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Marketers ignore Baby Boomers at their peril

Americans in the 50-65 age group spend about 75 percent more each year than those aged 18-25.
Americans in the 50-65 age group spend about 75 percent more each year than those aged 18-25.

I’ve often argued that marketers ignore the Baby Boom generation at their peril. By some estimates, boomers account for about 40 percent of consumer packaged-goods purchases — yet less than 5 percent of advertising dollars are targeted at the 35-64 age group (which includes the older half of Gen X).

The bias toward youth has long been part of the marketing business. The idea is that older people are set in their ways — less likely to try something new, and less likely to be influenced by marketing messages. Better to focus your marketing spend on the young and impressionable.

These days, however, marketers would be wise to pay more attention to boomers and beyond. Why? Because that’s where the money is. More than three-fourths of the nation’s household wealth is controlled by adults age 50 and above, and Americans in the 50-65 age group spend about 75 percent more each year than those aged 18-25. In addition, two-thirds of the boomers are expected to receive some sort of inheritance.

That’s the turf being worked by Jean Ketcham and C. Suzanne Bates, founders of Aging But Dangerous. Ketcham and Bates have built a business promoting events aimed at older women, such as colonoscopy parties and skydiving outings.

Their mantra is that older women are in the prime of life and ought to be prime targets for marketers.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, Aging But Dangerous is staging its second annual “Dispelling the Myths of Age and Fashion Show,” featuring what Bates called a “kick-ass modeling squad” comprising nearly two dozen women aged 50 to 83. These power-packed sexagenarians and septuagenarians will bring “high-volume attitude and energy no mere kid could express,” Bates said.

As analytical tools become more sophisticated and the Internet allows for real-time feedback on marketing campaigns, I expect marketers to become ever more skilled at slicing and dicing the American public into smaller, more focused niches.

But I’m with Bates on the big picture: the current crop of older Americans is more adventurous than ever, more willing to try new things. And with the financial power they hold, reaching out to them should be a no-brainer for marketers.

Related content
What: Dispelling the Myths of Age and Fashion Show
When: Thursday, Oct. 20, 6:30 — 9:00 p.m.
Where: Nicollet Island Pavilion, 40 Power Str., Minneapolis
Tickets: $35 in advance, $40 at the door; order online at or call (763) 588-7055

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Kim Millman on 10/17/2011 - 08:25 am.

    Now hear this department stores: I’ve complained for a number of years about the lack of selection for babyboomers and now I’m seeing action of a different sort. Fabric stores are starting to see a comeback because people are tired of no selection in the stores. They are beginning to make their own clothing. Second hand stores are seeing growth not just from a bad economy, people are searching for the style and quality they are no longer finding in the department stores.

    These genius MBAs who head up retail stores seem to have confused marketshare with marketing. The new rules are simply to cater to the teenie-boppers and expect 40 and 50 somethings to desire the same type of style. And why wouldn’t a 40 or 50 something desire low-cut, midrif exposing shirts and pants that only cover half a rear-end? And why wouldn’t a babyboomer want to decorate their homes in 1950s and 1970s styles?

    Selling cheap clothing that looks like it was pulled out of a dumpster might be attractive to teenie-boppers, but it is nothing that mature people wish to spend their hard earned money on. Cheap junk at discount stores might interest teenagers who have limited income but maturity brings on a quest for quality that is no longer being met by the current set of retailers.

    So while traditional retailers may want to squeeze every square peg into their round holes, there is opportunity for U.S. manufacturers, if they desire to make money, to find a large world marketshare in traditional high quality goods including clothing and home products.

    Good luck to all those retailers run by MBAs who skipped marketshare 101.

  2. Submitted by Pat McGee on 10/17/2011 - 12:55 pm.

    #1 Kim-AMEN!

  3. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/17/2011 - 04:20 pm.

    And that goes double for television and movie content. Hollywood and network TV seem to have stopped making content for adults, and by “for adults,” I don’t mean raunchy–there’s plenty of that. I mean stories with complex plots, emotional resonance, and characters with depth, not action pictures full of car chases and explosions, gross-out comedies, or feature-length rip-offs of video games.

    I’m not among the more affluent boomers, but I almost never watch network TV except for PBS, and I don’t have cable. If I hear about a worthwhile show from critics or by word of mouth, I order it on Netflix or iTunes. Movies? I haven’t seen a Hollywood movie for a couple of years now, but I love foreign and independent films that show stories I haven’t seen before and actually make me think and feel.

    But I certainly hear what the other writers are saying about clothes. A couple of my former favorite catalog sources want me to dress either like a teenager or like a retiree in a Florida trailer park.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/18/2011 - 07:31 am.

    All you need to know about whether advertisers are savvy when it comes to boomers is to watch any network news program.

    The ads are for pharmaceuticals, over-the-counter health aids, investment firms and luxury cars.

  5. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 10/18/2011 - 10:30 pm.

    @Dennis Tester
    Dennis, you are missing the point to what is being said here. All the pharmaceuticals, OTC stuff, investment malarkey, and gas-guzzling luxury road hogs are not the products most [retired] boomers desire or want in these times. It’s as though the business and advertising world forgot who helped made the continuous prosperity happen after the Greatest Generation retired.

    Even the broadcast media, print media, and job markets treat the boomers with ignorance and forgetfulness. Once you’re over 55 years old these days who are looked upon as a societal fossil. That’s why Macy’s, Target, the M.O.A., and most fashionable establishments do not get me business or money.

    The boomer generation may not be uber affluent in the greenbacks departments but we do have disposable income to spend on the necessities of life plus a few amenities. Too bad the marketing communities don’t realize this economic fact of life!

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