Forget what you know about boomers: the group we love to mock is having its moment in the sun. Just last month, president-elect Joe Biden, 78*, and his 56-year-old running mate Kamala Harris were made Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
Elsewhere a new study found that boomers are Britain’s greenest generation, while a cohort of style influencers in their 60s or above, such as Japanese retirees Tsuyoshi and Tomi Seki, are giving “true gen” Z a run for their fashion money on Instagram.
There are more than 14 million boomers – those born in the post-World War Two baby boom – in the UK. A new whitepaper we published with Norstat shows that this group has formidable spending power (up to 17 times more than millennials) and a thirst for enlarging life experiences.
Here are three ways brands can target this overlooked group more effectively.
Creating the right digital content
Contrary to common perception, boomers aren’t laggards. Seventy per cent of the 1,000 people aged 55 or over we surveyed agreed that tech makes their lives easier and allows them to enjoy hobbies and connect with loved ones. This signals a big opportunity to brands, which could target the 60% of over-50s who feel confident using technology – not to mention the two in three who started gaming under lockdown.
More importantly, boomers retain a healthy cynicism for the digital world, allowing brands to engage them with more meaningful content. Because they are not digital natives, older consumers are more discerning in how they interact with technology: they demonstrate selective (rather than compulsive) online behaviour.
One brand that embraces "tech on their own terms" is family history website Ancestry. As an online company with a customer base that skews heavily towards boomers, Ancestry proves that baby boomers do get to grips with technology.
This appetite for tech was reflected in Ancestry’s recent partnership with The Times. Rather than focusing purely on the traditional media, obvious-choice channel of print, bespoke branded content ran across print, online, display, social and audio, to ensure that the brand’s family history stories were brought to life in a way that complemented boomers’ varied media consumption habits.
Understanding the later-life milestones that matter
A third of boomers have busy social lives, and a quarter are involved in planning holidays. This age group is active and curious; their mindset is about living in the moment, but also making the most of the new life stage that they are in. With empty nests and fewer career responsibilities, boomers can focus on personal development in a way they couldn’t when they were younger.
Sir Rod Stewart, 74, typified this “seize the moment” mindset when he became the oldest male solo artist to have a number one album in the UK. The media campaign took an innovative, personalised approach to engage the 55-plus fan base who were active across social channels. This strategy helped Sir Rod top the charts, beating the considerably more youthful Stormzy, Harry Styles and Lewis Capaldi.
Smart marketers need to recognise how to harness this newfound freedom and zest for life. Instead of capping target audiences at 55, they should eye up new product launches to supersize boomer-fuelled brand growth. Ideally this will be underpinned by an appreciation of the life moments that matter most to boomers, such as the arrival of a first grandchild, to reinforce a sense of emotional connection.
Recognising the intergenerational bond
The idea that boomers are “at war” with younger generations over issues such as Brexit is offensive – and palpably untrue. Our research reveals that most boomers are parents of millennials, and so they are fully sympathetic to the barriers that their offspring face.
Not only that, but many were pioneers in movements such as second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s. They appreciate how their sons and daughters are picking up the baton in struggles such as #MeToo.
Instead of playing up generational divisions, brands should celebrate the moments where boomers and millennials help each other out. US insurance brand Progressive’s funny yet touching viral video series about how we all become our parents is a great example of this intergenerational dialogue.
Far from the conservative, uncaring and cut-off demographic that they are so often depicted as in popular culture, boomers are multifaceted, with a wide range of political views and plenty of empathy for younger generations. But, at the same time, many feel wounded by age discrimination made worse by the impact of Covid. Brands who recognise this and work to rebalance the scales will be rewarded with loyalty and attention that’s hard-won in today’s frenetic world.
* Born in 1942, Biden is just outside the boomer generation.
Tara Watkins and Sam Barton are insights lead and insights director at the7stars
Photos: Getty Images