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As Baby Boomers Retire, Marketers Fall in Love with the Demographic All Over Again

Category: Baby Boomer Retirement Issues

February 8, 2011 — Having left the prized 18-45 year old marketing demographic, baby boomers might be justified in feeling a little bit like yesterday’s donuts – not all that appealing and a bit stale. But thanks to our sheer numbers (as in 76 million), sales hungry marketeers appear to be putting baby boomers back in their sights. And believe it or not, that’s probably good news for us (but more about that later). This Sunday’s New York Times talked about the phenomenon in its “In a Graying Population, Business Opportunity” article. The Wall Street Journal weighed in as well with an article called “How to Market to an Aging Boomer: Flattery, Subterfuge and Euphemism “. Both features focused on companies’ efforts to capitalize on baby boomer spending – which represents about half of today’s America’s consumer dollars, and which is projected to continue to be a huge market as boomers continue to live longer than any generation ever has.

Orcatech – A Living Laboratory on Aging
The Times article highlighted a fairly breathtaking undertaking venture out in Portland, Oregon. There a partnership between a very green luxury community, Mirabella (developed by Pacific Retirement Services), and the Oregon Health and Science University’s project – the Oregon Center for Aging & Technology (Oratech) – has built a unique experiment to learn more about the life of the aging. Some 30 residents have volunteered to participate in the Center’s extensive study. These volunteers will live in fiber optic wired apartments where motion detectors can help track and study their mobility and health status. Some even been given a robot called Celia that has a video screen and can follow them around their apartments.

Another effort aimed at better understanding baby boomers explained in the article concerned a special suit, dubbed “Agnes”, that MIT researchers have designed to help simulate for marketers what it feels like to be an older person as they perform various everyday tasks. Armed with this suit that restricts motion and decreases mobility, marketers and product designers can better imagine how to adapt and create products that meet baby boomer needs as they age.

The Journal article also focused on the importance of “sweet-talking” baby boomers about the products they need. They discussed Kimberly-Clark’s switch of calling their Depends brand “underwear”, and packaging to make it look less diaper-like and more like men’s and women’s underwear. More subtle changes aimed at boomers include easier to read and open packaging, as well as making products more accessible within stores.

Marketing to Boomers? Here are Some Important Tips
At least some of the 20 and 30 somethings who handle the nation’s product marketing are beginning to learn a thing or two about how to market to the baby boomer generation. Here are some of the things the smarter ones are learning about us:
– If you want to turn off a baby boomer, just refer to him or her as a senior. As in Senior Living – Ouch!
– Ditto with any term connoting age. We boomers are forever young, at least in our heads
– There is a reason active adult communities and 55+ communities are called that – the alternatives like retirement community have negative connotations. Yet at Topretirements we frequently talk with younger reporters who call us for background about “retirement communities”. To them, people over 55 are one big group – old folks. But for baby boomers – our parents might live in a retirement community, but we don’t know any self-respecting baby boomer who wants to live in one of those
– The creation and marketing of active adult communities is an art. If you want to turn off a boomer, brag about your shuffleboard court. Instead you might want to focus on the fitness center, or maybe the outdoor adventure trips the community’s “lifestyle” director plans for its residents
– Golf is still popular with many folks, but you had also better have yoga and an Institute for Learning to interest the many folks who don’t play or have a negative perception about golf
– Instead of leaving space for resident wheelchairs and scooters, you’d be better off making sure you have enough room for their mountain bikes and kayaks
– Instead of pitching a product as an aid having to do with aging, position it around a more vanity-related benefit. That way tooth whiteners improve physical appearance, self-parking systems offer convenience, adult diapers give confidence while looking like underwear, etc.

The Positives for Us
Baby boomers might see some benefits from the renewed interest in us from marketers. For one, we might get products that better fit our needs. Those products might range from better active communities with the features and amenities that appeal to us – to everyday consumer products that are easier to use and solve problems. We’ll get new found respect and perhaps a better understanding of our needs. And the efforts of outfits like the Oregon Health and Science University will undoubtedly lead to improved methods and systems for helping us enjoy happier, safer, and more fulfilled lives in our old age (whenever that might start!)

When Will You Be Old?
Please use the Comments section below to describe how you feel about your age. At what age will you become and “old” person, if ever. Do you feel younger than your parents did at your current age?

For further reference:
10 Reasons Why Baby Boomer Retirements Will Be Different From Their Parents

Posted by John Brady on February 8th, 2011


  1. John, I have no idea if I’ll feel better than my parents at my current age, because I have no idea how they felt then. But I will say that I’m pysched to read some of the things in this article. I’d love for Active Adult Communities to be designed more around the “active” and less about the (senior) “adult”. And who wouldn’t love a robot for a personal assitant? Do they pick up after you? 😆

    by Scottp — February 8, 2011

  2. John, Great read. You hit the nail on the head. The last thing I want to think about re my retirement – is where to park a wheel chair. God willing, I’ll be active and enjoying myself. When will I be old? When I start thinking about where to park a wheel chair….

    by SueC — February 9, 2011

  3. The biggest thing I’ve noticed about getting older is that my body and my brain don’t match. I still think like I did when I was in my 20’s (ok maybe my 30’s!) but I can’t always DO what I could then. So help with the doing of the heavier stuff (shoveling snow – 49 out of 50 states!) is always appreciated. Maybe the marketers will figure this one out.

    by LuluM — February 9, 2011

  4. The biggest thing that I’ve noticed about getting older (62)is that print appears to be in a size that is readable only with a magnifying glass. Marketers need to understand the boomer eyes can’t read micro print or pages where the print is on a dark background.

    by LS — February 9, 2011

  5. I am 64 and feel great and sexy. Except for some minor pain in my knee, I am pretty mobile and walk everyday, as well as do other activities. I am health conscious so I eat well and take care of my health. I probably feel around 45. I would hope that at 80 I will still feel this way!!

    by Carolyn — February 9, 2011

  6. I will be old when I am forced –by health or those who might authentically know better than I — to give up my driver’s license.

    by Chris — February 9, 2011

  7. What makes marketers think that “active adult” community is in any way different from “retirement” community? Both are turnoffs. We’re not dumb. You don’t become stupid or naive when you hit 50. Just call it a community…or a great place to live. The only negative thing about becoming older (and better) is that media and business suddenly assunme that we become wide-eyed, stupid and lacking in any analytical ability.

    by Robin — February 9, 2011

  8. I am 57 and I think I am in almost as good shape as when I was 27. I know that sounds like denial. But, over the past year I have lost about 20 lbs by cutting out most sugar. I have started jogging again after 15 years. I may be a little slower, or I may have just thought I was faster when I was younger. The only thing that is not as good as when I was 27 is my eyesight. But I am trying these eye exercises that I hope will at least stop it from getting any worse.

    About the marketers, I think that the sooner the US restructures its economy to take of advantage of the baby boomer market segment, the sooner people will start to realize that this is the solution not the problem. When Laffer invented trickle-down economics based on the wealthy spending tax-cut dollars, economists actually thought it made sense, despite the fact that the wealthy only make up a very small percent of the population and, given a dollar, will spend only a very small portion of that dollar. Those same economists seem to think that when a retired person gets a dollar of social security benefit, he will eat it and take it to the grave with him.

    People will come to realize that the 35% of the population spending all of their social security checks into the real economy, instead of options on gold, will provide a once in a century opportunity to restructure our economy around a stable market demographic that does not stop spending when the economy goes south because they do not have jobs to lose. The Federal Reserve Bank will have stop using low interest rates and inflation to encourage young people to borrow money to spend on countless useless gadgets that wind up in landfills. High interest rates and deflation will encourage young people to save as they should at that stage in their lives. On the other hand, high interest rates and deflation will actually encourage retired people to spend more as they will have better returns on savings and better expectations that they will not outlive their savings. If businesses are innovative in delivering products and services to this demographic, the multiplier on social security financed spending will create a much more sustainable economic expansion than that based on high tech product cycles.

    by Allyn — February 10, 2011

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