The Greynaissance: Debunking stereotypes around baby boomers

Baby boomers are still very much in their prime. Aged 57-73, they are living longer, healthier and more active lives than previous generations; they are embracing all that life has to offer.

So, what are baby boomers doing with their time? You might think they’re planning for retirement, or busy already enjoying it, perhaps practising a round of golf, or relaxing on a cruise ship somewhere in the Caribbean. Wrong!

Far from twiddling their thumbs, baby boomers in fact make up 64% of business owners in the US and are twice as likely to start a new business than millennials. In between driving their new businesses forwards boomers are likely to be found travelling the world on one of their 4-5 annual holidays! In the UK they account for 58% of total travel spend. They’re not the technophobes they’re often taken for either. Baby boomers spend more online than any other generation.

In spite of all of the opportunity that baby boomers provide, they are woefully neglected and misunderstood by the media and marketers. Only 1% of global innovation and 10% of advertising spend is targeted at the 50+ generation. And when they are targeted, 90% of boomer women feel misrepresented. It only takes a quick sweep of the news and media to understand why. You could be forgiven for thinking baby boomers spend all of their time funeral planning, looking at retirement homes and going for long walks in the countryside.

Even the brands who try to challenge the ‘old wrinkly’ stereotype get it wrong. The dating app Lumen, which is dedicated to a more mature audience, recently got 12 boomers to bare all in a campaign intended to challenge ageism. Unfortunately the campaign massively backfired with consumers complaining it pigeon holes older women as grannies.

Helen Mirren on the front cover of alure magazine
Living the dream

As today’s wealthiest generation, with longer life expectancies and better levels of health than any other generation before them, baby boomers can expect a high quality of life for years to come. Far from relying on others to look after them, baby boomers lead active, independent and sociable lives.

These high flyers are responsible for 80% of luxury travel spending . When it comes to boomer women, a surprising 28% are single (not including widowed women) and the economy has seen a boost from women in this age group spending more on beauty than ever before. In fact, female baby boomers spend more than any other generation on fashion. This group reject dated and derogatory language such as ‘anti-ageing’.

They’re positive about their age, and focus on looking their best, rather than looking younger. In line with this, beauty magazine Allure hailed the end of anti-ageing on the cover of its September 2017 issue, stating:

“We know it’s not easy to change packaging and marketing overnight. But together we can start to change the conversation and celebrate beauty in all ages.”

So how do we communicate with a generation with more time and money at its disposal than any other? And, how do we tailor goods and services to them? It’s time brands stopped pigeon holing this group as grandparents and ageing couples, and start to think of them as independent individuals looking for new adventures and experiences. Brand language must be checked and imagery must get real.

Now that we’ve bust the myths surrounding this lively and industrious generation, what are the opportunities that they present?

Smart older man with white hair and beard
All Under One Roof

As house prices soar further out of reach, and the economy struggles on, multi-generational households are on the increase. The boomerang generation is particularly prevalent in the UK, where 26% of young adults aged 20-34 live with their parents .

Multi-generational households present constraints and tensions which create an opportunity for brands. More mouths to feed under one roof increases the need to buy in bulk, however this competes with the increasingly limited household space with which to store it. How can brands get smart with the way their products are packaged and stored to capitalise on this? Indeed, in households with multiple primary decision makers, whose priorities come first? How might brands tailor their offer to the needs of multiple generations?

Colleen Heidemann with red lip stick and long earrings, wearing black leather jacket and Old is the new black t shirt wearing red lipstick
City Slickers

As today’s wealthiest generation, with longer life expectancies and better levels of health than any other generation before them, baby boomers can expect a high quality of life for years to come. Far from relying on others to look after them, baby boomers lead active, independent and sociable lives.

An escape to the country is no longer the retirement dream. Instead baby boomers are trading in their large countryside pads for smaller, slicker rented properties in the city. Drawn by convenience, cultural attractions, lifestyle amenities and the prospect of being closer to family, urbanisation is rapidly on the increase. In 2017 in the US, the number of city renters aged over 55 rose by 21%. Property developers are cashing in on this, with luxury developments exclusively for the over 50s popping up in trendy neighbourhoods in London and New York.

As the clientele of cities shifts to wealthier consumers with different functional and emotional needs, this will bring with it renewed opportunity for convenience stores, cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues. DTC (direct to consumer) services such as Deliveroo and Uber will have to reconsider their offer, as their captive audience evolves into a more mature consumer. In addition, the burden on urban health care providers will increase.

Summing Up

When it comes to baby boomers, the wealthiest generation of all time, there are three key themes to think about:

1. All under one roof

The increase in multigenerational living adds to household constraints and tensions, with an increased need to buy in bulk, less space in which to store it, and a need to balance the priorities of multiple decision makers.

2. Living the dream

Contrary to popular belief, boomers are more likely to be starting businesses and booking luxury holidays than writing wills and planning their funerals. It’s time to stop pigeon holing and patronising them which requires a reappraisal of the language and imagery brands use.

3. City slickers

The retirement dream has shifted from rural countryside manor to super convenient city apartment living. The increased urbanisation of boomers will transform the audiences of cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, entertainment venues and DTC services, and the demand on city health care provision will soar.

Find out more?

Get in touch with Kelly Dawson our Head of Insight & Innovation