Advertising to baby boomers

No, I don’t mean the business in baby boomers is booming, cause God knows you all know that’s the case, so why write an article about it? I mean they bloody well boom. They talk loud, they push you around. They are a bit deaf, cause they’re older than most of us, and they have this God-given belief in their own importance, cause they were the kids on the block in the 50’s, they were the hippies in the 60’s, at the discos in the 70’s, were the yuppies in the 80’s, now they are the boomingly loud pains in the arses in the 2000’s that will have everyone else in society paying for their over-due retirement.

Like big sisters and brothers, they dominate your world and they own it too. They own more shares, more bits of real estate and more companies than the rest of us put together. And just like big brothers and sisters, they don’t care if you’re not happy about it. You can get stuffed. And they are the high court judges, and the politicians, so you can keep getting stuffed until they are dead. Which is probably 30 years away. If medical advances keep advancing, it could well be 40 years. We Gen X and Gen Y’s will probably have suicided well before then…

They Club-up together. They recognize each other – bit of a paunch. A few wrinkles. Plenty of grey. They say ‘Hey, we want it this way’ and the government changes tack or companies change their strategies to accommodate them.

Because baby boomers are who they are, they dominate things. Brashly, purposefully, selfishly and with little diplomacy. There’s some three million of them. Controlling, by simple age and experience, most of the nation. They probably employ you, Miss reader. And many of you marketers out there are ignoring them, do so at your peril.

The Rising Cake

Assuming global warming doesn’t wash them off the beaches or freeze them as they are tramping through the high country, their numbers will go from about 12% of Australians to some 27% over the next 40 years. They’ll not only take up more space in the statistics, it is expected that they’ll work for longer – part-time or full time. Chances are the government will have to move the retirement age up to more like 70 or even 75 as they demand to be allowed to continue to work (the alternative is to stay home with the spouse – after a month or two, almost everybody would prefer to work).

They will also live much longer than previous generations. It will not be uncommon for granny to reach 100. King Charles (assuming Liz dies one day) will get a very tired hand writing to his peers when there are thousands of centurians dotting the country.

And yes, they’ll seek out the “sea change” life, or a ‘tree-change’. But also inner city apartments will continue to be in demand, regardless of the current over-supply, because in retirement people seek what they didn’t have during their working lives; If they lived in suburbia, they seek sophistication and travel. If they traveled a lot, they seek a stable village-like atmosphere.

Note that – retirement villages will be full of Baby Boomers seeking a village environment – way more than the ‘silent’ generation before them, who were simply seeking company and to avoid the maintenance costs of keeping a big home.

Which means the Baby Boomers will want more activities, fun things to do, will want to be able to run a little business from their apartment, which could simply be growing weed on their balcony…

They have more money to spend

The pattern with Western life is that you go to school, get your first few jobs, have plenty of money, spend it on clothes, booze and getting lucky, then, assuming you’re straight and have the usual hang-ups about wanting to continue the family name etc., you get married. You buy a house, have kids, and pay off the bank for 20 years or so. About mid 40’s, if you’ve got most of your mortgage paid and if you’ve managed to get your kids to leave home, you then have disposable money again. Boomers have now had disposable money for 20 years, and have spent it any damn way they liked.

What works on Boomers?

See things from their point of view.

That is a much bigger issue than the previous sentence could possibly convey. Try to think like them. They may be old, tired, often in pain, but they are still fit enough to do 18 holes of golf and then go to a drinks party for 3 hours; it may be their last. Most importantly, their brains aren’t old. They don’t feel old. All our research says they feel like they are 30 years younger.

Treat them as individuals. 

The older a person gets, the less they are ‘normal’. Many older people I’ve spoken to believe that if people think you are ‘normal’ after 40, you’ve failed to develop as a human being.

Don’t talk down to them

It almost doesn’t bear mentioning, but many younger marketers patronize older people to such an extent they automatically put their customers off. Talk to them like you talk to a rich Uncle, not your Mum. Your Mum puts up with your attitude because she loves you and hopes one day you’ll grow out of it. No-one else will.

Family and friends matter

They have put their lives into making their families lives the best they could. They therefore cherish their families, and those friends they’ve grown to love. Show happy, real families and you’ll hit a chord.

Loneliness is an issue

As families move on and friends inevitably die off, older people suffer from a loneliness and a sadness that’s hard to explain to a younger person. Which is perhaps why so many go to funerals. Sign of respect, but also a way of keeping in touch with society.


As your body deteriorates, issues like security start to become more important, no matter how much you might deny they exist. If you’re not capable of running flat out for 10 k’s at the drop of a hat, you are less likely to feel confident walking past a group of young thugs.

Ditto for sleeping in a neighborhood surrounded by them. Which is one reason why many Boomers like to spend time at the gym or the swimming pool, making them physically stronger to take on younger people they feel (at least sub-consciously) threatened by.

For this reason sales tactics based on fear actually work less well than more positive ones, as Boomers don’t want to be made to feel even more vulnerable.

Sex still sells

The number one product in dollar terms at most retirement homes ‘shops’ is not milk, it’s lube. I’m not kidding.

Use bigger type

The older you get, the poorer your eyesight. Don’t laugh. It will happen to you. Use 12 point type or bigger. For the same reasons, avoid glossy shiny paper as it reflects.

Use older copywriters

If you want empathy with older markets, use people who have something in common with them. Brief them to use simpler words – boomers don’t appreciate wanky business terms (like ‘bloom’ or ‘platform’ or ‘verticals’) or SMS type derivations. You can however use words that seem old-fashioned like the ‘hip’ words from the sixties/seventies, like ‘groovy’ or ‘fab’.

Language itself is important – most boomers appreciate correct grammar more than those who are younger. And they grew up in an era which used English rather than American. So they prefer spelling that doesn’t use z much. Where color is spelled with a u. But they have spent years reading the Women’s Weekly and No Idea, so keep in mind that weird magazine English is also quite acceptable, at least with the women.

Nobody thinks they look old

Always use people who look about ten years younger than your actual target market.

Don’t bullshit

Boomers are far more media savvy than any other group – kids aren’t media savvy, they haven’t been around long enough. Boomers have been watching TV or listening to the radio for 50 bloody years. They have heard all of the ads before – they are so much more critical of creative than young people, it’s scary. Because they saw the ad you’re trying to push when it was a new idea, 20 years ago.

Give them fresh ideas

Give them radical ads – they appreciate them much more than you think. But don’t make them look ‘radical’ because they can’t read bad typesetting – and they can’t be bothered to have to try just because it looks fashionable – make the actual content original.

Educate the market

Boomers with more time are more inclined to attend seminars or lectures. You can tie these in with brand promotions. Amex are currently running a series on fraudulent telemarketing for older people.

Use a sense of humor

Anybody older than 50 has to have one. If they didn’t they’re dead inside.

Don’t clutter Messages on TV

Loud background music makes it hard to remember phone numbers when you’re half deaf. Keep those details up longer, helps if your memory is not what it should be, or you can’t get to the pen and paper quickly.

Reduce Risk

Money back offers work well with older people who are unsure of newer marketers.


Boomers have more time, they are cheaper and easier to research with. They are also more open to giving you their opinion, even if it’s not requested (helping marketers?) as long as they agree with your values. You can afford to research them more than other markets.

Do your sums

Many strategies for luring Boomers will backfire as their numbers reach full bloom. I can see Senior’s discounts being phased out in the near future as offering discounts to the 1 older person in every 4 people is unlikely to be a profitable way to go. But how to explain taking away her discount, to your Mum?

It’s about values

The Baby Boomers like values. They respond to people doing the right thing. Note I said doing, not just saying. (NB. Highlight that bit and send to board.)

The older a market segment gets, the more predictable are its values. As you study or work with older Australians, you can measure their different values like counting the rings in a tree trunk to see how old it is. Values are not formed the moment a person drops onto this little blue planet. People develop them over time as they experience life. Something happens to you, you clock that into your memory. It becomes a ‘value’. And yes, their values are ‘old-fashioned’; they were developed in old times. Which is why they do feel for the Viet vets – many of their friends were veterans.

It helps in any market to know the values of the customer. People simply won’t play with a group (purchase from, invest with) who push values they don’t agree with. This is accentuated with older people, who often make decisions on philosophy, a brand’s personality and what it stands for, rather than just technology or fashion. And in the Baby Boomers case, they have so much power, you can’t ignore them, which means you must know the details. Like understanding what is ‘doing the right thing’ in their eyes.

Which is also why price is not quite as important as ‘Value’. Older people buy things like wool sox, because they last much longer, even if you pay three times the price. Over time they have learned what value is. So don’t try to be too clever or to rip off. It just won’t work on Baby Boomers.

Boomers summary

If you want to win them over, demonstrate respect. Do the right thing by them and especially be ethical when dealing with complaints or disputes. Don’t happily churn them like younger customers, who have grown up to expect corporate insensitivity. Treat them like you’d like your Mum to be treated and they’ll do what she does for you; feed you, clothe you, give you a warm cuddle, a bit of sound advice and a helping hand. Want to know more? Call us up, have a chat.

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