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Flower Power in Ad Land

For decades, Madison Avenue pursued the fountain of youth with a relentlessness that made Ponce de León seem like a slacker.

Purveyors have long considered consumers ages 18 to 49 to be the target of choice, deeming them more willing to try new items and switch brands and even more likely to be starting — and stocking up — households.

Older consumers were generally afterthoughts, based on beliefs that they led more sedentary lives and were more habitual in their brand buying. The typically lower incomes of this group also led marketers to chase the younger demographics.

Now, however, advertisers of automobiles, financial services and packaged goods are reconsidering their fixation on youth. The reason is the aging of that generational pig in the python, the baby boomers born from 1946 to 1964. The size of that market, 76 million, makes them difficult to ignore.

And as boomers begin to write 6 at the start of their ages, they seem to be embracing the consumer culture as ardently as when that first digit was 5, or 4 or lower.

"Those wishing to be successful in the market can't ignore the boomer numbers, the wealth and spending power they have," said Pat Conroy, vice chairman and national managing principal for the consumer business practice at Deloitte & Touche in Indianapolis.

"The boomers have redefined every age they've moved through, so there's no reason to believe they will not redefine the stereotypes of what it means to be retired," he added. "Depression babies saved, not spending unless it was necessary. But because this generation grew up in prosperity, they don't have that bunker mentality. They're not worried about putting money in the mattress."

As a result, he said, marketers will thrive by "appealing to the possibilities that lay ahead for them."

That is the idea behind the advertising for the Toyota Highlander, which shows boomers whose nests are emptying. "For your newfound freedom," a magazine ad declares.

Focusing on activity in ads aimed at the newly old is no accident. It is intended to signal a break from the past, said Kim Sharan, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Ameriprise Financial in Minneapolis, which sells products like mutual funds.

"It's invoking a much more robust conversation from an emotional perspective," Ms. Sharan said. "It's not just about the rational numbers. It's about how you are going to reinvent yourself for what could be 30 or 40 years of retirement, which is very different from your parents and grandparents."

That approach is emphasized in the language in the Ameriprise campaign, like a headline on a magazine ad: "A generation as unique as this needs a new generation of personal financial planning." Then there is the music in the TV commercials: the 1966 rock tune "Gimme Some Lovin' " by the Spencer Davis Group.

Learning to know the needs and wants of the current crop of aging consumers is the purpose of extensive research among makers of personal-care products.

"We have really over the last five to seven years seen a dramatic shift," said Bill Brace, marketing director in North America for the Olay line, by Procter & Gamble.

While "generations of the past were more concerned about wanting to look younger," he added, now "it's less about actual age and more about how a woman sees herself."

That insight has led Procter to bring out a lengthening list of Olay products, bearing clinical names like Regenerist Microdermabrasion and Peel System and Total Effects 7 Signs Serum.

Carol Hamilton, president and general manager for the L'Oréal Paris division of L'Oréal USA in New York, calls it "the new attitude about aging."

"They want to try new products, they're working longer, they have more disposable income, they're embracing technology," Ms. Hamilton said. "They see no reason to fade into the background."

L'Oréal Paris has two lines for this market, Revitalift, for women in their 40's, represented in ads by Andie MacDowell, age 47, and Age Perfect, for women in their 50's, represented by Dayle Haddon, age 56.

"As of June 1," Ms. Hamilton said, "we're launching two major initiatives targeted toward women in their 60's and 70's."

"It's a little too early to tell more about it, but we will be signing a new spokesperson who will help us address this market in an exciting way," she added. "It may perhaps be the most lucrative market for us to address in the coming decade."


Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. April 11, 2006

Copyright © 2006 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.