Baby Boomers and Generation Y: New Audiences, New Avenues

Presented by Craig Rexroad, President, Practical Effect Corporate Communications by David Shoffner

You may not want to admit it, but you have a lot more in common with your parents than you think. Marketing and public relations practitioners picked up on this fact long ago and have been churning out effective product campaigns with ease ever since. By putting their money where their research is, strategists can design one campaign to target your little brother and another aimed at your Uncle Marvin.

Who are "Baby Boomers" and "Generation Y?"

Statistically, baby boomers are defined as any person born between 1944 and 1964 (39 to 55 years old). Generation Y, born between 1977 and 1995, make up a much younger demographic than their post-World War 11, pre-Vietnam counterparts. Together, the two groups comprise more than 60 percent of the U.S. population. Despite their age gap they share many similarities and also many key differences.

Gen-Y is the most ethnically diverse sector of the American population. Because of this diversity, marketing strategies must be tailored accordingly. Gone are the days of one-language press kits. Today, campaigns must be released in many different languages and aimed at many different cultures. In a 2001 campaign for a new line of shoes, Sketchers (the popular footwear manufacturer) had to distribute its press kit in seven different languages in California alone.

As previously mentioned, baby boomers and Gen-Years are 170 million strong. The other 40 percent is made up of children too young to make buying decisions, the elderly and your older brothers and sisters of Generation X, whose spending habits and marketing strategies are a strange amalgam of both baby boomers and Gen-Years.
Why target these two groups?

Since they're the most populous sector (and the most employed sector), it stands to reason that baby boomers and Gen-Years are also the richest sector in America. Together they teamed up to purchase more than $800 billion in goods in 2002. That's more than every third world country combined. Baby boomers and Gen-Y consumers are also brand-centric, which means that once they buy a particular brand they tend to remain loyal to that brand in the future (even though Gen-Y tries hard to maintain their rebellious image by claiming that they "cannot be marketed to"). The two demographics are also media and tech savvy. Of course, Gen-Y is slightly more proficient than baby boomers, but the boomers are narrowing the gap as web-browsing, cell phones and mini-computer PDA's continue to infiltrate mom and dad's workplace.

Here is an example of how different marketing strategies for essentially the same product are used to target both boomers and Gen-Y. Baby boomers are obsessed with status symbols. They want to look cooler, richer and more successful than their neighbors and aren't afraid to spend a few of their hard-earned dollars to show it. With this in mind, Infinity - the maker of fine luxury automobiles worldwide - released the G20, a sleek mid-sized sedan with all the bells and whistles a baby boomer needs to say to the world, "I've worked my butt off for the past 20 years and I deserve this car!" But Gen-Y buyers didn't want to pay a lot for a car and didn't want to be "branded" with their parent’s luxury vehicle. They bought the Nissan Altima - the exact same car, with a different name, a different campaign and about $10,000 lighter on the wallet.
How do you reach these groups?

One of the biggest differences between boomers and Gen-Y can be found in their media choices. In order of most used to least used, baby boomers get their news and entertainment (and consequently their advertisements) from television, newspapers, radio, magazines and the Internet. The baby boomers defined commercial television. Being the first generation raised with television as an entertainment option, commercials were made just for them. It is because of baby boomers that the average sitcom is only 17 minutes long. Boomers also single-handedly keep the newspaper industry alive. Leasing options were also invented for Baby Boomers ("How can I afford this Land Rover and put two kids through college? LEASE!'°).

Generation Y gets their marketing messages from the last place that boomers do - the Internet (followed by radio, cable, television, magazines and newspapers). Media outlets recognize the spending power of Gen-Y (or, in the case of younger Gen-Years, their future spending power) and have modified their age-old methods to meet the demands of this generation. For example, Gen-Y is redefining commercial TV. The younger generation doesn't like commercial breaks (and remember, they don't like being "branded" and marketed to), so product "ads" are being inserted into the programming in the form of not so-cleverly-hidden product placements and program sponsorships (think of all those reality TV shows where the host comes riding up in the latest radically designed on-road, off-road, sport-utility thingy).

Even newspapers are changing their format to attract the attention of 20-something young professionals on the go. Many papers have abandoned advertisements in favor of a "content only" format. Modern newspapers are more colorful and include more entertainment news (USA Today). Even "old faithfuls" like the New York Tunes and the Wall Street Journal have turned their back on decades of "tradition" and have begun using color photos and displays.
Remember the story about the Infinity G20 and the Nissan Altima? Here's another example of creative targeting, this time aimed at different demographics within Generation Y. The younger (and "cooler") Gen-Y didn't want to buy their clothing at the Gap (where Gen-X and older Gen-Y people shopped), so the company that owns the Gap franchise created a different store just for this younger crowd. This new store has the exact same clothes at a much lower price. Its name, of course, is Old Navy. Younger Gen-Y buyers love Old Navy and the company that owns Old Navy and the Gap loves them! They were able to reach out to this youthful audience and grab their loyalty before the competition did.

The "back-door" marketing approach

Over $400 billion in consumer purchases are influenced by 7 to 12 year olds each year. How is this possible'? Simple, if your grade-schooler doesn't want you to buy a mini-van you might just listen to them ("Mom, don't but that, buy this! It's cooler!"). The lesson? Many marketing campaigns aimed at baby boomers can also be aimed at their kids.

A final lesson in "dual-generational" marketing

The same message can be disseminated to old and young generations alike simply by using multiple channels and a slightly different voice. When Sunkist wanted to sell more oranges, they decided to tout the health benefits of their signature fruit. To reach baby boomers (who are much more concerned about their health) Sunkist communicated the advantages of oranges with their campaign ("Just one orange a day provides almost all of your daily allowance of Vitamin C!"). To communicate this same message to Gen-Y, Sunkist created the "Scurvy Boy" campaign. Scurvy Boy was a cartoon character that demonstrated the benefits of oranges in an entertaining and comical fashion. Keeping in mind that Gen-Y doesn't like to be marketed to and might be turned off by overt uses of product names and symbols, the entire "Scurvy Boy" campaign was conducted without the Sunkist brand name or logo. Scurvy Boy caught on and his popularity was growing beyond Sunkist's control. Soon, Scurvy Boy was appearing on T-shirts and skateboard stickers at the X-games (the Gen-Y equivalent of the Olympics) - all without prompting or financial obligation from Sunkist.

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