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Super Bowl Ads: Why Are Boomers Being Sidelined?

Advertisers tend to ignore 50+ consumers and their buying power. Madison Avenue could score big if it grasped these seven boomer motivations

By Jim Gilmartin | January 30, 2013
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Jim Gilmartin is an expert on marketing and sales to boomers and a principal at Coming of Age, which provides interactive/online marketing services to clients eager to connect with boomers and senior customers. His blog is at www.comingofage.com/target-market-insights.

With the Super Bowl and its buzzy new commercials coming up on Sunday, I’ve been thinking about how amazing it is that the vast majority of TV advertisers continually target 18- to 49-year-olds almost exclusively. Boomers (currently age 49 to 67) are typically invisible, resulting in significant missed opportunities and annoyed potential customers.

Advertising people explain this by saying that to lock in brand loyalty they have to get to consumers early — older customers, experts say, don't change brands easily.

Ignoring America’s No. 1 Consumer Group

But the truth is that, at 80 million strong, boomers represent the single largest consumer group in America. Yet advertisers gear less than 5 percent of advertising toward them, according to Nielsen.

(MORE: How Watching Football Can Make You More Spiritual)

So, with the average 30-second Super Bowl commercial costing around $3.8 million, chances are you won’t see many spots featuring or targeting consumers in their 50s and 60s. Never mind that most people say half or more of their Super Bowl conversations the day after the game are about the ads, according to the market research firm Lab42.

Which Commercials Connect With Boomers

What should advertisers do to attract lucrative boomer customers?

They ought to take an inclusive, not exclusive, creative approach by featuring boomers in commercials, along with younger people. More important, they should learn about who boomers are — and keep in mind that the over-49 crowd is not all alike.

TV advertisers could better communicate with, and ultimately sell to, the New Customer Majority if they understood these seven boomer attributes:

1. We demand facts. Boomers (and seniors) tend to be less responsive to sweeping claims in marketing messages as they age. Hyperbole turns us off.

If we’re interested in considering a purchase, we want unadorned facts — and more of them — than we did earlier in life. Years of buying have equipped us with the knowledge of what to look for and the information we need to spend intelligently. However, we often don’t ask for facts until a product has emotionally intrigued us.

2. First impressions are more likely to be permanent compared with younger consumers. Boomers tend to be quicker than people in their 20s and 30s to reflect a lack of interest in a product or a negative reaction.

(MORE: Fiftysomething Diet: 5 Super Healthy Bowls)

But when advertisers are able to embed positive first impressions deep in the emotions of older people, they often find we're more faithful than younger customers.

3. We’re less self-oriented and more altruistic than the younger generation, too. As a result, boomers are more likely to respond to marketing appeals reflecting altruistic values.

This tracks with the common middle-age shift toward stronger spiritual values and a greater concern for others. As our altruistic motivations become stronger, narcissistic and materialistic values wane in influence.

4. We spend more time making purchasing decisions. Boomers and seniors often ignore such time-urgency sells as: “Offer good until ... ” Generally, we have a “time is not of the essence” attitude, especially if we're retired.

5. We see fewer differences between competing products. Boomers typically believe most items in a category are pretty much the same, despite marketers’ claims to the contrary.

Younger customers, by contrast, tend to assert robustly the differences between a product they prefer and its competitors — even when they don’t exist. In beer tasting tests, for example, young customers often can’t distinguish their favorite brews from others.

(MORE: A Female Sports Fan’s Notes)

6. We’re less sensitive to price and more sensitive to value. For boomers and seniors, value is often an existential exercise. We combine our spiritual, intellectual and tangible values when deciding if a product is worth buying. The purchase experience becomes a projection of our whole being.

7. We’re interested in much more than just a product’s features and benefits. Research has shown that emotions are the major drivers of boomer purchasing decisions.

Advertisers need to tell us a story. Whoever tells it best will win. That's something they should remember on Super Bowl Sunday.

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