The official name for the demographic cohort born roughly between 1945 and 1957 is the Baby Boomers, but perhaps a better description would be the Python Generation. Because from a demographic and particularly a marketing standpoint their progress through America’s culture and economy resembles nothing more closely than the progress of a pig, dog or other small animal as a very visible lump down a python’s digestive tract. They are, as Lori Bitter writes for MediaPost, “the generation of consumers that set Madison Avenue’s expectation that life changes created consumer activity.”
In the late 1940s and early ’50s, they gave rise to the growth of commercial television and all sorts of toy fads from Mr. Potato Head to Hula Hoops to Davy Crockett hats.
In the ’60s, they were the Great Youth Market, the generation of drugs, sex rock and roll. In the ’70s, the Me Generation, and in the ’80s the generation that was going to Have It All.
You get the point.
But now that the first of the Python Generation has moved far enough down towards the tail to reach retirement age, they’re not simply dissolving away. Instead, they’re becoming less like a bloc and more like bunches of individuals.
“Rather than moving through life in the linear lifestyle of the World War II Generation” says Bitter, they’re “moving in and out of a variety of life stages in a dynamic fashion. Each of these life stage changes creates unique consumer opportunities.”
Most prominent among those new opportunities are retraining or going back to school, giving or receiving care and grandparenting.
Opportunity #1: Grandparenting
Nationwide, there are some 70 million grandparents, comprising almost 40 percent of U.S. households. In the Richmond area, there are 80,059 households, 40 percent of which is about 32, 024. When you consider that the average household size is two people, the arithmetic shows about 62,048 grandparents.
And they’re not your classic Norman Rockwell, rocking chair grandparents, either. Their average age is 48 (so they’re not all Boomers), and, according to Bitter, they’re “wired and working.”
Richmond advertisers ignore an audience this size at their peril – especially because nationally they spend over $50 billion a year on their grandkids for toys, for clothes, for trips, for Happy Meals, for computers or accessories, for their college educations. Does this suggest any marketing opportunities?
Opportunity #2: Learning and working
From their mid-40s to age 90, Boomers are going back to school – some to train themselves for a second career, some to keep current in their first one, some to get that degree they never had time for when they were younger. Here’s a marketing opportunity not only for Richmond’s traditional colleges and unviersities, but for all the working-adult-oriented, profit-making ones that are springing up here as well.
Many of the second careers involve consulting work of some kind, or switching a career profession from a corporate to an individual environment. This means opportunities for office furniture, telecom, computing equipment, and office supplies, to say the least.
Opportunity #3: Caregiving
Age correlates with illness, although later than it used to. Boomers are big on avoiding nursing homes or similar institutions so they can age in place. This means home care and often family caregivers.
Boomers in their 60s take care of parents in their 80s. Increasingly, adults in their 40s and 50s will take care of Boomer parents in their 60s and 70s. There’ll be the obvious, health-related product and service needs for those receiving care – prescription and OTC meds, durable medical equipment, transportation, and health care itself.
But the (mostly female) caregivers will have new needs, too: Finding time for themselves; balancing care, work and life; managing and relieving stress. Which makes them a target audience segment for everything from home cleaning services to prepared meals to day spas.
This is 2010; the first Boomers reached the official retirement age of 65 this year, and they’re already creating a wave of opportunities for marketers. Between now and 2022, the aging of the Boomer generation will make that wave look like a trickle. So now’s the time for smart marketers to start waxing up their advertising surfboards.