Age-Old Question Remains: Why Not Target Boomers?

Baby Boomers are the fastest-growing demographic in the country, with the 55-64 age group alone possessing spending power that amounts to more than $1 trillion annually—a figure that is only increasing. They have more disposable income than younger demo groups, particularly millennials, and are spending it on restaurant meals, trips, new cars, consumer electronics and home improvement.

Boomers are also heavy watchers of broadcast network television and, thus, an easy target to reach en masse. Yet to most marketers they are just not desirable enough a demographic to specifically target with their media ad spending, basically being written off for younger demo groups with less spending power. And that’s not going to change in the near future, certainly not during 2014, according to media agency and TV network executives.

It’s a situation that is unsettling both to agencies— who say they are making research available to show their clients the desirability of reaching baby boomers—and to the broadcast networks, particularly to NBC, which has offered major presentations on its “Alpha Boomer” audience, and to CBS, which reaches more baby boomers with its programming than any other network.

“It is a little frustrating,” says Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBCUniversal, who four years ago initiated a study to tout the spending power and desirability of the 55-64 group. “This demo today is hipper and more economically sound than their predecessors. They have spending power of more than $1 trillion, which is not chump change. They are heavy users of technology, smartphones and Facebook. They just use some of them differently than the younger demos.”

Dave Poltrack, chief research officer at CBS Corp. agrees, stating, “It’s amazing to me that marketers would be ignoring this demo. Adults 50-plus are right at the height of their earning power. The kids are leaving home, their houses are paid off, they have more disposable income to spend on themselves. If you’re a major marketer and not paying attention to baby boomers, you’re missing a great opportunity.”

Peter Hubbell, founder and CEO of BoomAgers, a creative services company that specializes in helping capture the full value of the boomer market, says “It’s simply not fashionable for an advertiser or traditional full-service agency to market to baby boomers. Marketers want to stay in their comfort zone, the 18-49 demo who they have been targeting since the 1960s. But we’re still out there evangelizing.”

Strategy Plays

Hubbell says many of the marketers who initially come to him “are asking what their competitors are doing to reach boomers instead of establishing their own strategy.”

Like Wurtzel and Poltrack, Hubbell touts the boomer demo as one that has much more going for it than the younger demos. “Most baby boomers today continue to work beyond retirement age, so money is still coming in,” he says. “That makes them even more attractive for marketers to reach. Even when they leave corporation jobs, many start their own business. They are renovating their homes, traveling, eating out a lot.”

Hubbell believes traditional ad agencies need to “start instigating” a change in attitude on the part of their clients. The agencies say they are doing so but are fighting a losing battle with clients that want to stay focused on younger demos.

“There are baby boomers out there just waiting to spend money, and few marketers want to reach them,” says John Bishop, research director, consumer insights, at media agency MediaCom. “As an agency, we can recommend, but we can’t force our clients to advertise to baby boomers.”

Bishop says boomers are not as set in their brand loyalty ways as much as marketers believe, adding that the demo just needs more convincing than millennials, who Bishop describes as “fickle” when it comes to making brand decisions. “Boomers will change brands if a marketing campaign directed at them can give them reasons to,” he says.

Esther Franklin, executive VP and head of Starcom MediaVest Group Americas Experience Strategy, says the boomer demo is “still misunderstood and misrepresented, and we’re trying to change that.”

Franklin says perceptions are beginning to change among marketers, but “advertisers always lag behind what’s going on in the consumer marketplace and it takes time to catch up.”

She adds there are “lots of conversations going on” with clients about targeting baby boomers, “but not many are responding yet in terms of ad dollars.”

CBS’ Poltrack says when marketers decide to target the demo, they need to do it with ad campaigns that take on a different creative tone. “If you’re creating a message for 25-year-olds, it’s not going to resonate with 55-year-olds,” Poltrack says. “The ad message has to be relevant to them.”

As to whether some marketers will see the light in 2014, the verdict is mixed. Wurtzel, Bishop and Franklin don’t see much changing in attitudes this year. But Hubbell thinks a few major marketers might jump on board the boomer bandwagon before the year is done. Bishop says there is only so much longer marketers can continue to ignore the older demo. He likens the situation to the current digital ad boom.

“Just as it took marketers a long time to start moving dollars into digital advertising, it is taking them a long time to tap into boomers,” Bishop says. “That will eventually happen, but I don’t see a big shift of dollars in 2014.”