Boomers and Beyond: Targeting the 50-Plus Audience Online

Before I begin this week’s column, I’d like to bid a very fond farewell to ClickZ’s long-time captain of the ship, Rebecca Lieb, a role model, mentor, and friend for many years. Rebecca, it’s important I publicly wish you the very best!

Speaking of moving on, there’s plenty of talk these days about the aging of American’s population and the impact the retiring Baby Boomer generation will have on us as a country (so long, Social Security!). According to a survey by The Media Audit, the percentage of “graying and affluent” households continues to rise higher than ever, with 30 percent of retired adults having cash, stocks, and CDs valued at more than $100,000. More than half of this 50-plus audience made at least one online purchase in the past 12 months, which was an increase of 65.6 percent over the previous term.

The Pew Internet’s most recent figures show that 72 percent of those aged 50 to 64 use the Internet. Pew also finds that 82 percent of online adults aged 50-plus research health and wellness information online.

Jupiter Research finds that boomers represent the largest population of “super Net vets”; 72 percent of boomers have been online five or more years, and 53 percent of online boomers are women. Though their top online activities predominantly mirrored those of non-boomers, boomers exceeded non-boomers in their degree of online research of products and services, and boomers tend to respond better to online sweepstakes. When it comes to online communications, boomers are very e-mail reliant and use less instant messaging and chat.

According to a new Yahoo audience insights study, boomers “live a 49-hour day,” 15 hours of which are spent interacting with technology and media (4 percent of time includes online/console games, online journals/blogs, e-mail, and online music; 22 percent of time with media includes three hours using the Internet). president and CEO Herschel Peddicord shared his insights about online boomers:

  • Within their online activities, boomers like financial planning, healthcare, and games; only recently do they seem to be warming to social networking.
  • Boomers are savvy buyers, but they’ve been fooled enough times in their lives that they are very cautious about advertising. Blinking ads that say “you’ve won a free PC” don’t get clicked because boomers aren’t that gullible. Marketing to boomers must be accomplished by embedding ads into content and as a part of the content; it shouldn’t look or sound like an ad.
  • Weather, traditional news, and food sites appeal to boomers.

I’ve learned a few things of my own in our eight years advertising to online boomers for such things as personal finances, apparel, healthcare, and retirement planning:

  • Boomers are voracious readers. They definitely like content, be it news and information, do-it-yourself tips, lifestyle planning and travel, or recipes. Boomers are curious but pragmatic.
  • Boomers respond to special offers but not gimmicks. They’ve got money, but they’ll wait for a deal rather than be as impulsive as their younger counterparts.
  • Boomers, who are living longer, have multiple levels of health concerns for themselves, their aging parents, and their children. Just about all things health and wellness attract boomers.
  • While both sexes of boomers use the Internet, women seem more likely to drive a broad variety of actions and purchasing decisions, while men more narrow ones.

Wendy Borow-Johnson, president of media for the new social community site for boomers,, has this to add:

  • Agencies must recognize that boomers don’t consider themselves seniors, so marketing to boomers has to be different than marketing to seniors.
  • Imagery and messaging is key. Ads shouldn’t be filled with images of gray hair and golf-course communities. Look at celebrities like Jane Seymour, Diane Keaton, and Al Gore; they aren’t gray and they’re certainly very active.
  • Boomers are brand conscious and brand loyal, but don’t just “sell them.” Figure out ways to show the brand attributes and engage boomers.
  • Boomers socialize online differently than the18 to 34 year olds, who socialize just to socialize. Boomers want to connect around common interests and needs.

Frankly, what I like about advertising to boomers is they have an attention span greater than 10 seconds. You can actually say something meaningful and appeal to a boomer.

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