14 December 2009

The Era of Oversell is Over

Wet-blanket Chuck has been reading a few pieces lately that need to be read by all 50+ marketers and advertisers.  They remind me of something I wrote way back in 2005.

image Boomers, Lifestyle Behaviors and Disability
imageLiving a long life, but at what cost?
By Tamara McClintock Greenberg
Uncertainty is terrifying.  We all know this no matter what age we are.  But the boomers are facing unprecedented life expectancy and ambiguity.  They need our support for health and better lifestyle choices. 

image The nirvana of aging in place and other age-related reality disconnects
By Laurie Orlov
image Today, what is so cheerfully described as aging in place, with enough money in retirement or the ability to keep working, living in a one's own home, with the myriad of services that are needed -- THIS IS A MYTH. To make it a reality, we need some very new ideas to be fleshed out more carefully and new ways of lowering costs, redirecting innovation energy and funding of new initiatives, and I'm not talking about healthcare.

My piece from 2005 (when I was young and cute):

Don’t Paint Too Rosy A Picture
image A recent article in USA Today asks us to “take a moment to journey forward to 2046, when 79 million baby boomers will be 82 to 100 years old.”[i]  A paragraph later, the reporter asks, “So just what kind of America will be forged by this crowd of geriatric goliaths?”

image Excuse me for being an unassuming ‘David’ (or even worse, a genocidal Grim Reaper) but I doubt very much that all 79 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. will still be alive in forty years, swaggering like giants – unless the medical establishment is holding out on me.

The good news you know: many Baby Boomers will live longer, healthier lives – more so than in any previous generations. The bad news you also know: a huge chunk of Boomers will pass on, and another huge chunk will be dealing with acute diseases and afflictions.  

The problem is that well-meaning articles in the press like the USA Today piece, along with mountains of 50+ marketing fodder, are setting up Boomers for a psychological fall.  There will be a backlash.

Not being a therapist, I won’t diagnose – but if it were beaten into my head over and over that things were going to be just peachy for the next forty years, that my same-aged friends will all be around laughing and cavorting while leading meaningful, vigorous lives—then, shock of shocks, many of us become incapacitated and/or drop and die – I will feel cheated.   I will become depressed and disillusioned.  It will happen even if I’m one of the ‘lucky’ healthy ones.

Ask today’s 80+ year olds about this or that and you’ll probably find that many are surprised (but relatively pleased) they’re still alive.  They believe they’ve beaten the odds, for whatever reasons.  Jump twenty-five, thirty years: if the myth of the non-dying, perfectly healthy Baby Boomer persists, folks in the aging industry are going to have millions of very angry octogenarians their hands.  They might even blame you for all those false promises.

How should this be dealt with by marketers and advertisers?  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.)

This is all part of redefining what it means to be the ages we are.  It may seem to some as  pathological, believing and acting as if we’re eighteen or twenty-five – but that’s because pundits and experts suspiciously eyeing this gargantuan, spirited, unwieldy and varied hoard of middle-agers have nothing to compare it to.  The only conclusion they can come to: Baby Boomers must a bit daft.

There is a big difference between thinking you are younger than you are – and not thinking that you are old.  This ‘night and day’ distinction may confuse many pundits, but it does not confuse most Boomers.

Much of this new, positive attitude about our future has to do with being the beneficiaries of so many fast and furious medical advances.  Some we have already taken advantage of, while others are ready and waiting for us – or right around the corner.  A good example is joint and hip replacement surgery.  The cane industry is in the doldrums, and we’re hoping it will never recover.

Another medical advance (still in its infancy, from what I’ve read) is pain management.  This promises Baby Boomers and successive generations freedom from a fear that haunts all as we age.

There has been plenty of press about Baby Boomers and their dread of Alzheimer’s.  Not much of a surprise.  Alzheimer’s affects many of our parents, we’re caring for them – and nothing frightens us more than not being in control of our own destinies.  However, from what I’ve read there may be some breakthroughs within the next twenty years.  That’s very good news.

Am I painting too rosy a picture here?  Isn’t this something I was railing against in the first few paragraphs?

Yes, but with a big difference.  All the examples above have to do with the quality of life – not the quantity.

If I were digging into a marketing/advertising campaign for a client in the aging industry, I would extract as much quality inherent in the product/service – and toss out any (or most) mention of longevity.  This would hold true even with basic nutritional and  exercise products.  A significant chunk of people who eat only healthy foods and  exercise regularly die of heart attacks, get cancer, are the victims of  all sorts of diseases and afflictions.  You can’t fool me.

But the quality of their lives in every respect will be superior to the ones who don’t take care of themselves, or avail themselves to what’s out there in the aging industry market.  

Nobody can promise you that you’ll live to be a hundred.  However, you can (more or less) make a good argument that healthy lifestyles and advances in modern medicine will offer you a quality life after sixty that no preceding generation had ever imagined.

I’m fifty-five.  I may die in five, ten, twenty, forty or fifty years.  If you promise Baby Boomers longevity, I will know at some point that you are not telling me the truth.  However, if you promise me a certain amount of quality if I take advantage of medical advances, lead a healthy lifestyle, and buy and use your products and services – I’ll probably believe you.

And I’ll continue to take your word for it until my dying day.

[1] 2046: A boomer odyssey
By Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY October 27, 2005


There’s nothing wrong with being positive and aspirational – you just have to temper it with dollops of reality so your marketing won’t be dismissed as pie-in-the-sky nonsense.

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