They Won't Grow Up

Baby boomers aren't quietly shuffling off into old age. The oldest of them—the ones born in 1946—turn 60 this year, but boomers are putting a new spin on growing older.

“They are essentially creating a new stage of life, which we call 'middle-escence,'” says Ken Dychtwald, head of San Francisco-based consulting firm Age Wave, who's conducting a series of research studies on the baby-boom generation for TV Land. “It's a time of power, financial strength, enormous social, political and marketplace influence. And when you take a look at the marketplace in pretty much every single category, from DVDs, pharmaceuticals, financial services, footwear, to sportswear, 40- to 59-year-olds rise up as the most powerful consumer group in the country.”

Baby boomers are generally defined as adults 42-60. But, for the purposes of evaluating media used by boomers, Dychtwald and others sometimes tweak that to align with age breaks measured by Nielsen Media Research and other research companies.

Biggest demo ever

However defined, the baby-boom generation has enormous implications for television programmers, media outlets and marketers.

“It's the biggest demographic to walk the face of the earth in the history of humankind,” says Larry W. Jones, president of TV Land and Nick at Nite. “Just about everything since 1946 can pretty much be attributed to the baby-boom generation: the inception of rock 'n' roll, the sexual revolution, civil rights, women in the workplace, yuppies, SUVs. They have always been important, and, as they pass through time, the things that are important to them are the industries that show phenomenal growth.”

Boomers certainly have clout. This generation has $2.1 trillion in buying power, about evenly split between boomers born from 1946 to 1955 and those born from 1956 to 1964, according to a report released last year by MetLife Mature Market Institute.

Moreover, boomers account for more than one-fourth of the population and 45 million households with an average disposable income of roughly $46,000.

Boomers are also far more likely than the average adult to buy certain products or use certain services. This generation, for instance, is 30%-75% more likely than the average adult to take several business trips each year, own stocks valued at more than $75,000, use credit cards for business, go cross-country skiing, and order products from home-shopping channels. That is according to a fall 2005 Mediamark Research survey.

Boomers are also more likely to use certain media than the average person, including the Internet at work, cable networks such as Sundance, Hallmark Channel and HGTV, as well as radio formats like news, ethnic and classic rock. Boomers are also more likely to read travel and business magazines. They are frequent newspaper readers.

Perhaps what most distinguishes boomers from previous generations is that they have stayed so active and continue to consume products and services the way younger people do. This was the generation that didn't want to grow up, and it appears they are sticking to their guns. Generally speaking, boomers aren't running their lives as if they're going to pull out the rocking chair when they reach the traditional retirement age of 65, says to Sarah Zapolsky, senior research advisor at AARP.

“As they age, boomers will still be boomers,” she says. “This generation doesn't want to turn into their parents. They will not turn 65 and hang up whatever it is they have been doing.”

The Loyalty Factor

Also unlike previous generations, boomers aren't rigidly loyal to brands. Zapolsky says that, as marketers grapple with effectively addressing this aging generation, a major misperception that many are holding onto is that boomers can't be persuaded to switch brands.

However, a study released in December by research firm Focalyst, a joint venture between Kantar Group and AARP, found that 57% of boomers experiment with or try out new brands while 72% say they always look for better products than the brands they currently use.

“You have to sell to baby boomers again and again because they are not brand-loyal,” says Zapolsky. “Often, if boomers change brands, they change up. They want the best.”

Age Wave's Dychtwald agrees. “If I'm an advertiser and I concede that boomers are a big group but I think they have determined their preferred toothpaste, jeans, makeup and wine for life,” he says, “then I will probably continue to focus my attention on the next youth generation. But,” he adds, “when you realize this generation is different from previous generations and is very open to new things and likes the idea of what's next, then people begin to wonder why they are not doing more to reach this generation.”