VIRGNIA BEACH, Va. -- Baby boomers are now considered the most powerful consumers in the marketplace. That's a big turnaround because for years, marketing efforts focused on young adults.
Linda Salzman of Virginia Beach, Va., is just one example of why this generation is not one to be ignored.
Salzman clearly loves being a grandmother, but she is quick to point out that that does not mean she is over the hill.
"I've always believed that age is just that, it's a number. I'm 56, but it doesn't dictate my life to me," she told CBN News.
Salzman loves to travel and have lots of fun without playing the traditional part of a grandma. That includes not dressing like a 56-year-old.
"Tell you the truth, I get a lot of things from the junior department," she said.
"I've tried to look in more my age group and it just doesn't work for me. I put it on and I'm like, 'who is that cause it is not me,'" she commented.
The Boomer Consumer
Salzman's views appear to represent the overall attitude of baby boomers, the term given to the generation following World War II born between 1946 and 1964.
According to the Boomer Project, there are some 77 million baby boomers in the United States. Three quarters of them consider themselves middle-aged or younger.
"Actually I don't identify with the seniors at all," Salzman remarked. "When I was 25, I thought 50-something was old. Now that I'm 56, 80 doesn't even sound old."
Author Matt Thornhill wrote about the attitude of Boomers and much more in his book Boomer Consumer: Valuable Insights into the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of today's Baby Boomers.
He is also founder of the Boomer Project in Richmond, Va.
"They're doing things at age 60 that no one's ever done before. My favorite example is that in 2009, at age 60, Bruce Springstein did 79 live tour events," he said.
"And he earned more revenue in his concert tour than did Coldplay and the Jonas brothers combined that same year," he said.
Thornhill said this phenomenon has caught the advertising industry by surprise.
"It's truly amazing that marketers who are supposed to be on top of consumer behavior and understand how to motivate consumers to buy things have missed this, continue to miss it in vast quantities," he told CBN News.
An Invisible Goldmine?
He pointed out that the target age for marketing campaigns has always been the ages of 18 to 49.
"If you were 50, most marketers treated you as if you were either invisible, dead, or just an old person, a senior citizen," he told CBN News.
"I'm 51 myself and it's like, 'Wait a second, I'm still a consumer. I still buy things. I'm not just in the market for a cadillac or depends,'" Thornhill said.
Thornhill explained that there has been a long-standing belief in advertising and marketing that you have to reach young people, that their brand decisions and brand impressions and brand commitments are made when they are young.
He said that might be true for a person's brand of soap, but for most products, most services, people change brands all the time as they grow older.
The Boomer Project found that Americans over the age of 65 will increase from 40 million in 2010 to more than 70 million in 2020.
Thornhill said that could translate into huge profits for some companies.
"They spend $3.5 trillion annually on goods and services, people under 45 about 2.3 trillion," he noted.
"So why would you not be marketing to the one who spends at least 1.2 trillion more than the younger folks?" he asked.
Boomers and the Media
According to a recent American Time Use survey, retirees spend almost four hours per weekday in front of the TV. That is a full 75 minutes more screen time each day than the population as a whole.
Thornhill said baby boomers also consume a lot of mass media.
"Not only do they watch TV, they read magazines. They read these things called newspapers, which no one under 40 reads," he said.
"They drive around in cars, listen to the radio. They see billboards. They're on the Internet," he continued.
According to Thornhill, the boomer generation is at that stage in life in which they have time and money. They are at their peak earning years. Their kids are either in college or have finished college.
They are redecorating their homes. They are spending money on travel and tourism. They are spending money on furniture and all sorts of things.
The Tech Savvy Boomer
David Weigelt, author of the book, Dot Boom: Marketing to Baby Boomers through Meaningful Online Engagement, said that boomers are the fastest growing groups on social media.
"Eighty percent of boomers are now using some form of a smart phone, and we just think that's going to be huge in terms of how marketers reach and engage these consumers," he explained
"I have everything," Salzman told CBN News. "I have an iPhone. I have an iPad, and I have an iPod. And the reason for that is I love it. I love gadgets."
"I started off with the iPod, that was the first one," she said. "But also it helps me and my grandchildren to stay connected."
Weigelt said his grandmother accompanied him to AARP's convention in Orlando, Fla., last year. He was surprised to see energy drinks being distributed.
"She was struck most by these energy drinks, so the energy drinks that we think are for the young, you know are actually targeting boomers and seniors as well," he explained.
Thornhill said if companies are smart they will follow suit.
"So if you want to grow your company, you want to sell more candy bars, if you want to sell more cars, if you want to sell more anything, you have to figure out how do I include 50-plus in my marketing," he said.
"If I don't, I'm going to lose out," he warned. "I'm going to shrink my business and not grow my business."
--Originally aired July 22, 2011.