Laurie Sullivan’s January 9 article about a joint study of TNS Compete and the Consumer Electronics Association was welcome proof that brands ignoring the boomers is, well, ignorant. The study, “Greying Gadgets: How Older Americans Shop for and Use Consumer Electronics”, put some teeth behind what many of us have been saying for years—the boomers have more time, more disposable income, and are more likely than you think to buy the goods and services you reserve exclusively for the 18-34 crowd.
According to the study, cell phone use, HDTV and other audiovisual purchases, and the use of search engines and online video are well within the boomers’ wheelhouse. They are actually living brands and consuming information and entertainment just like the youngsters.
Years ago, I developed a television format called “The Far Side of 50” that, at least in my estimation, was a lighthearted and informative magazine format for the over 50 crowd. I pitched it, got good responses on the substance of the show but was then told that “it was about old people” and the ad sales guys would die laughing. Despite my argument that the over fifty crowd buys cars, jeans, toothpaste (and even condoms) and that they keep their money in banks (not under their mattresses), and do all of the things that the 18-34s do (except for facial piercings), the show was a no go.
Fast forward to a few years back and I had a similarly depressing experience. While I was President of a large animation studio, I was lucky enough to work with one of my TV heroes, Norman Lear, on an animated comedy called “Till the Fat Lady Sings”. The show revolved around a series of older characters who congregated each day at a seniors center in Santa Monica. The concept was amazing, the pilot script was vintage Lear (touching, poignant, and VERY funny), and the voice cast was to include Anne Bancroft, Adam Arkin and even Kirk Douglas (who was to play a stroke victim—I dare you not to laugh—HE did). Anyway, great pitches, TV executives whipping out their own hilarious stories of seniors in their lives etc. And then, well, you know. The show was about OLD people. It never sold and to this day haunts me as one of my biggest professional disappointments. I get a shot at working with my TV idol and, well, anyway….
Point is, studies like Greying Gadgets are a great step toward tossing away these antiquated notions about key demographics and target audience. Your target audience should be anyone who can arguably relate to your product or service. The boomers are 100 million strong, have big money, big wants and needs and represent a very big buy potential (again, with the exception of body piercing products. 55 and secret piercings? ugh). If brands start to get it and understand that the boomers have actually seen a computer, worn a pair of jeans, had a glass or 9 of vodka and otherwise are continuing to live and consume, the opportunity to connect with this demo is astounding.
Peter J. Schankowitz