Ad Industry Acting its Age?

Discussion
May 16, 2011
Tom Ryan

Madison Avenue’s obsession with youth appears to be fading. Many
brands are said to be switching to targeting a much broader audience, including
those over the age of 55.

Examples given in a New York Times article include
youthful brands like Jeep and Shape-ups by Skechers advertising in AARP
The Magazine
. But TV networks, introducing their fall programming lineups this
week, are also pushing for better advertising rates for shows reaching older
audiences.

Shows targeting younger generations have received hefty advertising
rate premiums since the sixties when ABC found success with programs like “Batman” and “Mod
Squad.”

Wrote the Times’ TV industry reporter Bill Carter, “The idea
caught on, and even as the boomer generation grew older, advertisers continued
to court younger viewers — first on the theory that they had not yet
established brand loyalty, then because they were harder to reach than mature
viewers who watched far more television.”

Since then, the networks have
aimed at two main groups: those between 18 and 49 and 25 to 54.

But targeting
those over 55 has become a bigger part of the discussion partly because the
old are recently doing better in the wallet. Those between 55 and 64 have significantly
lower underemployment rates and much higher median weekly earnings than two
particularly coveted groups, 20 to 24 and 25 to 34.

Moreover, maturing boomers
are also spending on categories not traditionally associated with older people.
A study on “Alpha Boomers” by NBC found
55 to 64 year-olds were just as likely as those 18 to 34 to have high-definition
televisions, digital video recorders and broadband service. The older generation
also spends more than the average on categories including home improvement,
large appliances, casual dining and cosmetics.

“People still think of their grandparents when they were 60 wearing
comfort shoes and baggy chinos,” Alan Wurtzel, NBC Universal’s president
of research, told The Wall Street Journal. “These guys are just fundamentally
different.”

The networks are also looking for more balanced ad rates as
the average age of the TV viewer has crept up in recent years.

Still, the Journal article noted that most marketers “prefer to reach
young consumers, whose buying preferences can make a product or service cool
so that it eventually catches on with older buyers.” They are also said
to be prime targets for mortgages, car loans and investment advice.

But the Times article inferred that brands can no longer ignore the old. Brent Bouchez, the
founder of Agency Five-0, said a big misconception is that older boomers want
to be young. He recently stopped asking for Ketel One at bars after the vodka
brand shifted to a younger-advertising tone. Mr. Bouchez said, “I
don’t want to look like the 53-year-old who’s trying to look 30.”

Discussion Questions: Has the ad industry made a fundamental mistake in focusing on younger consumers all these years? Should brands be shifting their focus to cover a broader range of consumers, including those over the age of 55?

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17 Comments on "Ad Industry Acting its Age?"


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Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 11 months ago

The country is getting older and wealth tends be concentrated in the hands of older people. Advertisers’ youth obsession makes sense from several angles (more impressionable, the chance to develop a lifetime customer, and giving a brand a “young” cachet can also make it more appealing to older consumers), but simple demographics suggest marketing and branding aimed at older customers also makes a lot of sense.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 11 months ago

The ad industry focuses on what they think they see. The question is, have they developed cataracts? Everyone wants their own identity, not just young people. So let’s include everyone who spends enough bucks these days.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 11 months ago

It’s never a mistake to pay attention to the next generation of consumers. In the case of Gen Y, however, I think there was a tremendous amount of hyperbole surrounding their behavior as consumers.

There’s no question that while the money tap was running, Gen Y was spending at a disproportionate rate compared to their parents at the same age. However, their parents were also spending a manner disproportionate to any other generation and in the process, fueling much of Gen Y’s shopping activity.

Now that the reality of tight credit and an anemic job market are setting in, marketers are discovering that Gen Y might not be the panacea they thought it would be.

Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

I don’t think that “youth positioning” is a mistake per se, if it helps a brand become more aspirational to a broader audience or if it is clearly targeted to the 25-49 age group. However, it’s no secret that Baby Boomers continue to be the largest and highest-spending demographic out there. We haven’t been ignored in terms of CPG product development or retail formats, but marketing to this audience has been strangely quiet outside of niche products and programming. We’ll see whether the changes described in the article are a passing fad or a long-term trend driven by pure economic interest on the part of advertisers.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

I have seen a change in brand advertising focusing more lately on the older generation with ads specifically for different meds usually taken by an older group (of which I am a member). Cialis and Viagra are also increasing their visibility to the older crowd. Yes, this is where the money is supposed to be; and I wish that were always the case. But it is not. These ads are focusing on problems usually centered among those aging but wanting to stay young. I have also noticed a strong change of balance in those appearing in many ads to a more racially balanced stereotype. Again, the over 55 crowd is the winner here.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

If primarily focusing efforts on one part of the market is a mistake, then the industry has made a mistake and is about to make another mistake. Yes, the boomer generation has been a big bulge and has great purchasing power. However, they were not the only market spending money in significant numbers. Depending upon how the Millenials are defined, that cohort is as large or larger than the boomer cohort.

Shifting advertising to focus on older boomers to the exclusion of Millenials is a mistake because the Millenials are still forming their brand presences. Millenials and Boomers are not the same market and can not be targeted the same way. Companies are being forced to choose specific markets to target, but this needs to be done with an understanding that choosing to target one market may be excluding another, equally large, market.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Recruiting ads that show a diverse workforce attract a diverse applicant pool.
Applied to all advertising, if you want to attract a different audience you need to mirror that audience in your advertising. Plain and simple.

Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

It can’t be said that ad agencies made a mistake all those years if we consider how many millionaires enjoyed their successes in the industry despite their “youthful” strategies. However, we can say that it’s about time they start paying attention to us geezers. Remember, it took a long while for admen to acknowledge working women and the men who buy groceries.

Boomers may remain a missed opportunity if ad agencies don’t direct their media placements properly. Media buyers tend to select their media preferences (happens all the time). If they are under 30 (aren’t they?), the Boomer messages will disappear. It’s happened before.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

In a country where aging Boomers still think they are teenagers, there’s nothing wrong with paying attention to youth (regardless of chronological age).

To paraphrase H. L. Mencken, “Nobody every went broke overestimating the American public’s collective appetite for denial.”

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Hello! Newsflash!!! Us old folks 45-64 have all the money and most college grads are back living with their parents, as they can’t find work or afford a small apartment. We were young once, and don’t mind spending money on nice stuff, but we are smarter shoppers, and will take more time on big ticket items before a purchase is made.

I’d like to look 25 again, but it isn’t going to happen, so I don’t mind buying nice stuff if it is promoted properly, and marketers should never forget where their bread is buttered.

Eventually the Gen Xers will gain the upper hand financially but for now, I’d spend more marketing dollars on us, and it will trickle down to the younger crowd, as we probably will end up buying the stuff for our kids anyway.

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Tom! Fine writer of this article! How could you?

“But targeting those over 55 has become a bigger part of the discussion partly because THE OLD are recently doing better in the wallet.”

Okay, so the capital letters are mine, but…”the old???” Meaning over 55? How about “older folk” as a euphemism here? I’ve not been cut to the quick this badly since the day I was given my first senior discount…without asking for it.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

There’s nothing wrong with having a broad appeal and there’s certainly a number of ways to achieve it. A great example is the “Imported from Detroit” campaign from Chrysler.

Also, we’ve lost the use of a great sense of humor to have a broad appeal across age groups as well. An example of this is the Walmart camping products commercial and the ‘air horn’.

In both examples, you know exactly what the products are, who is promoting them, and they connect to all age groups across the spectrum.

It’s possible to do both, maintaining a chuckle and at the same time be left with a full connection to both the product and the brand.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

The shift to the largest segment is quite clear. Those over the age of 45 are rapidly becoming the dominant purchasing force in today’s economy. The companies who recognize this first and develop marketing and advertising plans which embrace it will reap the benefits of this type of target market segmentation. Those who don’t will only realize a small portion of their advertising dollars is becoming effective, since their campaign’s reach is minimized.

Doug Garnett
Guest
Doug Garnett
9 years 11 months ago

Although it’s clear the brands should be shifting their focus, it’s unlikely to be effective until clients demand that the advertising industry shifts as well.

Remember, decade upon decade of hyper-focus on the young has created an ad business where people move into new careers at the ripe old age of 32 so they can leave room for yet more inexperienced 20-somethings to take their place. (There are some very savvy 20-somethings. But that’s not what populates the mass of advertising jobs.)

All this to point out that even as companies change their creative briefs, it’s doubtful that they’ll get truly effective advertising for a range of ages. In “theory” the youthful creatives could reach anyone. In reality, the only way the ad business has gotten away with jettisoning experience has been with the myth of marketing to the young.

Alyson Anderson
Guest
Alyson Anderson
9 years 11 months ago

While ad agencies may direct their clients in terms of where ads are being run, ultimately the client needs to decide the targeting strategy. A product, service or store cannot be everything to everyone. It seems that if these stats are really true, businesses need to think long and hard about who their target customer is for that product and spend their money targeting them directly (teens, young professionals, seniors, etc.). Ad agencies may like the short term impact to their revenue flow by this broad targeting, but they will soon find they are up for review if they are in fact suggesting such strategies.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

It’s always smarter to pick a lane in your marketing efforts vs. shotgun blasting your way through the maze. Clarity of target can be liberating for everyone in the company as well.

Besides, if you’re aspirational in your efforts, everyone wants to join in anyway, no matter who you’re targeting. Apple says “youth” pretty fiercely, but my 75 yr old mother-in-law has all their latest stuff. Abercrombie is about ‘youthful exuberance’ but I wear their products and I’m over 100 (according to my daughters).

Having said all that, it’d be great to see a ‘boomer’ campaign work–Gap’s efforts come to mind–other than Viagra, that is. After all, boomers’ expendable income is on the rise as more and more become empty nesters.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 11 months ago

The ad industry didn’t err in targeting younger consumers–they were responding to the era in which they were advertising. But, if the industry continues to target only younger consumers, then it will quickly become a major mistake because they will be ignoring the new era in which they are advertising. Today’s America is one in which seniors (both Boomers and what’s still known as senior citizens) represent the fastest-growing segment of the population. That’s a significant demographic shift that will not be reversed. Moreover, today’s 55+ consumers live more active, varied lifestyles than the seniors of yore.

Advertisers, retailers, CPGers and others are all facing stiff competition and consumers armed with a multitude of brand choices. In this environment, brands must figure out how to successfully serve a range of consumers, from the more traditional younger consumer to the new and very viable aging demographic.

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