Why it's time to turn back the clock on Baby Boomers

With Baby Boomers controlling 60% of consumer spending in the US, marketers who obsess over Millennials are missing out on a huge opportunity

It seems that not a day goes by without someone announcing some new technique for reaching what has quickly become the most examined and analyzed cohort in consumer marketing: Millennials. 

Considering our industry’s fascination with Millennials, you would think that they account for the majority of consumer spending. But that distinction is held by another group: Baby Boomers.

As a consumer segment, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) should be a marketer's dream. As the largest U.S. demographic, they own 77% of discretionary wealth, represent 25% of the consumer landscape and account for 60% of consumer spending.

Reared amid the post-war economic boom, this generation virtually defined consumerism.  However, as its members enter a more mature life stage, it is no longer just their hairlines that are receding — this generation has also receded from the sights of many advertisers, as have previous generations of pre-seniors. 

The big difference with Boomers though is that, unlike their predecessors, today’s 50-plus consumers wield unprecedented buying power and influence. As a result, they expect the same level of attention from advertisers and marketers that they grew accustomed to in their youth.

But they aren’t getting that attention.  In fact, less than 5% of ad dollars are actually being targeted to Boomers. That’s right — the people who control 60% of consumer spending represent only 5% of marketing investment.

This imbalance is likely driven by the conventional wisdom that consumers between the ages of 51 and 69 are staunch brand loyalists stuck in routine: Why market to people who aren’t open to change?

However, as a recent study from Omnicom’s Annalect marketing technology platform  shows, Boomers are actually very likely to try new products or brands. Coupled with their aforementioned buying power, this receptiveness suggests that they are under-targeted. And adding insult to injury, Boomers are not only under-targeted but  mistargeted as well.

According to our findings, while Boomers feel that some marketers are starting to recognize their significance and value as consumers, 47% still feel the advertising playbook has not changed enough in terms of the messages and images used in marketing aimed at their generation. Just as they have reset cultural perspectives at every stage of life, today’s 51- to 69-year-olds are redefining maturity; they define themselves as living healthy and exciting lifestyles, chasing experiences across multiple aspects of their lives.

Brands that advertise in ways that ignore or stereotype Boomers, or fail to fulfill their perceived needs or desires, run the risk of missing the bull’s-eye in communicating with this essential target.

Other major myths that our study debunked include the notion that Boomer’s are technophobic, living for visits with the grandkids. In addition to being very comfortable using technology to enhance their shopping processes and discover brands, Boomers have a strong thirst for new experiences, which they pursue through travel and shopping.

All of this adds up to a big opportunity for marketers across a broad spectrum of categories — travel, technology, luxury goods, retail, automotive, financial services, entertainment — to capture Boomers and keep them happy. Marketers who invest in understanding Boomers’ expectations, and incorporate those insights into branding efforts, can win a significant share of the sizeable Boomer wallet.

Pamela Marsh, PhD, is director of primary research and insights at Annalect.

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