Marketers refine ways to target a generation that insists on remaining forever young.
The first baby boomers turned 60 in 2006, marking well over half a century since marketers have drooled over how to capture this generation's attention.
Jerry Shereshewsky, 62, says Madison Avenue doesn't get it. "There are a lot of people who think they're advertising to this audience. In many cases, they are not. What they've mostly done is put a person with gray hair in the ads," says Shereshewsky, who recently wrapped up a nine-year gig as Yahoo's Madison Avenue liaison.
Everyone knows that not every baby boomer dropped acid, made love instead of war, or voted for George McGovern.
Like others, Shereshewsky dismisses attempts to market to those aged 43 to 62 based on their birth date, the music they embraced, or the bell-bottoms and love beads they wore. Marketers, he insists, must reach boomers based on their current life stage.
What's a life stage? Becoming a grandparent is one that Shereshewsky has targeted as CEO of a start-up site, Grandparents.com. The property has scored some modest wins, convincing toy maker Hasbro and baby products company Johnson & Johnson to advertise on the site. Grandparents, after all, love to shop for their grandchildren. And there are 70 million grandparents in the United States, and many more to come.
Shereshewsky ticks off three significant life stages. "Brides, babies, and bubbes," he says, the latter being Yiddish for grandmothers. "These life stages are totally different but also totally like each other."
How so? A young woman about to get married must prepare for a wedding. "You're about to spend a lot of money on yourself in a very public way -- in front of friends, family, and your mother-in-law," he says. As such, the bride doesn't want to take any financial or social risks and turns to "Modern Bride Magazine," The Knot, and other resources for help and validation. Expectant parents seek similar help from parenting magazines and Web sites.
"When you have the opportunity to get know people's needs state, that's marketing nirvana," says the father of two adult children and an aspiring grandfather.
"Grandparents.com has made a smart decision to focus on a life stage," says David Weigelt, a 38-year-old marketing strategist and partner at Immersion Active, a digital marketing agency not affiliated with Grandparents.com. Three years ago, the Frederick, MD, company began to specialize in the "mature market," which it defines as adults aged 50 and older.
Grandparents.com, he says, stands in stark contrast to many other sites targeting their audiences by age. Most notable is Eons, a social network that carries the tagline "Lovin' life on the flip side of 50."
Clearly, Eons' advertisers are aiming for a distinct sector. "Wireless, but easy. Easy to use menu with large type," reads a Verizon Wireless ad. From Kraft Foods' South Beach Living brand comes the ad: "You've tried dieting. And it's tried you. Now try living."
But Eons may be trying to reach an audience that's too broad.
"Jeff Taylor [Eons CEO] has done a lot of great things. I don't think he was dot-com foolish about this site. But the model is showing everyone that people don't want to be herded up in a room to talk about anything because they're of a certain age or age range," Weigelt , says, acknowledging that some topics, such as the one for singles, appear to do better than others.
Perry Allison, sales VP at Eons, insists the company's formula works. "Our brand is really about people. While it's a fairly broad swath, within our communities people are connecting around their passions," the 54-year-old says, explaining that music, books, antique cars, singles, and health and wellness are among the site's more popular topics.
Andy Garvin is slicing the boomer demographic another way with the planned launch early this year of PreRetirementLife.com. "We think the concept of being in pre-retirement is the only English word for the life stage of 50 to 64," says Garvin, 62, who founded and headed up market research firm FIND/SVP until his own pre-retirement.
In beta, Garvin's site has lined up 75 advertisers, including Citibank Home Equity, ForSalebyOwner.com, and SpaFinder for its so-called virtual expo.
Call Garvin old-fashioned, but he's not embracing the social network approach. "Our site has a feeling of being a resource [rather] than being a social networking or fun site. It's a site that's going to give you some solutions. It's easy to navigate. It's a guide," he says.
Shereshewsky recognizes other factors marketers must consider with baby boomers. For instance, they're more guarded about their privacy than younger people. "They are not so interested in flaunting their underwear in front of a perfect stranger. They're not interested in blurting out their inner most thoughts or fantasies," he says. Unless you're a baby boomer...like Madonna.
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Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.
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