Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Let’s Hear it for the Boomers

This year the first of the baby boomers will hit retirement. They’re the wealthiest generation in history, the first mass market, and in many ways the main shapers of the world as we know it. The “Me Generation” is coming of age.

Radically hopeful and driven by an unbridled optimism for what the world can be, boomers have made an indelible mark on every facet of modern life over the last 65 years. Culture, politics, religion, relationships, markets and movements have been redefined by this generation.

Boomers enjoy life and that’s reflected in their spending patterns. Spending by the 116 million US consumers aged 50+ topped $2.9 trillion in 2009. That’s up 45% over the last 10 years. By comparison, $3.3 billion was spent by the 182 million US consumers under 50, an increase of only 6% over the decade, according to an analysis commissioned by USA Today.

The Me Generation is also the We Generation. A 2010 study found that close to half (47%) of American internet users aged 50-64 now use social media – up 88% from the previous year. And US Facebook users aged 55+ grew from about one million in early 2009 to 10 million in early 2010 according to Not bad for a bunch of squares.

The boomers are doing what they do best: Redefining long-held cultural expectations. This includes defying conventional thinking that says older people tend to spend less, can only be reached through traditional media, or in fact are homogeneous in any way.

The only real rule for brands that want to stay relevant to the boomers is that nobody wants to be reminded that they’re getting on (the Wall St. Journal recently ran a very good item on this). Boomers have never believed in limits, so any suggestion that you’re slowing down or less than fully capable is anathema. This is a generation that believes in dreams and adventure.

Heads up to marketers: Don’t get too distracted by Gen-Y, whose loud and constant assertion is that the world is all about them. The generation that made love its rallying cry is still crying out for it.