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Op-Ed: Advertisers, Get a Clue – We Boomers Aren’t as Old as You Think We Are

Our op-ed rotation continues, this time with a message to marketers about baby boomers from Beth Hallisy, partner at Cleveland “idea agency” Marcus Thomas. Without further ado, take it away, Beth.

I’ll admit, I’m not particularly proud of how I’m dealing with the new older me.  I always pictured myself aging gracefully like Anjelica Huston’s Clara in Lonesome Dove or Katharine Hepburn’s Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond.  Yet here I sit, staring longingly at the plush, glowing faces of my supposed contemporaries in the Botox and Restylane ads and getting ready to speed dial the spa. Get me some of that!

But how is it that these ads found me all of a sudden?  OK, scratch that, I’ve worked in advertising-related fields for 30 years. I know too well. Still, it’s disheartening when ads for anti-aging cosmetics pop up in the right column of my Facebook page immediately after I update my profile pic.  I mean, can they (and by that, I mean we) track the number of wrinkles per pixel?

I don’t want to just see ads for mature audiences. Yes, my face shows symptoms of aging. I also have arthritis and bursitis and tendonitis. So what-itis?  These are not the things that define me. Sell me something fun once in awhile. Give me some style. Some attitude.

I think I can speak for most Boomers when I say, we’re not living our sixth and seventh decades of life the way our parents did. Advertisers need to recognize that Boomers feel (at some level) like we’re still kids. In fact, I think that’s a good way to label us, if you must label us.

We’re nine-year-old adventurers at heart. We grew up playing outside with rocks and sticks and cans and not coming home until a nightly public service announcement (“Do you know where your children are?” ) prompted our parents to open the front door and holler our names.  We rode our bikes across multiple city borders with the wind blowing our hair—sans helmets, hats, sunscreen or mobile devices. We were free.  And guess what? We still are in our collective heads. We are not the infirmed. We are the inventive, the independent-minded, the far-from-finished.  Oh, and by the way, we have the greatest share of exposable wallet.

The baby boomer market numbers more than 77 million and spends $2 trillion annually. Advertisers know this. But for some reason, not too many outside the pharmaceutical and cruise industries are putting their money where the data is. It’s a big mistake.

The experts in generational typecasting seem to agree on a few things:  Boomers reject rules (yes!); we’re pragmatic, but idealistic (I’ll go along with that); we’re raised with a sense of entitlement (not true-that’s Gen X); we are unlikely to be anything like the elderly of today (that’s what I’m trying to say); and we are difficult to define (maybe you could expand the box).

I just spent a weekend with 12 friends from my old college days.  It was a 30-year reunion of sorts. Admittedly, my first reaction when I saw everyone was, holy crap, these people are old. (Let’s be fair about this. I had just looked at photos of them when they were all 20-something. A body does change in three decades.)

Anyway, I’m here to tell you, we had a blast. It was truly as though time had stopped, even reversed (if you didn’t look at faces too closely). It was the coolest thing. Kind of Big Chill-like, we all thought, but without the dead body and nowhere near the drama or recreational drugs. I couldn’t decide if I was more like Sarah (Glenn Close)  or Meg (Mary Kay Place) but since they both had their turn with Howard (the adorable Kevin Klein), it didn’t much matter.

My point is we rallied. We dressed like fashionistas. We ate like epicureans. We partied like rock stars. We had the moves like Jagger.  Not once did we talk about over-the-counter medication, adult diapers, or polka cruises. At 50+, my (not so) old friends are skiing, skateboarding, parasailing, rollerblading, rock climbing, biking, hiking, and traveling the world, often without falling down or pulling a single muscle. And we’re still, getting it on, as only a Boomer can.

Talk to us like you know us. Please.

 

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