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Exuberance: Capturing your market share of the next generation!

March 1, 2007
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This final installment of the baby-boomers series focuses on getting the attention of this new generation of seniors

In previous articles in this series, we’ve discussed issues facing the long-term care industry as it prepares for the coming wave of baby boomers. We’ve talked about the demographics and expectations of boomers, about configuring products to meet those expectations, and about how boomers will redefine aging itself through the way they live their lives.

But now that you have all these insights, how will you market your thoughtfully crafted products and services? Remember that you are dealing with the most media-savvy generation in history. Baby boomers have lived through a media explosion, from the introduction of national television in the 1950s through the near-universal availability of the Internet in the past decade, and they have been enthusiastic consumers of each new technology. That “media savvy” is a double-edged sword, however. While boomers are equally comfortable obtaining information via print, radio, television, or the Web, they are also sophisticated consumers, sensitive to the nuances of communication that would have been lost on previous generations. What does this mean? It means that you need to think carefully both about what messages your marketing materials are sending and the tone and style you use to send them.

For many years, experienced advertisers have understood that advertising should reflect the target audience's self-image rather than reality. This used to mean that if you were marketing to people in their 70s, you should show images of people in their 60s, or the net effect of the ad would be negative. Boomers, however, have taken this dynamic a step further: Not only do they envision themselves as younger chronologically than they actually are but, in many cases, because of their commitment to exercise and such medical advances as artificial joints, they literally have the bodies of younger people. Even as they continue to age, this shift will drive the way smart marketers position themselves.

For example, until recently the financial service industry, developers of retirement communities, and other companies marketing to people planning for or beginning retirement painted retirement as a reward for a life of hard work, during which the retiree could finally relax and “enjoy life” (with the implication that until then, they hadn’t!). But boomers aren’t ready to relax in this old-fashioned sense; to them, it implies shuffleboard, bridge, and boredom—precisely the wrong message to send.

Contrast that mind-set with a recent ad campaign from Ameriprise Financial. To the driving beat of the Spencer Davis Group's 1966 hit “Gimme Some Lovin,” counter-culture icon Dennis Hopper stands on a beach at sunrise and says, “Yours is the generation that's going to turn retirement upside down.” The ad goes on to describe Ameriprise's Dream Book, a financial planning document built around making retirement a time during which dreams are achieved, not remembered. It is a message geared to boomers who are reaching retirement age with productive decades still ahead of them, and $1 trillion a year—double the assets of the preceding generation—to spend. (It's no coincidence that “Gimme Some Lovin’” is from the soundtrack of The Big Chill, the Citizen Kane of baby boomers.)

What's smart about this campaign? Practically everything. Its spokesman is one of the few actors of his generation who can still be considered “hip,” just the way boomers would like to think of themselves. Its message is one of optimism and possibility; that great things lie ahead. And it articulates one of the most cherished myths of baby boomers: They are fundamentally different from every previous generation of Americans.

Some of the best lessons on how (and how not to) communicate with boomers can be found, not surprisingly, in the pharmaceutical industry. The generation that grew up singing The Who lyric “Hope I die before I get old” has changed its tune and is now enthusiastically consuming products to fight sexual dysfunction, hair loss, and other physical changes associated with aging. Pharmaceutical companies spend billions to market such products, and looking closely at their ads will help you configure your marketing messages more effectively while avoiding painful mistakes.

One television ad that had viewers reaching for their mute buttons was created for Viagra. To the tune of Queen's “We Are the Champions,” middle-aged men danced in celebration of their newfound prowess. The problem was that they looked ridiculous, and if there's one thing a boomer can’t stand, it's being made to appear foolish. Humor can make for extremely effective, memorable advertising, but should never be done at the expense of the target audience—especially one as self-absorbed as boomers.

While broadcast provides some of the best illustrations of effective and ineffective advertising to boomers, print can be just as strong and is often a more realistic option financially for the vast majority of housing and healthcare organizations. When Living Communities, LLC, set out to develop Rivers Run, an active adult community created in cooperation with the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York, it worked with its ad agency to develop a campaign based on the same premise as the Ameriprise strategy: that consumers—in this case, adults 55+—are redefining the terms on which they live their lives. To promote Rivers Run, ads literally took common terms and redefined them to reflect a community in which residents could not only have homes and apartments, but also attend classes at RIT, hike surrounding nature trails, boat on the river, and in general lead vibrant, productive lives.