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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Baby Boomers and the Future of Media Planning

On January 1, 2011, we hit a demographic milestone. The first Baby Boomer hit 65 years old. Baby Boomers are defined by most as Americans born between 1946 and 1964.  The Baby Boomers comprise our largest generation to date. There are 76 million of us.

The aging of Baby Boomers has profound implications for our economy, product development, our government programs for the mature, and, of course, media usage. Keep one fact in mind at all times going forward if you are marketing a brand or selling media. It is simply this--every day for the next 17 years some 10,000 Americans will be celebrating their 65th birthdays. When we hit 2030, approximately one is five Americans will be 65 years or older. As I write, only one in eight is 65+.

Most writers who talk of the greying of America dwell on the strains that an aging population will put on programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Those are all huge and serious problems but today we will focus on how an aging population base will affect the media and advertising.

Fifteen years ago, as the Internet began to hit its stride, people saw it as a youth oriented means of communication. Now, no one blinks if a 75 year old says "I will e-mail you about that." Many retirees spend hours a day on Facebook or trolling the web.  Hulu and Netflix have made huge strides in terms of usage among the older Baby Boomers in the last 18 months.

So what does all of this mean?

For advertisers, despite warnings by futurists for the past generation, more emphasis needs to be placed on the mature in advertising copy and product development. Why? To me, it is pretty simple. We have a lot of the money. :)  Older Baby Boomers lead virtually every affluent category be it millionaires, people with disposable income, financial security and flexiblitity of purchase decisions and travel options.  Yet, amazingly, many brands allow their agencies to buy against an Adult 18-49 demographic or 25-54 demographic. A few counter that the older you are, the more television that you tend to watch. True, but 15 years ago, that worked beautifully when the major networks still dominated viewing. So, if you bought a 1000 rating points against Adults 18-49, you might deliver 1250 points against Adults 50+ given their tendency to watch so much television. Now, with viewing fragmented, the heavy viewing segment has their own list of favorite programming, often on cable, that are far more pure plays in terms of age than in the past. A 35 year old woman and a 64 woman did not intersect a great deal in their viewing habits. You no longer get the mature as a "free ride" as you once did.

The purchasing power issue has also not been examined carefully enough by most marketers. Many older Baby Boomers do not earn as much as they did in their prime earning years so they do not get much advertising attention. Yet, many do not have a mortgage and their college bills are long behind them. Think of the liquidity this gives them if they are not feeding the mortgage meter each month or paying out a huge check every September and January.  Income has always been overrated in evaluating lifestyle--the key is purchasing power!

A few friends tell me that the aging Baby Boomers will save local TV news. I am not so sure. They have not saved newspapers as many thought they would. Anecdotally, a lot of them appear to be watching ESPN Sportscenter or Baseball Tonight when knee jerk thinking would place them with affiliate news at 10 or 11 pm.

Remember, as well, that what began last year is not a demographic blip. Some 10,000 Americans per day will turn 65 for the next 17 years! They will live longer than any previous generation as well. If you run an agency, does a 27 year old copywriter or media planner know how to connect with these people whom they see as "geezers"?  Think about it.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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