Brands eyeing baby boomers

The number of baby boomers, those between the ages of 53 and 71, is as large as millennials, and they have huge discretionary income.
The number of baby boomers, those between the ages of 53 and 71, is as large as millennials, and they have huge discretionary income.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HOUSTON • It makes sense for the marketing world to woo the highly coveted millennial generation, but an extra advantage can be gained too if they focus on an overlooked group - the baby boomers.

T-Mobile, for instance, recently unveiled a phone plan aimed at people aged 55 and older.

Boomers are generally defined as being, at this point, between the ages of 53 and 71.

In a 5 1/2-half minute video on Twitter, T-Mobile's chief executive John Legere said he wanted to "fix something that drives me completely crazy" before criticising his rivals for deeming boomers as "stuck in the past" and not interested in technology or the Internet.

He mocked some of his rivals' senior phone plans for focusing on "big buttons", phone-call minutes and outdated flip phones instead of offering smartphones with attractive data plans for them to connect with family and friends.

"This generation deserves a little respect," he said.

Some marketing experts said his rant was a valid one and that brands, even outside the wireless market, should pay attention.

"The group is the forgotten generation," said Mr Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys.

"Marketeers have got so hot for the millennial generation that they have essentially ignored boomers."

Larry Light, a co-author of Six Rules For Brand Revitalisation and chief executive of Arcature, a brand consulting company, said: "They're just as large as the millennials in numbers. And they have huge discretionary income."

Right now, it is mainly companies offering senior-related products, such as life insurance, medical devices and reverse mortgages, that regularly target boomers.

But a few brands, such as carmaker Mercedes-Benz and insurance firm Geico, have started courting boomers by producing commercials that lean on boomer imagery.

In a Super Bowl advertisement this year, actor Peter Fonda reprised his Easy Rider persona by putting on a leather jacket - as ageing bikers looked on - and drove off in a Mercedes while Born To Be Wild played.

But those advertisements are the exception, not the norm. Why?

"They want to market to the cool segment, the 'in' segment," Light said of marketeers, many of whom are millennials themselves.

In addition, many companies see millennials as the future.

Catch them early enough and you may have a lifelong customer.

But that is not necessarily the case, said experts. Tastes and passions change frequently for younger people.

But boomers, once they have connected with a brand, can stay loyal for years, said Mr Scott Gulbransen, director of communications for AARP Nevada.

Technology, automobile, travel and sports-related companies are missing out the most, he noted, wrongly stereotyping boomers as out of touch and not interested in the latest gadgets.

Mr Doug Verb, 68, who lives in Las Vegas, rolls his eyes when he hears about the tech-phobic stereotype.

"They're all missing it," he said of brands. "We're here in the millions and we have more disposable income, time and want to spend money. Yet they don't give us the consideration that they should."

Automobiles is another category where boomers may feel underserved.

Mr Passikoff noted that the generation that heralded Earth Day, for instance, would be receptive to advertisements about electric cars.

Experts said the biggest mistake that marketeers make is over-estimating the value of connecting with millennials rather than boomers.

"While the millennials are sharing stuff, boomers are buying stuff," he said. "If you are a brand, you are in business to make money and a tweet, share or laugh online doesn't translate into actual bottom-line dollars."

For this reason alone, he added, "boomers are an audience that's worth pursuing in virtually every category".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2017, with the headline 'Brands eyeing baby boomers'. Print Edition | Subscribe