Marketing’s Oldest Old Wives’ Tale
by Bob Hoffman (@adcontrarian), San Francisco Bay There a few themes that keep popping up in this column. They are:
1. Misconceptions about “branding” and how brands are built
2. The folly of listening to “marketing experts”
3. The over-promise of online advertising
4. The over-promise of social media
5. The “death of advertising,” “death of TV,” and “death of marketing” nonsense
6. The chronic, silly belief in “the thing that will change everything”
7. The foolishness of marketers’ obsession with young people
Over the past few weeks I’ve written a number of posts about #7. But I haven’t really dealt with the main thesis that drives marketers to focus on young people when every trend in demographics and economics points to people over 50 as the drivers of consumer spending.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, here are the key facts:
- Over 70% of the wealth in the U.S. is controlled by people over 50.
- Half of all consumer spending is done by people over 50.
- People over 50 have an average net worth 3 times that of younger generations
- They account for 55% of consumer packaged goods sales and dominate 94% of CPG categories
- Baby boomers spend an average of $650/month on technology, more than either Gen X or Gen Y
- Younger boomers outspend younger adults in every major category
- Baby boomers are the Internet’s largest constituency
- Between now and 2030, the population over 50 will grow at about three times the rate of people 18-49
- They buy over 60% of all new cars
- They are the target for 5% of all advertising.
So the question is, if people over 50 are so economically dominant, how can it be that, as Forbes says, they are “the most neglected wealthy people in the history of marketing.”
There are a number of reasons. In a recent post entitled The Invincible Blindness Of Advertisers, I mentioned a few of the fictitious beliefs that drive this, including:
- People over 50 are already too brand loyal to convert
- People over 50 are too price-conscious
- People over 50 don’t spend much
- There is a “lifetime value” in targeting young people
It’s all nonsense. But perhaps the largest delusion about people over 50 is that they want to be like young people.
Do they want to feel young? Yes. Do they want to be like young people? No. This is a distinction that seems to be completely lost on marketers.
The baby boom is Barack Obama and Tom Hanks. It is Bruce Springsteen and Condoleezza Rice and Yo-Yo Ma and Steve Jobs. It’s Stephen Spielberg and Magic Johnson and Jonathan Franzen and Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Seinfeld.
The idea that these people and their contemporaries want to be like a 25-year old barista or a doofus college frat boy is absurd. The belief that they aspire to be like the knuckleheads who inhabit Bud Light, or Taco Bell, or KFC ads is beyond ridiculous.
The marketing industry does not understand this. They think of baby boomers as grandma and grandpa. They are not. They invented the personal computer. They grew up listening to the Rolling Stones and smoking weed. They didn’t invent sex, but they invented the sexual revolution.
And yet, the idea that people over 50 want to be like young people is the hopelessly out-of-date fiction that the advertising and marketing industry clings to while they waste hundreds of millions of dollars pandering to people who don’t and won’t buy their products.
– The Ad Contrarian is Bob Hoffman, ceo of Hoffman/Lewis advertising in San Francisco and St. Louis. Hoffman is the author of The Ad Contrarian and 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising. Reprinted from his blog The Ad Contrarian.
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