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Consumer Behavior

The Baby Boomers


Anne Charlotte Beaumet Vilvet

Oldies but goodies

Marketers, take note: Baby boomers have lots of money to spend

By Kristin Davis

Forget minivans. German automaker Audi wants to put baby boomers--now that the kids are grown and out of the house--behind the wheel of the sleek A6 sedan or muscular all-road Quattro.It aimed to capture the boomer zeitgeist in a recent TV commercial that blended David Bowie's classic "Rebel Rebel" with his newer hit, "Never Get Old." As the voiceover intoned, "Where would we be if we always did things the way they were done before?" a progression of old (record player) v. new (iPod) images appears on the screen, and Bowie's "I'm never, ever gonna get old," hangs in the air asthe carmaker's logo emerges.

Audi wants to connect with the generation that came of age questioning authority in the 1960s and 1970s and now expects to enjoy a vigorous, age-defying lifestyle in retirement. And it's emblematic of a marketing trend that's been surprisingly slow to gather steam.

The nation's 75 million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, ought to be the most sought-afterdemographic cohort for American marketers. As a group, they are the most affluent Americans, with three quarters of the nation's financial assets and an estimated $1 trillion in disposable income annually. Yet while boomers are hurtling toward their retirement years--the oldest boomers will begin turning 60 next year--Madison Avenue continues to prize youth. Only about 10 percent of advertising isdirected specifically at the 50-plus market. "The demographic sweet spot has always been 18 to 49," says Brent Green, author of Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers . "Once you turn 50, you fall off the planet."

But a small vanguard of marketers is abandoning that old thinking and is now beginning to design products and target advertising to maturing consumers. Anheuser-Busch, for example,is advertising its low-cal, low-carb Michelob Ultra in the pages of AARP The Magazine with ads that show fit, active 50-somethings swimming, kayaking, and biking. (AARP has in fact run ads in trade publications like Advertising Age touting 50-plus consumers as a lucrative market.) The Gap, a favorite of boomers in their younger years, will seek to keep women in the fold as they outgrowultra-low-rise jeans and midriff-baring T-shirts. This fall it will begin testing new stores for women over age 35, with clothes by former Oscar de la Renta designer Austyn Zung. And Cadillac's TV commercials pay homage to the 1970s-era rock band Led Zeppelin, playing the group's 1971 hit "Rock and Roll."

One reason most advertisers fixate on youth is that a majority of the people creating and buyingadvertising in the United States are under age 30. The other is the marketing dogma that consumers tend to cling to the brands they like as young adults. "There's a long-held belief that you have to get someone to commit to your brand early in life, and once they commit they will be loyal to your brand forever," says Matt Thornhill, president of the Boomer Project, a market-research firm in Richmond,Va. But a study conducted in 2002 by AARP showed that consumers age 45 and older switch brands just as readily as younger generations.

What's hip. The boomer generation has transformed every age and stage it has passed through. As children, boomers ushered in disposable diapers and strained spinach in jars. As teens and young adults, they introduced long hair, tie-dye clothes, and rock-and-rollmusic to popular culture. When they became parents, carmakers rolled out minivans and SUV s. Today, market researchers are at work studying the likes and dislikes of a generation in midlife with the notion that they'll also transform what it means to be retired. "Marketers are just beginning to grasp the nature of a society where 1 in 3 adults will be 50 or older by 2010," says Green. "We have...
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