on digital/mobile (eMarketer) to persuade consumers to consider, try, buy or switch to their brands. Naturally, the money is built into the price of goods and services – think of it as $160 billion in ad-taxation.

Boomer taxation without representationThe AARP calculates that Americans aged fifty-plus account for 51% of consumer spending, which means we paid half of this whopping ad-tax bill.

However, according to Nielsen, only 5% of ad dollars specifically target the 50+ space. The rest, $74 billion in 2014, is siphoned off to advertise goods and services to younger demographics.

It’s taxation without representation on steroids.

Brand apologists admit the geezer rubes are voiceless and invisible in most ads, but loftily proclaim they’re “virtually represented” in marketing campaigns anyway. Hmm, somehow that sounds familiar: pay up and shut up. Hear, hear, harumph, harumph!

Well, it’s high time for another revolution: let’s start by naming and shaming the culprits in this ad-tax exploitation of Boomers and seniors.

Those revolting Boomers

In 2014, Kantar tells us the top ten categories accounted for $86+ billion in conventional media, almost two-thirds of the total advertising industry spend.

10 Top ad categories 2014So, in these ten sectors alone, advertisers derived $44 billion from purchases made by consumers in the 50+ space.

But, unless going after our retirement funds or stocking our medicine cabinets, few of the brands involved actually feature us in their ads, except as doofuses or cringe-worthy foils for hip 30-somethings.

Not to disrespect our Silent Generation elders, but all this is particularly galling for 93 million Boomer-Plus consumers born 1940-1965 – a cohort swelled in 2015 by four million Gen Xers who are waking up at age fifty to learn they are now uncool cash cows, useful only to generate revenue for advertisers.

George 3rdC’mon, we buy more new cars than Germany and the UK combined. We’re half the CPG market, account for more than half of home improvement sales and – listen up, George – we own over 70% of U.S. household net assets.

So, heck no, we’re not going along quietly with Madison Avenue’s massive Stamp Act transfer of our ad taxes to the 18-49 demo.

Fortunately, some of adland’s serious thinkers and disruptives are breaking away from the power broker establishment – for starters, see Golden Years Represent Golden Opportunity for Marketers, Rance Crain, Editor-in-Chief of Ad Age.

Brands courageous enough to question authority can take heart that the Stamp Act was repealed after a popular outcry. So join the Boomer revolution, free up your creativity and watch your market share soar while the old guard is still harumphing.

Opportunity Stamp Act

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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Millennials For Click Bait, Boomers For Market Share … Gen X Mostly Forgotten

The Boomers’ long run as the only real generation

Until June, 2015, according to the Census Bureau, there was only one real generation: Baby Boomers, born 1946 through 1964.

Bright ideasThe others – Baby Busters, Gen X, Gen Y, Echo Boomers, the MTV Generation, Grunge Kids, Digital Natives, Generation Next, Millennials et al – only existed in fertile media and marketer minds.

Not only did hipper-than-thou name tags change constantly, but date ranges for the Millennial generation skittered around faster than skateboards in a high school parking lot:

  • 1975-1990 (The New York Times [a])
  • 1975-1998 (The New York Times [b])
  • 1977-1994 (J.D. Power)
  • 1977-1992 (Pew Research Center, 2010)
  • 1981-1997 (Pew Research Center, 2015)
  • 1981-2000 (Adweek)
  • 1982-2004 (Strauss and Howe, authors)
  • 1985-2004 (The Harvard Center)

Millennials don't self-identifyIt’s hardly surprising that Millennials are unsure about their generational label.

The Pew Research Center (Generations in a Mirror, September 2015) reports only 40% of them identify with the term “Millennial.”

Boomers, of course, know who they are (79%). We’d be hurt if others didn’t know too; it’s all about us – talkin’ about my generation.

Gen X concertinaWhatever the label-shifting dynamics, they all hyped Millennial importance at the expense of Gen Xers who, stuck with the leftovers, were squeezed between 1965 and the start date du jour for the trendier arrivistes.

In the worst case, Gen X was squished into a measly span of ten birth years (1965-1974) – on the marketing scrap heap even before their Barbies and G. I. Joes were packed away in the attic.

The Census Bureau hung back until, on June 25th, 2015, they made it official: there is a Millennial generation.

Of course, they picked their own dates, choosing 1982-2000. Like the Boomers, this is nineteen birth years; Gen X was short-changed again, compressed to only seventeen, 1965 to 1981.

Oh well.

Millennials: the click bait generation

Wile E Coyote click baitLet’s be honest; much of the Millennial razzmatazz is about scoring clicks in the crowded online content ecosystem.

Not to be left out, we created our own label.

We considered the Can’t Afford To Buy Much Stuff But Really Cool Generation but it didn’t focus group well except among older Mad Men who said it was boss. So we settled on The Click Bait Generation. Catchy, huh?

But we doubt it has legs: commentators are already beginning to sense Millennial news has jumped the shark. From Advertising Age to The Washington Post we are seeing headlines like Were Millennials Just Figments Of Our Fevered Imagination All Along? (Ken Wheaton) to Your Generational Identity Is A Lie (Philip Bump).

We realists never lost sight of the fact that while Millennials – our kids – are good-looking, brilliant and hell on wheels with a touchscreen, their spending power is dismal.

Households headed by someone under 35 own only 2% of U.S. household net worth, and the median annual income of 15-24 year olds – over half the generation – was only $10,500 in 2014 (Census Bureau).

Duh! One third of Millennials– those born 1995-2000 – are still in high school, college or starter jobs and too young to drink!

Boomer-Plus: the brand share generation

Of the 110 million Americans in the 50+ space, the largest cohort is the 93 million strong Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965. And it’s a real generation, too, bound together by shared cultural and lifestage experiences.

Silents and Boomer-Plus Generation

We’ve written before about extending the original Boomer birth range to 1940; now Pew validates us by finding that one-third (34%) of consumers over age 70 identify as belonging to our generation.

The point isn’t social commentary, it’s marketing opportunity: Boomer-Plus is the world’s third largest economy. Only China and the U.S. itself are bigger.

So it’s bizarre that as Americans exit the 18-49 demographic they disappear from mainstream advertising. Operating on thinking more dated than a 1960 De Soto, many brand managers believe we old-timers are just too ossified to adopt new buying habits.

Well, Millennials as a whole may not have much economic influence, but at least some of the incredibly brainy whizkids of Madison Avenue appear ready to follow new paths. We’re happy to lead the way.

Opportunity Pied Piper

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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American Boomer Wheels Month: Part 3 Diesels and Volkswagen’s Klingon Moment

September is American Boomer Wheels Month because …

Germany always comes into focus for automakers in September. Usually it’s because the Frankfurt Auto Show, the world’s largest, takes center stage. But this year the spotlight is on how Volkswagen misled the EPA over diesel engine emissions.

For many American Boomers, vee-dub was our counter-culture college sweetheart, the darling of 1960s disruptives. How our generation processes dieselgate is vital both to the Volkswagen brand and the future of diesel cars in the U.S.

It’s worth remembering why Boomers are so important; Americans aged fifty-plus bought 6.9 million new passenger vehicles in 2014, over twice as many as Germany (3 million).

2014 Light Vehicle Sales US 50+ vs Germany

Despite our generational dominance, auto industry marketing gurus – VW included – no longer target us after we leave the 18-49 demographic. Maybe 25-54. Whatever.

Where's WaldoThe official excuse is we don’t change brands after age fifty and, anyway, our wrinkled presence in ads turns off Millennials. We’ve become the “where’s Waldo” of Madison Avenue.

So the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group observes September as American Boomer Wheels Month by urging car companies to start competing for our business.

American consumer culture: Diesels are from the Klingon home-world

Last week we discussed cultural dynamics in the EV marketplace; the handy metaphor is that gasoline engines are from Mars, electrics are from Venus and diesels are from the Klingon home-world.

The Volkswagen fiasco – more of that later – plays into deeply ingrained negative attitudes about diesels that are held by a majority of American consumers. Originating with mainstream Boomers and older Gen Xers living in suburbs and white-collar cities, this culture of suspicion has been handed down to their Millennial children.

Duel_The TruckMost city folk were imprinted from childhood by diesel trucks, heavy equipment and buses. Big, strong, indispensable to everyday life, but also smelly, noisy and polluting. Intimidating, too – even more so as we moved to smaller cars over the years; giant wheels spinning at eye level reminded drivers to treat trucks with extra caution.

An early Steven Spielberg movie, Duel, in which an eerie big rig stalks a businessman, tells you all you need to know about how we felt about Peterbilts. Macks and Freightliners.

Jerry ReedBut out in heartland America, diesel trucks represent a man’s world where stereotypes run to salt-of-the-earth blue collar. Here, the big dogs are guy-cool 18-wheelers driven by free spirits who roll day and night while lesser mortals take off-ramps to the quiet, domesticated burbs.

This macho aura trickles down to burly diesel pickups that – confident atop the light duty vehicle food chain – haul everything from masonry to Brahma bulls to boats and RVs.

Domestic and imported diesel passenger cars – VW Rabbit and Dasher among them – rattled into this brawny arena in the 1970s/80s following back-to-back oil crises and rising fuel prices.

Auto scrap pileIll-prepared for American consumer needs – you know, reliable, quiet, smoke free, easy to start in cold weather, powerful enough to overtake a college kid on a moped – they soon disappeared after fuel prices stabilized.

Read Jay Ramey’s Ten Diesels That Time Forgot, Cough, Cough (Autoweek, March 2, 2015) and you’ll get the picture.

By the 21st century, memories had faded, but in Boomer and Gen X folklore, a vague feeling lingered on that the Klingon Empire must be involved somehow with diesel.

Light duty diesel vehicles in the 2010s: car/pickup culture disconnect 

Enter Volkswagen. Again. This time with new technology and cars that drive like a dream.

According to data-mining firm Statista, Americans bought 490,000 diesel-powered light duty vehicles in 2014 – just 3% of the total U.S. market. Of these, industry sources suggest about two-thirds were pickups and vans bought by people and companies with traditional diesel benefits in mind.

2014 Diesel car salesThat same year, passenger car and SUV diesel sales had climbed to 138,000, almost all from German manufacturers (HybridCars.com).

This contrarian little niche is dominated by the Volkswagen brand family with a 70.1% share; VW (56.3%), Audi (11.4%) and Porsche (2.4%).

This micro-category has little in common with diesel pickup culture. News that Volkswagen misled the EPA and CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned in the wake of the scandal is unlikely to hurt truck sales.

However, diesel passenger cars could take a huge hit for years – as much because of buyer culture as because of technical shortcomings or company wrong-doing.

In one way or the other, most diesel-powered passenger car buyers see themselves as forerunners – a little, shall we say, smarter than their more conventional neighbors when it comes to technology.

KlingonThere are no more vengeful consumers on the planet than embarrassed thought leaders who embraced new ideas only to learn the “uninformed” masses were right to hang back.

When the cloaking device was removed, clean, civil and capable Captain James T. Kirk turned out to be a Klingon after all.

What’s next? Lessons from Boomer-world 

Unfortunately for diesel car loyalists hoping for a happy resolution, a precedent is firmly established in the history of Boomer-world. It’s called the rotary engine.

Invented by German engineer Felix Wankel in 1929, and refined by Mazda, the auto industry hoped it could be the salvation for under-powered small cars of the 1970s.

Then, in 1973, a modest little start-up research firm, J. D. Power & Associates, published an independent survey of early buyers of the RX-2 rotary engine model. Full disclosure: your humble scribe was the “associate” … now, those were fun times.

Mazda RX-2The Los Angeles Times snarked 20% of Mazdas Surveyed Go Boing, Boing Instead of Hmmm, explaining the RX-2 had a surprising level of engine problems after 30,000 miles. It was eventually learned that the O-rings (gaskets) were failing, with devastating results.

Like diesels in the 2010s, the 1970s rotary engine appealed to buyers with a pioneering self-image. Feelings of betrayal exploded when the EPA compounded reliability woes with news that cars provided by Mazda tested clean but only achieved 11 miles per gallon versus the actual use average of 20 mpg reported by survey respondents. Hmmm, indeed.

Neither the EPA nor angry early adopters show mercy to car companies when technology fails to live up to its promises. Only the high performance RX-7 and RX-8 sports models survived the debacle.

Boomers and Gen X may be Volkswagen’s best hope 

Like other automakers, Volkswagen seldom depicts Boomers in its advertising. Nor does it directly target older consumers.

But, unique among car brands, VW once enjoyed a close relationship with progressives in the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965. Peace, love, flower power and all that.

In time, we drifted apart as Volkswagen moved on to court younger prospects. Finally, its ads ignored old friends altogether in favor of trendy Millennials.

VW Diesel_Old Wives

A rare on-screen sighting of Boomer-Plus consumers occurred in a series of VW commercials featuring a dotty trio of “Old Wives” being educated about diesels by – surprise! – cool young dudes.

Creepy granny-flirting moments were thrown in for good measure. Cringeworthy.

The Old Wives are funny, for sure. But we laughed at them, not with them. Frankly, car buyers over fifty don’t see themselves as uninformed figures of fun, desperate for attention from 30-somethings.

Karma policeMaybe it’s karma, but no one is laughing at diesel humor any more.

Least of all, Millennials, who, according to a Boston Consulting Group study, place unusually high value on social responsibility when choosing brands (hat tip: Melanie Davis in a MediaPost Engage Millennials column).

So, it’s a good time to restate The American Boomer Wheels Month message for every auto marketer: win a larger share by targeting those 6.9 million Boomer-Plus car buyers.

With a median age of 49.9 years in 2013 (IHS Automotive) half of VW buyers are already in the 50+ space. However, even before dieselgate, the brand couldn’t attract enough of them to meet its ambitious U.S. sales goals.

Now, in addition to keeping existing customers, the Volkswagen challenge is to rekindle old love affairs with under-appreciated and disillusioned Boomers. It won’t be easy.

They may still have warm feelings way down deep but – after all these years of neglect – it will take skilled and honest matchmakers to get them and VW back together.

It’s a long, cold road back: failure to engage Boomers will only make it longer and colder.

Opportunity Diesels

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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American Boomer Wheels Month: How Culture Drives The Automotive Market … Part 2 Electric Vehicles

Reprise: Why September is American Boomer Wheels Month

Each September, Frankfurt, Germany, home to the largest motor show on the planet, draws car makers, the media and experts from around the world to marvel at the auto industry’s most creative ideas.

2014 Light Vehicle Sales US vs GermanyMeanwhile, in the U.S., car companies ignore the most creative idea of all: advertising to Boomer-plus Americans.

In 2014, we Americans over fifty bought 6.9 million new passenger vehicles, more than Germany (3 million) and the UK (2.5 million) combined.

Amazingly, this enormous buyer group is almost invisible in auto maker and dealer advertising – the “where’s Waldo?” of Madison Avenue – because the Mad Men say we are no longer adaptable or worth targeting.

Where's WaldoSo the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group observes September as American Boomer Wheels Month by urging smarter and more creative – much more creative – engagement in the 50+ space.

Conformists, buckle up; the road to creative thinking is always bumpy.

Electric car culture: 120 years in the making

The standard joke is that electric vehicles are the next big thing, and always will be.

EVs have been around a long time – long enough to acquire complex cultural back-stories and symbolism that render simplistic brand strategies ineffective.

Pope Waverley Phaeton 67First things first.

We’re talking about battery-only EVs. Hybrids and range-extender products offer green-ish bragging rights, but for purists, their continued reliance on fossil fuel means they’re just a stepping stone.

In the 1890s/early 1900s, electrics were more popular than gasoline cars – as the new century dawned, one even held the land speed record (66 mph). But by 1920, they faded into niche applications as the internal combustion engine achieved dominance.

Henry FordEven today, except for Tesla, electric cars run out of juice almost as fast as when Henry Ford and William “General Motors” Durant put them out of business and John D. Rockefeller sold the gasoline that made it possible.

InsideEVs reports battery-only car sales of 69,000 in 2014 – up from 46,000 in 2013 and 14,000 in 2012, but still only 0.4% of the U.S. passenger car total.

So, the Age of Oil is still alive and well. But, like the Boomers, it weathered some life lessons and hard knocks along the way.

Look out! Here come the 1970s!

A confluence of disruptive events in the 1970s and ’80s changed forever how Boomers and Gen Xers look at autoworld and the fuels that power it.

  • GusherDeclining U.S. oil production forced a shift to overseas sources, bringing price disruptions and geo-political entanglements in its wake.
  • Environmentalism hit critical mass in credibility and influence.
  • The EPA, created by President Nixon, issued rules that forced Detroit towards fuel-efficient “little” products they previously regarded as low status and entry level.
  • Import brands boomed, capitalizing on their economy car expertise.
  • The exciting new digital revolution told us almost anything is possible thanks to technology … maybe even workable EVs.

By the time the new century arrived, Boomers and Gen Xers had adopted a whole new set of attitudes about engines and fuel types.

Boomer/Gen X baseline: gasoline engines are from Mars and EVs are from Venus … diesels are from the Klingon home-world

From in-depth motivational research conducted by sister company American Consumer Voices in 2006, here’s the Boomer/Gen X baseline:

Gasoline engines are from Mars, EVs and hybrids are from Venus and diesels are from the Klingon home-world.

Fuel Type Imagery

Gasoline engines are from Mars

Gasoline from MarsFamiliar and reliable, gasoline imagery is also highly masculine.

For Boomers and Gen Xers this harks back to big ‘ol Detroit V8 mills laying down rubber for half a block or hauling man-sized loads to the job-site or campsite. Gasoline engines offer performance and fun but rank low for nurturing traits like femininity or social responsibility.

Diesels are from the Klingon home-world

KlingonDiesel engines, like gasoline, are seen as extremely masculine and reliable but, also, the least socially responsible of all engine types. They get the job done, but are stereotyped as aggressive, loud and smelly – it’s a guy thing.

Diesels definitely do not signal fun, femininity, status or youth.

EVs and hybrids are from Venus

EVs and hybrids from VenusDespite losing out to hydrocarbons, EVs retained several positive images across the decades – clean, quiet and, eventually, the fuel of the future.

Electric powertrains – hybrids or EVs – signal social responsibility, youth, a progressive mindset and femininity/diminished machismo.

EVs 1980s_90sIn the 1970s, 80s and 90s, hobbyist EVs and manufacturer concepts were small and quirky – the goofy golf cart meme. Even the iconic EV1 was, to put it kindly, idiosyncratic.

Making the EV vs. ICE contrast even more stark, when the Prius hybrid arrived Boomers were splurging on blinged-out, super-sized SUVs. Bambi meets Godzilla on wheels.

Bambi meets GodzillaHybrid supporters saw New Age cachet and a welcome pivot away from a world dominated by boors in – ugh! – Hummers. The price premium and breakthrough technology attracted enthusiasts who could afford the risk – older and more affluent than average.

To hybrid critics, pricey, clean, small and quirky symbolized smug, elitist and wimpy. On a rational level, they questioned price/value, net eco-benefits, including battery disposal, and pointed to continued hybrid dependence on gasoline.

The emotional stage was set for the EV renaissance of the 2010s.

EVs in the 21st century; emotions still rule

EVs rely heavily on emotional appeals – cool technology and green bragging rights for those who can afford the early adopter risk. No surprise, risk is not a shopping list priority for most compact car buyers.

A 2015 TrueCar survey (hat tip Paul Eisenstein_The Detroit Bureau) illustrates the excitement of EV ownership for affluent buyers. Studying two models that offer both gasoline and pure electric, the researchers found e-buyer median incomes were at least twice that of those choosing the ICE.

EV vs Gasoline Buyer Age_IncomeIn fact, median buyer incomes for Ford e-Focus ($199,000) and Fiat 500e ($145,000) are up in luxury car brand territory, while gas model buyers ($77,000 and $73,000 respectively) fall below the industry average.

We’re betting these affluent e-owners have plenty of other fun vehicles on hand for trips over 80 or so miles.

Statistically … the EV current market splits three ways: 71% of 2014 sales went to Nissan Leaf (44%) and Tesla S (27%) – eleven competitors hustled for the leftovers.

Emotionally … there are only two segments: Tesla S and the rest.

The Tesla S is the first full size, no range excuses, macho EV to hit the market – it’s what every proud BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac owner wishes had come from their own distinguished marques.

LAPD BMW i3Unfortunately, despite cool-tech and green cred, wimp factor associations are still top of mind for many EV cynics.

Even USA TODAY couldn’t resist a dig at the Los Angeles police department for evaluating a BMW i3 …

“the sight of a puny, electric-powered BMW police car with flashing red lights isn’t exactly going to instill fear in the hearts of this city’s criminals.”

Boomers and Gen X generate over 80% of EV sales 

EVs may be the way of the future, but Millennials have yet to get the message.

Gen X and Boomer-Plus – aged 35 and over – accounted for 81% of pure EV sales in 2013 (Experian Automotive) and 94% of Tesla S registrations through 2014 (Edmunds.com).

Digging deeper, the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group estimates 43% of  total EV buyers and 53% of Tesla S buyers are aged 50 and over. Also, industry reports show a strong male skew and – you’ve guessed it – incomes way, way above average.

EV and Tesla S Buyer Age

Despite advertiser fixation on younger buyers, consumers aged fifty plus buy half of all U.S. new cars, and around 30% are accounted for by those aged 35-49.

OK, straight talk about Millennials; today, most are focused on finding decent jobs, paying for college or starting their own households – new cars are on hold. Yes, in the future, they will buy most of America’s vehicles. After they too turn 50.

Of course, by then, Madison Avenue will probably ignore them and lionize Generation Whatever instead.

In the meantime, the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1965, is 93 million strong and owns 70% of U.S. household net worth. We’re the world’s third largest economy and buy more new cars than any country on Earth except China and the U.S. itself.

Memo to disruptive brands: plug into Boomers – the ultimate EV sales charging station.

Opportunity EV Sales Charging Station

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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American Boomer Wheels Month: How Culture Drives The Automotive Market … Motorcycles

Why September is American Boomer Wheels Month

Each September, car-makers turn, eager-eyed, to Frankfurt, Germany, home of the world’s largest auto show.

2014 Light Vehicle Sales US vs GermanyMeanwhile, U.S. automobile marketers, both import and domestic brands, turn blind eyes to people who buy twice as many new cars as Germany.

In 2014, Americans aged fifty and over bought 6.9 million passenger vehicles, half (49%) of the national non-fleet total, and way more than Germany (3 million) and the UK (2.5 million) combined.

Where's WaldoHowever, older buyers rarely appear in advertising. Officially, no longer worth targeting, we’re the “where’s Waldo?” of Madison Avenue. Just faces in the crowd.

So the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group is observing September as American Boomer Wheels Month by urging smarter engagement in the 50+ space.

Conformists, fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Motorcycles: left brain basics

We the people love our wheels; they symbolize far more than just personal transportation.

Nowhere in the American automotive arena is the power of symbolism stronger than in the motorcycle market, where most bikes satisfy emotional wants, not utility-driven needs.

There are currently 8.5 to 9 million motorcycles registered in the United States, heavily outnumbered by 260 million light duty passenger vehicles – cars, vans, SUVs, cross-overs and pickup trucks (industry and government sources).

But, unlike automobiles, only 4% of the motorcycle fleet is used for regular transportation/ commuting (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Street bikes are mostly toys for boys.

2014 US Motorcycle Sales

Especially older boys: 90% of registered owners are male (Motorcycle Industry Council/MIC), and J.D. Power reports the median new bike buyer is aged 47 years, up from 40 in 2001.

In 2014, 69% of new motorcycle sales were street bikes, almost all (94%) over 600cc. Off-road (17%), dual sport (7%) and scooters (7%) round out the total.

Harley-Davidson dominated the market, with a 52% share; Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha each took around 10% – leaving less than 20% for 2nd tier and specialty brands (Source: Robin Farley/UBS, hat tip Daniel Beulah, MarketingSherpa).

Motorcycles: driven by Boomer-world culture

During the Boomers’ formative years, mirroring the Western movies and TV shows of the day, three main tribes ruled the motorcycle landscape. They created enduring imagery.

Wild AngelsRebel loners and misfit marauders – sometimes hard to tell apart – favored mutant, in-your-face chopped Harleys, Indians and Triumphs.

Whether brooding with social angst or pillaging small towns in the heartland, both rebels and misfits had Hollywood appeal. Who could forget, even if one wanted to, badass biker flicks like The Wild One, Wild Angels, Easy Rider and a slew of PC-challenged spin-offs?

Harley police motorcycleThe lawmen, stalwart and manly good guys, rode clean, authoritative Harley-Davidson police bikes. Nice fairings and a safety-first style.

We behaved ourselves around them, always happier to see the sheriff ride off into the sunset than into our rear view mirrors.

Honda funThe peaceable townspeople were, well, peaceable; “you meet the nicest people on a Honda.”

They rode small displacement buzzy little bikes to the lake or the beach – think Disney’s Annette Funicello – and sped around campus having good clean fun. They sometimes kicked sand, but almost never pillaged.

But Boomer culture doesn’t stand still. Fast forward a few decades and we had pushed the industry to offer an incredible product range.

Boomers now tore around the back country on dirt bikes, zoomed the highways on mind-blowing performance machines and glided the interstates sheathed in more plastic than a Star Wars imperial trooper.

Atop the food chain, successful Boomer dentists, lawyers and ad agency execs straddled pricey hogs outside grungy bars, going for that old school bad boy look. Harley-Davidson had created its own category, with a uniquely American design language that Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki worked hard to master. Even BMW  – albeit in impeccable Hochdeutsch.

Motorcycle sales tumble

By the early 2000s the industry was living high on the – ahem – hog.

While automobile sales remained fairly stable in a narrow range, motorcycle demand exploded. From 710,000 in 2000, sales roared to over a million by 2003, peaking in 2006 at 1,1190,000 units, triple the early 1990s level (MIC data).

What could possibly go wrong?

Motorcycle vs Light Duty Passenger Vehicle SalesSince bikers are fulfilling wants, not a needs, it’s not surprising the 2008/9 crash was even more damaging to motorcycle sales than for passenger vehicles.

In the depth of the slump, both bike and automobile sales were down about 40% versus 2000. By 2014, auto sales had recovered to 95% of the 2000 level, but motorcycles lagged, still off by 32%.

That’s as good as one can spin the data; reality is even more painful.

Comparisons with 2000 hide the fact that motorcycle demand didn’t peak then, but grew over 50% through 2005-7. When the market finally bottomed out in 2011 it had lost 63% of sales versus its 2006 high; by 2014, unit sales were still down 59%.

Boomers to the rescue – if invited

Today, motorcycle marketers face a dilemma; Boomer men – the over-fifty crowd – account for almost half the volume. As noted, J. D. Power puts the median buyer age at 47; Harley admits to the same and is on record as searching for ways to reach beyond the brand core to younger buyers and women.

But unlike the typical CEO, Harley’s new boss Matt Levatich also recognizes the importance of openly – key word: openly – targeting Boomers (James R. Hagerty, The Wall Street Journal).  He’s fifty himself; that helps.

Boomers totally uncoolIt’s a refreshing difference from what we usually hear from auto execs; stripped of corporate-speak it comes down to ” We need their money, but Boomers just aren’t cool; even those smart ad agency kids don’t know how to speak to old-timers over fifty.”

Reality time: it’s not about generations, it’s about money. The recession thoroughly beat up Millennials. Burdened by college debt, struggling to find decent-paying jobs and start households, pricey new toys aren’t on the horizon right now.

However, the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1965, is 93 million strong and owns 70% of U.S. household net worth. With median new motorcycle buyer incomes north of $80,000 (J. D. Power) it makes real good sense to actively engage us, not just tolerate us.

Let’s ride.

Opportunity Let's Ride

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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Boomer Engagement: The Creative Solution To Stagnating CPG Brand Share

Nielsen shows creative thinking achieves incredible results

Innovation in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) arena is notoriously difficult. Writing in MediaPost, Karl Greenberg quotes daunting data from a recent survey by digital media firm Catalina (Launching CPG Product Harder Than Launching A Rocket).

  • JOE BTFSPLKNew CPG product failure rates ran 60% to 80%
  • Just one quarter (24%) of initial triers repeated within six months
  • Only 11% of initial triers were still engaged after a year
  • Less than 1% of buyers accounted for 80% of the average new product volume – in fact, only one of fifty products studied boosted its core customer base above 2%.

Nielsen_Research into Revenue

Despite these chilling statistics, new CPG products continue to arrive as brands struggle to boost share and ROI.

Nielsen, recognizing what it describes as “sluggish sales growth across the consumer goods landscape,” has just published a remarkable demonstration of the power of creativity.

Just how creative?

Well, how about turning a market research investment of $50,000 into $13 million in incremental sales creative?

Nielsen reports this was achieved when 20 randomly selected new CPG products used evolutionary optimization to identify and refine winning concepts. Cross-functional teams brainstormed a wide range of ideas that were entered into software capable of generating millions of variations for interactive consumer testing.

Young Frankenstein

It bears repeating: an innovative $50,000 research investment returned $13 million in profits. What’s more, it was achieved without – gasp! – actual advertising.

Which makes a key strategic point: creativity is about way more than great ads. It’s about great ideas. And great ideas arise anytime someone is prepared to step out of the box of conventional thinking.

Revolutionary creativity that helped shape Boomer world

August 13th marked the 104th anniversary of the birth of Mad Man giant, Bill Bernbach. Doyle, Dane and Bernbach, the agency he formed in 1949 with partners Ned Doyle and Mac Dane, produced some of the most creative advertising Madison Avenue has seen, before or since.

VW Think SmallIn ADWEEK’s 2011 tribute on the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday (Bill Bernbach: Creative Revolutionary), writer Chip Bayers noted Bernbach’s work came to define the 1960s for leading edge Boomers as much as rock n’ roll did.

Mention DDB’s iconic Think Small campaign for the VW Beetle to anyone over 60 and chances are you’ll put a smile on their face.

Like Nielsen, Bernbach believed in the multiplying power of innovation; “properly practiced, creativity can make one ad do the work of 10” (HT Bayers).

Eventually, revolution became the norm and “creativity”  came to mean the execution of ads themselves. It’s a narrow view that blinds many mainstream brands today – CPG included – to boosting market share.

It’s time to creatively rethink what creative thinking really means.

The 50+ space: THE dominant CPG force

In 2012 Nielsen published a definitive study of the spending power of Americans over fifty, with emphasis on the Baby Boomer generation, Boomers: Marketing’s Most Valuable Generation. It’s an innovation-fodder bonanza hiding in plain sight.

While conventional mainstream brand thinkers dismiss consumers outside the 18-49 demo – Nielsen estimated only 5% of ad dollars are directed to the 50+ space – the report shows older Americans dominating in 119 out of 123 CPG segments.

Stepping out of the box_50+ infographicWith over 12 million additional consumers arriving through 2015, we estimate Americans over 50 now buy 60% of U.S. CPGs. Oh yes, and half the new cars and two-thirds of home improvement products and … well, you get the picture.

With trillions in uncontested Boomer-Plus dollars on the table, let’s keep in mind creative solutions are not collaborative but about grabbing share from complacent competitors.

Sure, CPG category sales growth may remain sluggish, and new product introductions will remain risky, but disruptives don’t have to settle for category results. Instead they can choose out-of-the box engagement with the largest generation in the 50+ space: Boomer-Plus, born 1940-1965, 93 million consumers strong and ready to rock.

Brands – all brands – should stop thinking small: innovation isn’t just about great ads.

Opportunity Beetle

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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Early Adopters: Boomers Or Millennials? Yes, No, Maybe. Whatever.

The Jetsons vs. The Flintstones

There’s a lot of fuzzy thinking about the meaning and value of early adopters. But one thing many mainstream marketers accept with 20-20 clarity is that consumers over fifty don’t qualify. Unless, of course, it involves incontinence products; apparently we’re light years ahead in that arena.

Actually, Boomers and older Gen Xers are uniquely qualified for inclusion in the discussion. Our favorite childhood cartoons – The Flintstones and The Jetsons – taught us the benefits of both early adoption and of enjoying what already works well. We learned early on to spot the real early adopters.

Jetsons and FlinstonesIs it George and Jane Jetson who live in in a future world where today’s cool technology seems to be headed?

Or is it Fred and Wilma, with their clunky yester-tech? After all, stone age thinker is an everyday stereotype for the laggards among us.

Thanks to the enduring re-run appeal of Hanna-Barbera Studios, it’s a debate Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials can all join, each with a full set of warm childhood memories.

Well, decision time: we come down on the side of Fred and Wilma as the early adopters.

Their world was full of inventiveness and creativity. Sure, the all kinks hadn’t been worked out, but they continued to progress whenever pursuing new technology made sense. Kind of like Boomer lives over the last half century.

We too once relied on colorful dinosaurs for transportation and carried mobile phones with the heft of a Neanderthal stone ax. But, with our irrepressible adaptability, we went on to build the import car market, invent the Internet and launch the iPhone.

PebblesGeorge and Jane, however, represent the late majority; their cool gadgetry is in place, beta-tested, fully operational and Apple-ized.

More like today’s “early adopters” who snap up trendy IoT watches – but only after many, many Pebbles have shown that it’s safe to do so.

Millennials: late adopters of home ownership

Based on a recent Zillow survey, the Associated Press reports Millennials are renting longer and delaying buying their first home (AP, August 17, 2015). The ABC News version of the story provided expanded coverage headlined More Millennials Stuck Renting for Years Before Buying Home.

Some have tried to spin that young people are cool early adopters of long term rental living. AP’s take-away is more realistic: young adults, loaded with student loan debt and facing uncertain job prospects, are delaying home purchase.

We Boomers who started out so well back in 1970s worry as our Millennial kids struggle to follow the same life-track. Compared with our early experiences, their financial challenges are daunting. AP tells us first time buyers today versus in the 1970s …

  • Caught in the rainRent for 6 years before buying … vs. 2.8 years
  • Median age 33 years … vs. 30 years
  • Pay a median price equal to 2.6 times their income … vs. 1.7 times
  • And face rents that are increasing twice as fast as average hourly wages
  • And face more rigorous bank underwriting rules than ever before

Of course, this pattern is part of a larger story. Millennials may be the future of mainstream brand prosperity but their parents – the fifty-plus generation – own most of the buying power today.

The Boomer-Plus generation: owners of the nation’s net worth

US Hhold Net Worth by AgeAccording to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by  Boomer / neXt, the 110 million Americans in the 50+ space own 80% of U.S. household net worth.

In contrast, households headed by someone under 35 own only 2%.

Yet despite enormous Boomer clout in the marketplace, most mainstream brands take us for granted.

Advertisers have so much difficulty relating to consumers outside the 18-49 demo that many simply don’t even try. Instead, chasing the cash-strapped Millennial economy, brands miss the big picture: Boomer Bedrock may not look glamorous on the surface, but that’s where disruptive opportunities to grow share still live.

Yabba dabba doo!


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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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Alphabets, Fonts And Boomer-Speak: Language Is More Than Just Words

Alphabets in the news, including some Boomers grew up with

Campbell's SoupSo, Alphabet is Google’s new parent company. For those keeping score, CNN Money does a good job of decoding the decision and its implications.

Alphabet’s URL is abc.xyz – whoa, isn’t that supposed to be every befuddled Boomer’s second favorite top secret password after password?

Fortunately, oceans of steaming hot Campbell’s  Alphabet Soup consumed in our youth – thanks, mom – taught us early how to string letters together. We’ll muddle through.

Alphabets were also in the news recently at WIRED Magazine. This time it was the revival of the Neutra font, popularized by Shake Shack and recently adopted as the official typeface of Washington D.C.

NeutraCreated by architect Richard Neutra, it invoked modernism in the 1940s and ’50s. Quickly copied, Neutra-like fonts lived on for decades in office buildings, department stores and in print as a signal of stylish simplicity.

Neutra, with fellow Austrian Rudolph Schindler and Michigander John Lautner led the Southern California mid-century modern school of architecture. In 1949, Lautner added a uniquely American touch. Incorporating playful space age symbolism, he created what became known as Googie style and moved modernism out of the realm of purists into the arena of commerce and everyday life.

Viva GoogieAlthough dissed by the establishment as crass, Googie went viral as a metaphor for the exciting, prosperous new age of post-WWII America.

Within a dozen years it spread from diners to gas stations, motels, furniture, radios and TV sets, home appliances, automobiles and – to the chagrin of “the experts” – iconic buildings that still stand. Wherever young Boomers looked, Googie was there; it was the design language of our formative years.

In Boomer-speak, sometimes modern is so yesterday

No surprise, as the decades slipped by, mid-century modern took on nuanced symbolism among Boomers.

Some elements were so widely adopted they passed into normalcy, and minimalist design never totally lost its appeal. Googie, however, became a dated reminder of the past, more nostalgic kitsch than modern. To every thing there is a season, turn, turn, turn.

Eames ChairToday, a mid-century revival is underway, thanks largely to Millennials, but it is important to remember America’s generations process yesterday’s modernism differently.

If/when mainstream brands finally get around to targeting consumers beyond the 18-49 demo, they will need expert interpreters to guide them through the process, because Boomer-speak is about more than just words.

Fonts, architecture, the familiar objects of everyday life – even little kid alphabet soup aroma memories – all evoke the Boomer experience in subliminal ways that elude later generations. You had to be there.

Paul Williams: the architectural genius who never went out of style

Paul WilliamsMany leading American modernists were European transplants, devotees of strict Bauhaus design principles. But our favorite is home grown. Los Angeleno Paul Revere Williams (1894-1980) transcended the limitations of a single style, blending modern functionality with emotional warmth.

Known as the “architect to the stars” for the gorgeous historic-revival homes he built for Hollywood’s elite, his range was prodigious – from affordable housing to hotels, department stores, country clubs and public buildings. His only dictate was that people should feel welcome and at ease in a Paul Williams project.

Paul Williams at the LAX Theme BuildingEvery year millions of people see – most without realizing it – his most famous collaboration: the Los Angeles International Airport Theme Building (1961).

Designed from the ground up as America’s first jet airport, LAX wanted an iconic symbol of modernity; with Williams on the architectural team they got all that and more.

Blending mid-century modern and Googie, the Theme Building captures the upbeat essence of Boomer-world; optimistic and confident in a better future through technology. It has never gone out of style.

Like all communication, Boomer-speak is not just about words.

Opportunity LAX Theme Building

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space.

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Advertising To Boomers Requires A Rosetta Stone

Boomer-speak, the thriving underground dialect of adaptability

Egyptomania is an enduring phenomenon that wells up in the American psyche every few decades; we’re overdue for another dose.

If the New York Times fashionistas are right about an imminent 1970s revival of bold, chunky jewelry set with colorful gemstones, that next wave could be just around the corner. Boomers, of course, have already been there, done that.

EgyptomaniaWe grew up on chiller thriller TV reruns of old Mummy movie classics and lurid British Hammer Studios remakes known less for historical accuracy than for gore and heroines’ necklines that plunged more dramatically than Niagara Falls in snow melt season.

When the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit toured the US in the late 1970s, we eagerly drank the tana leaf Kool-Aid. Awash in ankhs and lapis lazuli Horus doodads, and embracing pyramid power, it took disco to redirect us to 20th century sanity.

Boomers were not the first to fall under Egyptomania’s exotic spell. It began when the 2,000 year old Rosetta Stone was discovered near the Egyptian city of Rashid (Rosetta) in 1799. Inscribed in Greek, ancient hieroglyphs and a later script derived from these older symbols, it allowed archaeologists to finally translate the history of Egypt.

Well before the powerful language teaching software, Rosetta Stone had already become a metaphor for an iconic breakthrough that opens the door to new understanding. Sadly, mainstream brand advertisers have yet to discover their own version and authentically engage Boomers.

Rosetta Stone_BoomerSpeakHaving ignored the 50+ space for so long, Madison Avenue no longer knows how to speak to us. Or cares to. Outside the 18-49 demo, we are assumed to lose our ability to switch brands, adapt to new buying behaviors or create new loyalties.

Adland doesn’t get that Boomer-speak is the nation’s most adaptable dialect, evolved over decades by America’s most adaptable generation and shaped by Boomer culture in ways only natives understand.

Boomer-speak: a dialect outsiders cannot master 

It’s one thing to recognize some of the slang and catch phrases we Boomers used over the years, but outsiders can never feel the resonance these words evoke in us.

Hearing them again, sometimes we smile, sometimes we cringe, sometimes we just shake our heads.

Sonny & CherIn the 1960s we had a gas, a blast, made the scene and dug it.

It was now, whether stoked or laid back, we’d keep on truckin’

Some felt that war was not healthy for children and other living things. Others knew this tape will self-destruct in five seconds.

Levis_1970sThen we cut out for the 1970s.

Apart from stagflation and the missing 18 minutes, they were right on. Dy-no-mite. Hotlips and Hawkeye. Sure, sometimes we were out to lunch and were told to stifle, but truckers taught us to do the double-nickel, watch for a Kojak with a Kodak and not feed the bears.

Hart To HartAll too soon it was time to say good night John Boy, here come the 1980s.

It was, like, totally bodacious for dudes, dudettes, dweebs, dinks and yuppies. Morning in America; excellent, most definitely awesome. Unless you’d heinously fallen and can’t get up.

Yep, looking back, sometimes we smile, sometimes we cringe, sometimes we just shake our heads. The challenge for advertisers is to know which, and when, and how to master the accent.

The Boomer-Speak Rosetta Stone 

Pew_Internet usage 2015

Although the 93 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation, born 1940-1965, adapt constantly, marketers stubbornly cling to the old demo-driven dogma that we don’t.

Hopefully, the Pew Research Center drove the last nail in its coffin, er, sarcophagus, with the recent report that 81% of Americans aged 50-64 use the Internet and a “clear majority” (58%) of those over 65 also do so.

Daring brands hoping to excavate Boomer-world’s treasures will find our Boomer / neXt consultants shovel-ready.

We even supply our own Boomer-speak Rosetta Stone.

Opportunity_Picard_Make it so

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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America’s Most Valuable Workforce: Boomers, Of Course

Coming soon: disruptive Granny hackathons 

AtlasCommentators and talking heads are belatedly realizing what real-world businesses have known for years: the Boomer-Plus Generation is America’s most valuable workforce – the Atlas upon whose shoulders the nation’s economy rests.

In fact, futurists are urging companies and government to incentivize Boomers to delay retirement; far-sighted GM is already encouraging key older workers to stay on and/or join a mentoring program to transfer knowledge to Millennials.

Boomer employment 2014_GALLUPAs usual, Boomers are ahead of the “experts”. They are working longer, retiring on average at age 62 in 2014 versus 59 in 2002, and one-third are still in the workforce at age 68 (GALLUP).

They are also following encore careers in record numbers – not just as employees. As we have written previously, the Kaufmann Foundation reports the greatest growth rate in new business startups 2000-2013 was among entrepreneurs aged 55-64 (25%). The startup share accounted for by the 25-34 age group declined by 14% over the same period.

In the July 27th, 2015, issue of Forbes Magazine, contributor Chris Farrell urges   incentives to keep Boomers working. Noting that many “want, and often need, to earn a paycheck well into the traditional retirement years” he persuasively describes the benefits when workers stay on beyond 65; they generate income and remain active; organizations retain invaluable experience; younger employees are mentored; government collects more taxes and boosts the Social Security fund.

U.S. HH Net Worth by Age of HH HeadFarrell’s analysis is a welcome relief from the usual formulaic media focus on pitiful Boomers facing under-funded retirement.

Following the axiom that bad news sells more newspapers (and clicks) than good news, typical stories list a litany of woes while studiously avoiding the fact that Americans over fifty own 80% of U.S. household net worth.

Technology entrepreneur, futurist, distinguished academician and Washington Post columnist Vivek Wadhwa is far out in front on the issue of postponing Boomer retirement.

In Why Teaching Grandmothers To Code Isn’t A Crazy Idea (Washington Post, August 15, 2014) he takes the discussion to the next level.

Granny the programmerAdvocating second career tech training for retired workers and venture capital funding of older entrepreneurs, Professor Wadhwa explains that while talented “kids in dorm rooms” design great social media and mobile apps, solving bigger problems requires entrepreneurs “to have a world view and to be able to see the big picture.” 

He feels older, experienced workers have these skills and that writing computer code isn’t very hard “anyone can learn and many (older workers) can excel.”

Among his recommendations: tech incubator firms should hold hackathons for grandmas so older people can build more socially useful apps than those created by the young.

America’s most valuable workforce vs. yesterday thinking 

It’s not just the experience and know-how of workers and entrepreneurs over fifty that make them America’s most valuable workforce – they also own the vast majority of the nation’s spending power. The Boomer-Plus Generation will fuel the enormous Longevity Economy (AARP) for decades to come.

However, we wonder when conservative Madison Avenue will get the message. Its solons have enshrined traditional 18-49/25-54 demographic dogma for so that it’s difficult for them to imagine ad campaigns that target the 50+ space.

Fortunately, at least a few adland Millennial outliers are open to learning how to engage the 93 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965. As owners of 70+% of American household wealth, the 15th most populous “nation” on the planet and the world’s third largest economy behind the U.S. itself and China, it’s worth risking a harrumph or two from the old guard in order to expand brand share.

The experts at the Boomer-Plus Consulting Group don’t harrumph– instead, we mentor disruptives to achieve amazing creative breakthroughs. We get better at it with age, too.

Opportunity_We can do it

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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Engage Boomers With Inclusive Branding: Four Lessons From Disneyland

It all started with a mouse

Disneyland, Anaheim, is going all out for its Diamond Celebration, with special events and spectaculars to commemorate its opening sixty years ago on July 17, 1955.

And, as Walt Disney pointed out, it all started with a mouse. In this case, Mickey Mouse cast as Steamboat Willie in the very first cartoon with synchronized sound.

In today’s sophisticated world of CGIs and awesome special effects, it’s hard to believe that back in 1928 a whistling mouse could go viral and propel its creator into a blockbuster career in movies, television and the founding of a theme park dynasty.

Disneyland Diamond CelebrationAlong the way, Disneyland provided not only an iconic customer experience, but iconic marketing lessons from which every brand can learn. If some of these “lessons” seem obvious, it’s because Walt proved they work. But in his day they were breakthroughs … so keep the eye-rolls and LOLs to a minimum.

Always stay in character

You’ll never see Disneyland staffers from Frontierland wandering through Tomorrowland, and you won’t smell the subtle old-time Americana scents that are pumped into the Main Street general store wafting through the musty dankness of The Pirates of The Caribbean.

Egghead_Chuck SteedLesson: Brands that step out of the consumer’s comfort zone don’t do well. Boomers and Gen Xers remember the disastrous Pontiac Aztek, VW Phaeton and New Coke adventures that ended up with their marketers being laughed out of town.

Understand the power of symbolism

Disneyland guests don’t come for the food. Or for the wild rides – Mr. Toad’s excepted, of course. There are plenty of places that provide nearer-death experiences if that’s what rocks your world, and the food is good but not gourmet. Instead, the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad and the myriad of eating places all play into – and reinforce – Disney symbolism at a deep emotional level.

Egghead_Chuck SteedLesson: Brands must look beyond superficial check-list survey data to understand what they really signal and symbolize to consumers.

Hint: it’s not just about product.

Balance innovation with tradition

Disneyland has innovated and evolved from Day One –  by building truthfully on traditional core values, not trendy fads.

Egghead_Chuck SteedLesson: Brands that gyrate into the quirky zone can grab attention and, sometimes, boost share – but it’s a one-way trip.

A quirky life can be fun, but it’s hard to go back.

Above all, be inclusive

Egghead to GoofyDisneyland caters to kids of all ages, from two to ninety-two. Seamlessly. Every guest feels special. Every guest feels included without condescension. There is no Geezerland, no Millennial World, no Gen X Mountain.

Lesson: Brands need to ditch age bias and look beyond the 18-49 demographic; okay, a technicality, some reach out until age 54. Big deal.

Imagine how attendance would plummet if Disneyland excluded Americans over fifty. Yet Madison Avenue conformists ruinously tell clients to do just that.

Ageless advice from Mark Twain 

Walt Disney admired Mark Twain so much that he named the Frontierland riverboat after the down-home humorist who once piloted old-time Mississippi steamboats himself. We like Twain whole lot too. Here are a couple of his quotes that explain why …

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”

Translation: brands need to ask themselves how on earth group-think pushed them into ignoring the folks who own most of America’s spending power.

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”

Translation: don’t discount Boomers because of unfounded rumors – like, for instance, Americans over fifty are no longer able to adapt or switch brands.

Of the 111 million U.S. consumers in the 50+ space, 93 million belong to the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965. Owners of 70+% of American household wealth, they represent a far more affluent market than any European country.

Now that’s a magic kingdom worth visiting. All aboard!

Opportunity Mark Twain

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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Disneyland’s 60th Birthday: Boomers, Millennials And Gen Xers United By Smiles

Celebrating Disneyland’s opening, July 17, 1955

Disneyland turned 60 on July 17th, 2015. On this date back in 1955 the opening, recorded by ABC Television, was so successful that a million visitors arrived in the next seven weeks (Disneyland Public Affairs).

Since then over 650 million guests have smiled their way through the original “Magic Kingdom” and Disney-mania went viral.

Disney charactersIn 2014, nine of the top ten amusement/theme parks worldwide were Disney properties – welcoming a total of 134 million visitors (Themed Entertainment Association).

It’s been an E-Ride.

Eventually, those little 1955 Boomers grew to adulthood, as did Gen Xers, and as Millennials are doing now, with each generation reliving childhood memories as they watch the next crop of excited little tykes scurry from rides to ice cream and back to rides again.

Walt Disney famously said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” He was right, some of the most popular attractions opened decades after the launch.

  • Disneyland E Ticket1957   Autopia … oh, how we stretched on tippy-toes to make the height restriction
  • 1959   Matterhorn Bobsleds and the Monorail
  • 1965   It’s a Small World
  • 1966   Carousel of Progress
  • 1967   Pirates of the Caribbean
  • 1969   The Haunted Mansion
  • 1977   Space Mountain
  • 1979   Big Thunder Railroad
  • 1989   Splash Mountain
  • 1995   Indiana Jones Adventure
  • 2000s California Adventure Park, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania and more – there is always more.

Disneyland and Boomers: always a big bright beautiful tomorrow

It’s a mistake to think Boomers who caught Disney fever decades are still stuck in old-time Americana; there was also a self-confident focus on the future that set the tone for the entire generation.

Just imagine the incredible changes those little awestruck kids who wandered around the park that first summer have embraced since 1955 …

1955 Chevrolet

America’s population doubled; sprawling suburbs and mega-cities replaced sleepy little towns – think Orlando and Anaheim.

The number of vehicles on America’s highways has more than quadrupled; meanwhile, the Detroit brand share of new car sales plummeted from 95% to 45% in 2014.

In 1955 black-and-white television sets were uber-cool – wow, almost two-thirds of households had one! Color TV, at 2% penetration, was hardly a blip on the radar.

When it came to travel, domestic  jet service was still three years away and 90% of passengers were business fliers. Since 1955, flight times are halved, Americans who ever flew in a commercial airplane soared from ≅ 10% to 90+% and U.S.-based passengers rocketed from 49 million to 848 million (U.S. Department of Transportation).

Pluto is also in the news – the planet, not the Disney pup

Pluto on twitterRemote planet Pluto is also in the news after NASA released stunning pictures from the New Horizons space probe.

Discovered in 1930, contrary to legend, Pluto was not named for Disney’s friendly pup, but vice versa. Still, the jokes abound.

As the ancient Greek god of the underworld, Pluto’s job was to prevent the souls of those who had passed on from escaping the eternal darkness. And because Earth’s precious minerals are also hidden down below, he was incredibly wealthy too.

Ironically, Madison Avenue decreed a similar – and enduring – mythology around the time Disneyland opened. Consumers over fifty are cast into eternal darkness because, theoretically, they are no longer open to switching brands. Also, their ghostly presence frightens younger buyers.

The 93 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965 see this as weird. Owners of over 70% of U.S. household net assets, their domain – like Pluto’s – is fabulously wealthy and after a lifetime of change it’s way too late for them to stop adapting now.

It’s time for disruptive Disney-style imagination: brands that engage a bigger, richer market than any European country will not only win Boomer appreciation but market share. How cool is that?

Opportunity Pluto

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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Boomers: The World’s 3rd Largest – But Hidden – Economy

Madison Avenue’s corporate lobotomy

Companies are finally beginning to face up to a painful reality. Those much derided Boomers – you know, the people who invented the Internet but, supposedly, can’t figure out how to retrieve their smartphone messages – are retiring and taking their knowledge and experience with them.

It’s like having a corporate lobotomy.

Citing AARP data, Crain’s Detroit Business (July 3, 2015) reports 10,000 Boomers reach the traditional retirement age of 65 every day, a statistic General Motors, among others, recognizes as a call to action. So, starting in August, 2015, GM launches a mentoring program in which Gen Xers and Millennials benefit from Boomer employee experience, both before and after they retire.

If I only had a brain

Andrew Pena, VP for human resources at New Mexico State University told Crain: “If you don’t do something today, you’re going to be stuck with employees who know basic tasks but don’t have that institutional knowledge.”

Nowhere does the corporate lobotomy syndrome impact institutional knowledge more than along Madison Avenue. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the median age of advertising employees (38 years) is younger than 90% of 267 occupations for which it has data.

Except for motion picture/video and Internet publishing businesses, the only industries with younger employees than in adland are leisure/hospitality (hotels and restaurants), store clerks and car wash workers. Okay, no snarky jokes please – let’s not go there.

U.S. employees_median age by industry

Looking deeper into BLS data we learn only 24% of advertising/PR employees are aged fifty-plus, and fewer than one in six (14%) are 55 or older.

This is scary: Americans over fifty are the third largest economy on the planet. So youngsters – super-talented, but still youngsters – are charged with engaging a world they never experienced populated by people whose language they don’t speak.

That doesn’t seem fair to Millennials and it’s certainly not fair to the brands they serve. At least not the disruptive brands; the conformists get what they deserve.

The world’s third largest economy might as well be underground

In 2013 AARP and Oxford Economics conducted a landmark study, The Longevity Economy. It should be required reading for all brands; here’s a taste of what you need to know:

  • Too cool for factsLongevity Economy: the sum of all economic activity serving Americans over 50
  • Population (2012): 106 million
  • Percent of U.S. employment accounted for: 69%
  • Percent of U.S. wages and salaries accounted for: 65%
  • Percent of U.S. household assets: 80% (Federal Reserve )
  • 2012 economy rankings:
    • #1 USA … $16.2 trillion
    • #2 China … $9.1 trillion
    • #3 Longevity Economy … $7.1 trillion
    • #4 Japan … $4.9 trillion
    • #5 Germany … $3.5 trillion
    • #6 France … $2.7 trillion
    • #7 UK … $2.4 trillion

Despite this enormous spending power, most mainstream brands ignore the world’s third largest economy.

Bizarre: twice the size of the German economy, yet mainly invisible due to an old 1960s era Mad Men mantra: Americans over fifty are too inflexible to switch brands or to learn new buying behaviors – the 18-49 demo is where it’s at, baby.

It lingers on today because Madison Avenue, like the rest of corporate America, has been lobotomized.

Boomer disruptives who knew better, but were too junior to challenge the Don Drapers of their day, are mostly gone. There are just too few left to mentor Madison Avenue Millennials about Boomer-world and its unique dialect, Boomer-Speak.

Boomer brains are still available

Fortunately, hidden under the radar in nondescript buildings around the country, disruptive consultants from the Boomer-Plus Generation™, born 1940-1965, thrive in the shadows. It’s not exactly a cult; let’s just say an underground coalition that knew when to dump last century baggage.

Millennials who want to boost their resumés and portfolios – oops, we mean selflessly help their clients to gain market share – could do worse than seek them out.

Opportunity The Brain That Wouldn't Die

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.

Sign up for the newsletter and contact us for brand re-generation in the 50+ space. 

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