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What Marketers Don’t Know About Aging Boomers

We hear quite a lot from the marketing community about how “cohort effects” play a major role in shaping people’s worldviews. Some say that people who experientially share the same experiences during their formative years take on behavioral characteristics in common that distinguishes them from people in other age cohorts.

Also, many marketing and consumer research professionals say the cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s endowed boomers with behavioral characteristics that form a kind of collective personality. There are enough kernels of truth in the doctrine of cohort effect to make it appear more valid than it is. As a result, it suffers from mindless overuse. The problem with relying too heavily on cohort effects is it obscures behavioral influences that stem from personality development processes over a person’s lifetime.

Remember – marketers can’t learn the most important things they should know about boomers through traditional research methods. Deep understanding depends on knowledge of adult development in the later years. If you haven’t turned 60 yet, and have never delved into the field of adult development in the later years, chances are there is much for you to learn.

Authenticity is also typically not an affect well appreciated by the marketing community culture. Yet, its connection to marketing success has never been greater because of explosive growth in the older customer population. These populations don’t respond well to youth oriented marketing pitches that may titillate younger audiences.

In the days when youth ruled the marketplace, marketers got accustomed to fashioning messages about limitless possibilities. In congruence with the dreams of the young, marketing message creators depicted perfect people with perfect friends and perfect significant others in their communications. And those people had perfect babies.

Eventually for most people – the practical ones, at least – a sense of reality begins eroding our idealized images of who we are, what we can expect from others, and what life holds in store for us. This most commonly happens in the middle years, maybe even starting a little earlier in the mid to late 30s.

Older consumers want substance. They want reality, as witnessed by the phenomenal success of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign that dispensed with picture-perfect models younger than 30 in its ads. Dove’s campaign for a line of personal products makes it probably the very first in its category to follow Jung’s admonition to face the reality of aging not only with dignity, but with joy. In this view, we should celebrate age not denigrate it. You should market to Aging boomers in terms of where they are in life now, not where they were “back then,” Yet, marketing often reflects a fantasy or heroic theme.

Marketing messages routinely project idealized images to which the more seasoned mind does not connect. Perhaps because most people creating marketing messages have yet to reach the age when reality begins to moderate idealism, we should expect that their values and worldviews will seep into their work done for aging boomers or older people. Marketers need to come to terms with the truth of the 136 million people who are over the age of 45, when reality finally begins to settle into a person’s psyche in ways that bring great changes in what he or she expect out of life – as Unilever’s brand Dove did.

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