Consumers Over 50: Finally, Too Many to Ignore

Stephen Reily, Founder and CEO, Vibrant Nation

For almost 20 years, demographers and self-described Boomer experts have been complaining that brands don’t pay enough attention to aging consumers.  At each landmark Boomer birthday (Boomers turning 50, Boomers turning 60, and most recently, in 2011: Boomers turning 65) a fresh round of complaints rises up, as though complaints were more likely than data to change the way brand marketers work.

I’ve always felt that brand managers would finally pay attention to consumers over 50 when they could no longer deny that a substantial amount of their sales were being made to people in their 50s.

I think that moment may finally have come.

Why would 2011 mark the year that marketers start investing in their Boomer consumers?

Not because this is the year when the first Baby Boomers start turning 65; there aren’t enough at that end of the Boomer bubble to matter.

But the average Baby Boomer is now 54, and the largest group of Boomers is aged 50-55.

There are more Americans aged 51 today than any other age.

In the coming election cycle, Americans 45 and older will represent a majority of the voting-age population for the very first time.  As political advisor E. Mark Braden said, “The center of American politics gets older.”

The center of American consumerism gets older, too.

Brand Managers are Reactionaries, not Visionaries

Brand managers base their annual plans on what they learn from IRI, Nielsen and other sources of consumer data.  Anyone reviewing sales data in 2011 must be seeing that a giant number of their customers (in almost any conceivable category) are in their 50s (and even if their 60s). Not just some of them, but most of them.

Demographers would like to see people make plans for the future.  Brand managers (like politicians) make plans for the present.  I think Boomer experts were wrong to expect brand managers to lead the way.  But brand managers are really good at responding to facts that they can no longer deny.

While it’s too early to predict that this long-awaited moment has arrived, I have seen much evidence over the last year that mainstream marketers are, in fact, working to target people over 45 – territory they previously left untended.

Marketers at CPG giants like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Clorox, Procter & Gamble, and General Mills are now investing resources in researching and targeting Baby Boomers (now aged 47-65). Google is helping advertisers understand the ways to reach midlife consumers through search. And mainstream retailers like CVS and Best Buy are building growth strategies around consumers over 50.

Consumer Marketing as Democracy

The consumer economy is an interesting form of democracy.  Just as voters change political results through their numbers, previously ignored consumer segment change the world of brand marketing through their numbers, too.

Marketers started paying more attention to Hispanic families when data told them that those families are producing more than 25% of the new children born in the U.S.

And marketers may finally pay attention to the 50+ population when those consumers (now more than one-third of our adult population) are generating a corresponding amount of their sales.

The average voter is 45+.  And so is the average consumer.   The brands that win the most business from midlife consumers will be the ones who directly address and respond to their consumer passions and needs.