Exuberance: Capturing your market share of the next generation!

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.

The Rivers Run print ads (p. 60) were supplemented by radio spots, direct mail, and a series of educational events designed to highlight the benefits of the community’s relationship with the university. The campaign succeeded in building a substantial database of potential residents, and construction of the project is well under way.

Whatever mix of media you use to communicate with potential consumers, remember these basic principles before investing your ad dollars:

  • Take a hard look at the products and services you offer to make sure that they meet the needs and expectations of the audience. Boomers know what they do and don’t want, and they don’t care if a product worked well for the previous generation—in fact, it can alienate them if it connotes an old-fashioned mind-set about aging.

  • Use professionals to do your advertising. It’s their job to represent the consumer, so you need the objectivity that can only come from outside your organization. Make sure they understand your products and your target audience, and that they’re capable of work that both breaks through the “clutter” and reflects your brand consistently. Then give these professionals the resources and the trust they need to work effectively on your behalf.

  • Be open to new channels of communication. You can be sure that as they come along, boomers will explore them.

To summarize, when creating marketing aimed at baby boomers, never forget that they are sophisticated readers and viewers, raised on a mixed-media diet for more than 50 years. They respond positively to optimism, energy, and good-natured humor. They are open to new ideas, new definitions, and new channels for obtaining information (so don’t neglect your Web site!). And their expectations are high, so be prepared to deliver on the promises contained in your marketing.

Robert Massimilian is President and Owner of RPM Creative Services, Inc., an advertising agency in Pittsford, New York. He has nearly 30 years’ experience as a writer, creative director, and agency principal, specializing in the healthcare, senior housing, financial services, and fitness industries. Born in 1954, he’s at the gym six days a week and is still using his original knees.
Claudia Blumenstock is an Executive Vice-President of Living Communities, LLC, a senior housing development company in Rochester, New York, that offers consulting services in long-term care strategic planning and develops niche senior housing markets for the future.

For more information, phone (585) 624-7650 or visit https://www.livingcomm.org. To send your comments to the authors and editors, e-mail massimilian0307@nursinghomesmagazine.com.

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