17 April 2008

How Well Do You Know Boomers?

Here comes another one of those 'groundbreaking' studies that 'smashes myths' about marketing and advertising to Baby Boomers. Meaning - there's nothing even remotely groundbreaking or myth-smashing about it. Simply an assortment of hand-me-downs wrapped in a shiny new package.

And the juicy irony in a few of the findings had me laughing.

"Boomers are redefining age and changing the way business is done," said Howard Byck, VP Corporate Development for AARP Services. "Contrary to many common assumptions, Boomers are making retirement obsolete, are very savvy about advertising, and are experimenting with new products."
I'll go through a bunch of these ten myths and … well, smash the myth that any of them are 'new' …

Myth #4 - Boomers are winding down with age
Myth #10 - Boomers are retiring early

When studying Baby Boomers, have any subjects been written about more than these over the last five or more years? Here's a quote from the original edition of my book, published in March, 2005:
Contrary to popular myth, Baby Boomers do not believe that they are still teenagers or young adults. (Some probably do, but they need therapy.) Boomers are slyly redefining what it means to be the ages they are. Included in this new definition are some youthful attitudes - but the real change is that instead of winding down, many are winding up. We're not 'looking forward to retirement,' we're looking forward to new lives, new challenges. Only a small percentage will opt for pure retirement. (I predict that in twenty years the word 'retirement' will still be in dictionaries, but followed by the modifier archaic.)
Myth #3 - Boomers are technologically challenged

I've gone on and on about this one. Here's the pull-quote from the cover of the original hardcover edition of my book (click the thumbnail to also see it):

And take a peek at these posts:

My Favorite Cyber-Myth (November 2005)

Baby Boomers Burst Online (January 2006)

Baby Boomers and Firefox (September 2006)

Baby Boomers and The Joy of Tech (January 2007)

Myth #2 - Boomers are the "Me Generation"

Again - much, much about this in my book and in this blog - but to break the monotony let me also point you to a piece in USA Today from 2006:

Me vs. We

'Me Generation' becomes 'We Generation' (USA Today)

Myth #1 - Boomers are all the same

How do I comment on this one? It's such old news that if I pointed you to what's been written on this subject the yellowed ether would crumble on your screen. Read my book, this blog, all articles and books and research by Dick Stroud, Matt Thornhill, Brent Green - and three or four others over the last six years. Maybe Focalyst is also coming out of a five-year coma.

#5 - Boomers are all wealthy

I talk about this at length in my book - and about how marketers are missing out, going only for 'the gold' when they should be focusing more on core Boomers who aren't rich but have done OK and will continue working.

Myth #9 - Boomers are downsizing their homes

I have a whole chapter in my book about this, aging in place, and adult communities. Nothing new.Here's an article I wrote in 2003. It was part of a series about adult communities and aging in place.

And saving the best two for last:

Myth #7 - You can capture Boomers with mainstream advertising

Only the theme of my book, my blog, my consulting, my presentations, my marketing articles for the last five years. What more can I say? Actually, Focalyst is wrong. You can capture Boomers with mainstream advertising - but most ad agencies have no idea how to do it.

Myth #6 - Boomers are brand loyal and will not switch

Golly gee, willikers. If you don't know this by now ...

Here's a quote from a review of my book (the 2005 edition) by Dr. Joyce M. Wolburg of Marquette University, published in The Journal of Consumer Marketing:
A second favorite excuse of agencies is: "Baby Boomers don't change brands" (p. 52, italics in original). Nyren dismantles this excuse nicely with examples of brand switching, and he further acknowledges that in cases where loyalty to a brand does exist, marketers who do not target Boomers give them no reason to change.
Read the full review. (PDF)

Why did I save these two for last? And why do I find them ironic and funny? Because Focalyst said these same two things in a report from 2006:

I'd think they'd want to take credit (although I beat them by a year and a half) for coming to these conclusions years ago. What myths are they smashing? Not their own, obviously.

Did they forget? Did the company's hard drives crash, all their 2006 data and research lost? Do they have collective Alzheimer's?

There's an old tongue-in-cheek saying in publishing that goes something like, "When myth and facts collide, publish the myth." Certainly in the cases of Myths 6 & 7, I think Focalyst and AARP's reputations would've been better served had they published the facts. It would've put them on the crest of the curve - not behind it.


  1. Chuck:

    Glad you did this. Folks in our firm were urging us to take Focalyst to the woodshed, but we don't have your energy on this one.

    You did miss the most reputation-dulling aspect of this release. Most of the data comes from a study they fielded way back in January 2006. So it's out-of-date.

    Back then, the oldest Boomers were 59, and the midpoint of Boomers was about 49. Any insights on Boomers and "retirement" from that time frame is meaningless today.

    Anyway, good job on dismantling the smashing. Keep it up.

  2. That makes even more sense. I highlighted two of the findings as over two years old - but according to you they are ALL recycled from the January 2006 study.

  3. I guess what also makes me laugh is the way it's been positioned. If I were advising AARP/Focalyst - I would've put out a press release and had the Today Show segment be something like:

    "Almost three years ago AARP and Focalyst did a study about Baby Boomers. Let's find out how this study holds up over time ..."

    And then have the guy rattle off the ten points and we find out how prescient they were.

    Wouldn't that make more sense from a PR perspective? And from a marketing perspective for their services? Instead of dusting off old data and pretending it's new?

  4. Myth #11 -- Baby Boomer marketing pundits and authors, who are themselves iconoclastic Boomers, will blithely ignore baseless publicity stunts by authoritarian and hegemonic bureaucracies offering nothing new to the growing body of research knowledge about iconoclastic and myth-breaking Boomers.

  5. Seriously FOC (Friends of Chuck), there is another myth that tends to dominate marketing and media, and that is: "The Path to Salvation is through Opinion Research." Several thoughtful FOC have correctly identified generational attitudes and behaviors without surveying a soul. How could this be? Well, Chuck and other FOC have decades of experience marketing to the target audience, plus they sponge up news reports and random minutiae offered in bountiful heaps through the Internet. Then they apply their experience and analytical skills to transform random bits of data into knowledge. However, typically when institutions with publicity gravitas announce findings from a “new research study,” media salivate like Pavlovian dogs. The findings may be ridiculously obvious or irrelevant, but media will run news reports as if the research has disclosed some of life's most mysterious truths. I’ll place my bets on seasoned judgment, grounded in experience, over a survey statistic any day.

  6. Now they're spinning it the way I said they should:

    MediaPost Article

    Either they took my advice (this post has been getting lots of hits from AARP and MB IPs) - or they got wise without listening to little ol' me.

  7. Thanks Chuck for your comment on my blog. I just added another posting with a reference back to this posting of yours.



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