Marketers’ Billion-Dollar Problem: Boomers

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Marketers who sleep on the baby boomer generation are in for a very rude awakening.

Gen Y or Millenials outnumber boomers today, but the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that a significant portion of the U.S. population will be much older, with the number of Americans aged 65 and up projected to hit 88.5 million by 2050. Of course 2050 is a long ways off, but if you consider that more than 7,000 of boomers born between 1945 and 1964 are turning 65 each day, according to the AARP, then it’s easy to see why marketers still clinging to their beloved 18-49 demographic are setting themselves up to miss out on a sizable chunk of the nation’s disposable income.

Put in real numbers, marketers could miss roughly $230 million in boomer sales of consumer packaged goods or CPG, or around 55% of the overall sales in this country, according to a study released in December 2008 by Nielsen and the Hallmark Channel. What’s more, Nielsen says, boomers “dominate” 1,023 out of 1,083 categories of CPG.

“Marketers are missing the boat if they’re not targeting the boomers,” affirms Pat McDonough, senior vice president, Insights & Analysis, at Nielsen.

Despite the havoc wreaked on their portfolios by the Great Recession, it seems boomers have remained in charge of the family finances while at the same time redefining what it means to be a consumer in his or her golden years. Eventually, boomers parents, who grew up in the Depression-era, will no longer define “seniors,” and marketers will have to accept that Geritol and Depends have been replaced by iPads and Harleys. The only question is, when will mainstream advertisers catch on? Some media experts say marketers have, but other industry vets feel boomers are being tuned out to marketers' own detriment. 

“No traditional consumer companies have decided they want to actively market to older consumers,” argues Matt Thornhill, founder of The Boomer Project, a market research company. “Most have attempted to focus on all the bad things that happen--insurance companies, financial services … A big mistake that a lot of marketers make is that everyone over 50 is only concerned about aging. All they want to sell them are solutions to problems, but nobody aspires to that.”

Stay tuned as MainStreet examines the challenges facing American marketers today and why boomers’ spending habits, along with their love of the old-fashioned boob tube, could disrupt traditional marketing practices for years to come. Gen Y might be next on marketers’ hit list, but as boomers keep pace with evolving spending and media trends, our experts believe it is they who will be the generation to have the last laugh at marketers’ expense.