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Everyone wants to get in front of Gen Z and millennials, but are brands missing a trick by excluding baby boomers from their marketing?

Posted on Tue 22nd Jan, 2019 in: Insight by Katie Wadsworth

The idea for this blog came about one day when I was reading another insight article from a marketing title about how to attract Gen Z and millennials. It got me thinking, there are so many in-depth pieces on what these generations want to buy and their behaviour online, but no-one is talking about their parents, aka baby boomers, and how they like to be marketed to.

Just Google ‘What over-50s want’ and aside from dating advice, you just get a lot of life insurance adverts. Most of the articles date from 2014, showing there’s a big gap in time since they were last written about and, to be honest, the idea of getting older begins to seem quite depressing.

The only time baby boomers appear to be mentioned in the media is when they’re being blamed for Brexit or being labelled as the cause of millennials not being able to get on the property ladder. Now this blog isn’t setting out to answer who’s at fault on those subjects, but this initial scroll through the media raised the question, ‘Why does it feel like brands are ignoring baby boomers?’.  


Who are baby boomers?

First of all, it seems important to set up exactly who baby boomers are. They’re the generation born from 1946 – 1964, which makes them between 54 and 72 years old.

Baby boomers grew up in the 60s and 70s in an era of antiestablishmentarianism and rock and roll. This was the first generation born after the Second World War and they benefited from a time of increasing affluence and higher levels of income, compared to their parents during the war, enjoying more money to spend on food, clothes and holidays. They also saw final salary pensions, rising property prices, zero university fees and better healthcare.

Growing up in such a big period of change means that this group are often more open-minded than we give them credit for – the 1960s saw the beginning of the feminist movement – and rather than wanting to retire quietly, this generation still want to have meaningful interactions with society and also brands.

Contrary to what you might think, nearly half (48%) of internet users aged 65-74 now have a social media profile and the number of over 75s with a profile has nearly doubled, from 19 per cent to 41 per cent, according to Ofcom.

The wealth that baby boomers have accumulated is in part due to favourable economic conditions and also their love of saving money. This approach has made them the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ for their children, subsidising university fees and helping their offspring onto the property ladder. It’s also led to millennials not saving because they’re banking on a nice windfall when they get their inheritance.

A recent article in the Financial Times even suggested that one in five UK baby boomers are millionaires. The piece, which was based on data from the Office of National Statistics, showed that in 2006, those aged over 65 owned 28 per cent of the UK’s household wealth. By 2016, this figure had increased to 36 per cent.

Even though they’re doing well for themselves, baby boomers are working for longer before retiring. This means there’s been a rise in over 50s changing careers, starting their own company or even just going travelling around the world. Far from throwing in the towel, this group has the means and motivation to follow their dreams now the kids have grown up and brands should think harder about how they can make the most of this.


A missed opportunity?

Baby boomers have good financial security, which should make them a lucrative prospect for brands to tap into, but despite this, research by over-50s insurance company SunLife found that 89 per cent of over 50s believe brands aren’t interested in them, 74% think they’re never represented in mainstream ads and 72% think the portrayal of people over 50 is an outdated stereotype.

In fact, baby boomers aged 65-74 are increasingly connected, with four in ten (39%) using a smartphone and nine in ten (87%) social seniors aged over 65 have a Facebook account.

More than a quarter (27%) of over-75s use tablets and the use of smartphones among this age group has nearly doubled, from eight per cent in 2016 to 15 per cent at the end of 2017. Six per cent of over 65s are even using WhatsApp. 

This suggests that baby boomers are willing and have the technology to engage with brands, but they’re fed up of being patronised and treated as though they’re past it. After all, Michelle Obama and actors Emma Thompson and George Clooney are all over 55, but they’re not retiring and giving up on life.

Just look at influencers like Maye Musk, a Canadian model who is 70 years old, a grandmother and has more than 228,000 followers on Instagram and another 34,000 on Twitter. Iris Apfel is still a fashion icon for millions of people and she’s 97 years old!

All of this goes to show that the same opportunities brands use to target millennials and Gen Z online are there for older generations. Brands just need to consider their messaging more and make sure they’re tailoring their offering for each audience.

Trying to find examples of brands who include over 55s in their marketing isn’t easy. That’s not to say that brands aren’t trying to attract these customers and that over 55s aren’t buying anything – we know that they are – but the feedback this audience is giving suggests that this group still doesn’t feel like they’re being understood by brands. With around 18.2% of the UK population aged 65 years or over in mid-2017, that’s a big audience to alienate.


So, what does all of this mean?

Well it points to the fact that there is a massive audience available to brands and a lot of untapped potential. While there are a lot of products out there for the older end of the market, not everyone is quite ready to retreat into the sunset with a Stannah Stairlift. Baby boomers want to see brands move away from outdated ideas about over 50s retiring and raising the white flag.

Here are three key tips for trying to reach this audience:

  1. Tailor your messages – this is a golden rule regardless of what audience you’re targeting, but if you can identify exactly how this group want to be spoken to, it’ll go a long way


  1. Don’t stereotype – baby boomers don’t want to be portrayed as older than they feel, so avoid any clichés or outdated ideas of what over 55s should be doing or how they should be behaving


  1. Think bigger – the way over 55s live and work is changing, so ask yourself if you’re missing a trick by not trying to reach them with your brand   

At Aberfield, we believe an audience first approach is the only way forward. You need to know who you’re talking to and what they want to hear, in order to have the biggest impact. If you want to find out more about what we do, get in touch.

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