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In Boomer-Targeted Ads, Stereotypes Are the Norm

But companies may pay the price for unfair representations


Editor’s Note: This guest essay was contributed by Jeff Millman, chief creative officer at GKV, one of the mid-Atlantic’s largest integrated marketing agencies.

OK, boomers are finally getting some love. More marketers have had an overdue epiphany and are attempting to tap into the $800 billion of discretionary income we control. More of us are now showing up in ads that do not require disclaimers about dangerous side effects. This is a good thing. Put us in, coach. Unfortunately, the actual ads, for the most part, are not very good.

The Silver-Haired Fisherman  Vs. The Sky-Diving Grandma

Here’s what’s happening: There was — and still is — a kind of advertising to boomers that displays a scary lack of understanding of our lives. Call it the “Watch Me Be Retired” category of ads. We’re fishing, we’re golfing, we’re painting, we’re gardening while wearing big stupid hats. Cringe-worthy stereotypes driven by lazy creatives and terrible stock photo libraries.

It’s laughable, right? After all, today’s boomers do so much more. We surf! We ride mountain bikes! We rock climb! We also wrestle bears and start hockey fights!

In other words, here we go again. One ridiculous stereotype has been traded for another: Now it’s the super-fit, age-defying, do-it-all boomer who, apparently, never goes inside. Please, wake us when it’s over.

A Word to Big Consumer Brands

If you happen to know any actual people in their 50s and 60s, you know we wear things other than exercise clothes and those stupid little bike helmets. We have varied lives with relationships, favorite songs, credit cards and beer. Certainly, advertising often demands visual shorthand.

But we’ve been marketed to all our lives. We see it coming. We will not reward companies which turn us into caricatures of any kind — even the ones that make us look younger and fitter than we really are.

In the end, appealing to our values rather than our vanity will win our business. (A good example is a TV spot for Kia, which is unfortunately only available with subtitles online but still worth watching. It celebrates the shared wanderlust dreams of a young adult who has just quit his job, sold his possessions and bought a Kia to travel America and his 60-ish father who, in a charming twist, decides to join him in the adventure. Me, I didn’t have the money or the guts to do that when I was young. Still don’t. But it’s a great dream. And I like Kia for keeping it alive.)

Because we’re older and our brains have evolved to a more discerning level (it’s true! Gotta love neuroscience), boomers want honesty, information, authenticity, emotion and, wherever possible, an attachment to a greater good. We’re weird like that.

It’s also worth noting that boomers — again, thanks to our pretty awesome brains — make faster judgments about marketers based on first impressions than do younger consumers. And we’re not big on second chances. So, you do not want to insult our intelligence by stereotyping us.

True as it ever was, we won’t get fooled again.

By Jeff Millman
Jeff Millman is chief creative officer at GKV, one of the mid-Atlantic’s largest integrated marketing firms helping challenger brands succeed for over 35 years and win on their own terms. Millman is the winner of hundreds of advertising awards, and a boomer/senior marketing specialist working on brands like CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services). He also gets ill whenever a classic rock song is used in a commercial.

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