Baby boomers key to brand segmentation

Brands popular with baby boomers are using the similarities in attitudes the generation has with a younger demographic to market their products and services across a wider age range.


A person who is a bit rebellious, a keen consumer of media and interested in the next big thing might sound like a teenager but it actually describes how some ’baby boomers’ – people born in the post-Second World War baby boom and who grew up between 1946 and 1964 – are behaving now.

There is so much overlap in the values and attitudes of boomers and ’millennials’ – those born between 1982 and 1996 – that some brands are considering targeting them in the same way. Older consumers often have significant disposable income, while young people are often seen as trendsetting and keen to spend.

WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell tells Marketing Week: “Baby boomers are where the wealth and income is. I don’t know whether you can aim at both boomers and younger groups or whether you have to use more segmented and targeted strategies. But you ignore either at your peril.”

Baby boomers were the original teenagers, which is why the two groups may have similar values, suggests a study by The Sound Research, shown exclusively to Marketing Week. Before the boomer generation reached their teens in the Fifties, the concept of ’teenagers’ didn’t exist. Boomers may now be middle aged, or even approaching retirement, but as the first teenagers, they do not consider themselves old.

Linda Summers, director of product marketing at Skype, aims for both boomers and youngsters in the video-calling brand’s marketing by talking about common experiences, rather than sticking rigidly to demographic targeting.

She says: “Instead of thinking about segments in their traditional sense, we focus on experiences, such as finding out what my children are doing or whether they have done their homework.”

Skype has just launched Facebook Birthdays, which appears to be aimed at younger people, where groups of friends can film themselves singing happy birthday to a friend and then post it on their Facebook page.

But Summers says Skype’s original proposition is about free communication internationally – something that appeals equally to the older as to the younger generations.

Baby boomers are where the wealth and income is. I don’t know whether you can aim at both boomers and younger groups or whether you have to use more segmented and targeted strategies. But you ignore either at your peril

“That was very much centred on grandparents seeing children and grandchildren. The 47-plus age group is pretty well connected and that is driven by parents and grandparents.”

Parents and grandparents combined with the 15to 24-year-old group make up about 50% of Skype’s customers. “Skype has typically had a really broad appeal across the age range,” says Summers. About a fifth of its users are boomers.

Unlike Skype, however, many marketers often miss out on the boomer market, focusing solely on the alluring youth market. Diageo chief marketing officer Andy Fennell has said: “Targeting 18 to 34-year-olds is so outdated. Marketers need to respect and understand consumers over 35 who are adopting new media and staying active.”

Boomers feel they are more up to date with trends than younger people, according to the research. One person in the qualitative study says: “I know a few people in their 20s and 30s who think I am better at the new social media than they are. I am more willing to try new things.”

Use of technology is something that L’Oréal has noticed can benefit baby boomers. Georges-Edouard Dias, senior vice-president of L’Oréal’s digital business, says: “Baby boomers are the core of our business and have grown up with our products. They are technology savvy and we think a lot about them when we design our apps.”

Dias outlines the idea that smartphone apps can help prepare and order regular shopping lists, which provides boomers with more time. He also likes the idea that the new Apple iPhone 4S can record spoken messages. So if someone walks past a shop after it’s shut but wants to remember to buy cosmetics, they can speak into the iPhone, which will save a reminder for them.

In France, L’Oréal has an app called Instant Beauty, where people can scan any of its products to get information on it combined with what their friends are recommending. “The app ’knows’ people and is able to suggest which other products might suit their needs,” says Dias.

And since one research participant claims “I totally embrace technology and can’t wait to get a 3D TV and an iPad”, this may be the right strategy for L’Oréal.

The research also suggests that brands targeting boomers should be looking at helping them get more out of life. While marketers may be tempted to promote the emotional benefits of a particular product, the research suggests they should think more about its practical uses.

Boomers are less likely to have issues with self-esteem than younger generations who might be concerned about what others think of them, so they seek products that fit a functional need rather than fulfilling an emotional one. The research suggests that these people look for product benefits and are keen to make up their own minds about brands.

A brand that fits this mindset is New Balance, which has broad appeal across the age groups but focuses heavily on the functional benefits of its products that promise to help people get more out of life. The business has expanded its range to make sure it brings younger people into the brand, while still appealing to its average European consumer, who is 37 years old.

New Balance EMEA marketing manager Graham Dicken agrees that while people tend to grow older with the brand, it also wants to be relevant to younger people. “We want to grow our brand. We will stay focused on our core proposition of performance and running, but there is an opportunity to introduce the brand to a much younger consumer.”

But brands must be careful when creating specific advertising campaigns for boomers, even if they appeal to many age groups. As one boomer research participant put it: “We’re not slowing down or taking it easy. We have a long, active life ahead of us. It’s not retirement. It’s a second youth.”

“Sneaker heads” and serious runners: how New Balance appeals to both

New Balance offers sports performance and lifestyle products

While nowhere near the size of Adidas or Nike, sportswear brand New Balance still turns over a sizeable $1.78bn (£1.14bn) a year globally and is growing 20% year on year in the EMEA region.

The average age of a European New Balance trainer owner is 37, according to Graham Dicken, the brand’s EMEA marketing manager.

“New Balance tends to go across many age groups. People run from cradle to grave. As soon as people can walk, they can run and there are many people who keep doing it to stay fit,” he says.

New Balance uses a similar strapline to target both the people who are interested in the brand as helping them with sports performance and those who want to buy its retro lifestyle trainers. Its current work focuses on “achieving excellence”.

But the brand has recently become popular among younger trainer enthusiasts or ’sneakerheads’ and its 2012 lifestyle-focused campaign will bring in artists and musicians to “celebrate excellence in their field”.

“Lifestyle is not something we’ve chased. The lifestyle business can go up and down, but performance is the strong foundation. It’s interesting to see how the brand has become accepted by ’sneakerheads’. We’ve been based on function not fashion, but because our brand is hot at the moment, it’s a great opportunity,” says Dicken.

Although the brand wants to hang onto its core audience who have bought its products for a number of years, Dicken sees the raised profile of the brand as a chance to grab some of the younger market too.

“There is an opportunity to introduce the brand to a younger consumer, further down on the high street where we can become broader.” The lifestyle campaign next year will feature in magazines such as Men’s Health, while performance-based ads have been placed in sports-specific titles such as Runner’s World this year.