Geezers got it going on, Part 2

Part two: How to reach and communicate with the boomer-and-older market.

The boomer-and-older market is 38% of the U.S. population. They control 41% of the country's discretionary spending. They have 79% of America's wealth. All-in-all, very attractive prospects for a wide range of products and services. And a group that has been seriously under-targeted by most marketers.

Want to take advantage of the un-tapped potential of their more than $2 trillion spending power? Your timing's right, because the field hasn't gotten crowded yet.

So what does it take to reach them and communicate with them effectively? Here's a start:

Reaching boomers-and-olders is simple: TV, the web, newspaper or direct mail. All four media are effective at targeting the entire boomer-and-older group, but they have different relative effectiveness at different stages of the age spectrum.

- TV is effective at reaching all boomer-and-older groups, but the older the target audience, the better it works. A U.S. Department of Labor study found that 45-54-year-olds watch 3.03 hours a day. 55-64-year-olds watch 3.59 hours. 65-74-year-olds watch 4.07 hours. And those over 75 watch 4.28 hours daily – just over 25% of their waking time.

- The web works better for boomers than for the 65+ group. According to the Pew Institute, 72% of boomers are on line each day, for an average of 123 minutes. There's a sharp drop-off among people 65+. Only 37% of them are on line, and they're only logged on for 89 minutes a day. Demographic targeting. a growing subset of behavioral targeting, can deliver a reasonably accurate age profile. Contextual targeting can be an effective surrogate for demographics. Odds are pretty good that someone searching "Medicare benefits," " Buick" and "denture adhesive" is a geezer.

- Newspaper – the ink-on-paper kind – is a good medium to reach boomers-and-olders. And the older the target audience, the better it works. Scarborough Research reports that 54% of people 45-50 read daily newspapers. 60% of those between 55-64 do. And 67% of the over-65 group does.

Although that same Scarborough study shows that readership in each age category is declining, it's not because individuals' readership is going down as they age. Their reading habits are staying the same. Because people in each consecutively younger age cohort are less likely to be newspaper readers than those in the older group preceding them, newspapers are aging into lower and lower readership as their older audience dies off and is replaced by new cohorts with lower reading percentages.

Although readership numbers keep shrinking, newspapers still offer an excellent medium with broad reach and efficient targeting to the boomer-and-older group. They reach anywhere from half to two-thirds of them, depending on age. And, because young readership is low, there's not much waste readership among younger age groups.

- Direct mail readership among boomer-and-older groups has declined over the last eight years, but overall readership remain extremely high. Among 45-54-year-olds readership is 54%, Among 55-64-year-olds it's 60%. And among the 65+ group it's 67%. In some product categories, it skyrockets. For instance 87% of boomers read discount store direct mail. We don't have specific response rates by age cohort, but overall response rates average 2.77% across a wide range of industries and age/HHI/gender/geography groups.

With higher readership in each successively older age cohort and the possibility of using multiple selects to customize lists by income, geography and even psychographics in addition to age, direct mail is an extremely powerful marketing tool for reaching boomer-and-older target audiences.

Communicating with boomer-and-older target audiences is a little trickier than reaching them.
First, never even whisper the word "senior." Don't even think the work "old."

Two recent marketing disasters illustrate the point:Forth & Towne was the Gap's attempt to start a chain for an older demographic. According to Forth & Towne's web site, the chain was for "A new generation of women determined to find current, wearable fashions in fits that flatter. Women who have grown up, grown into themselves and want to look as fabulous as they feel." About as subtle as a cinder block. "Grown up?" Is that code for "Grown old?" And how 'bout "Fits that flatter?" In other words: "Old timer, your body isn't what it used to be, but these clothes will disguise the damage a bit."

After sinking $40 million into Forth & Towne with no results, the Gap put the chain out of its misery.Vital Radiance was Revlon's cosmetics line targeted pretty explicitly to women of a certain age. After all, women 45+ buy 50% of all mass-retail cosmetics. Why shouldn't they have a brand especially for them? Turns out why they shouldn't is that they don't want a brand that harps on their age. So Revlon lost $63 million before pulling the plug on Vital Radiance and firing the CEO, CMO and chief creative officer who perpetrated the disaster.

So how do you flag boomers-and-olders? You don't. Any term that means – or is a euphemism for – "Yo, geezer!" is going to backfire, no matter how delicately or subtly it's phrased.

- Target boomers-and-olders just as you would any consumers: with empathy toward their interests; with language, images and music in their terms; with an appeal based on a rational or emotional benefit that resonates with them.

- That doesn't mean that a twenty-something copywriter can't write for a 50+ target audience. Only that the copywriter has to get inside their heads to understand how they perceive things, not look at them from the outside. From the inside, the wrinkles and grey hair don't show. From the outside, they're the first thing noticed. What you'll find inside a boomer-and-older head will depend on the product category and the sub-segment being targeted.

- Boomers-and-olders think they're pretty smart. Target them as intelligent people. (And since they spend more time with traditional media, you can hold their attention longer to develop an intelligent message.)

- Boomer-and-older audiences think they're pretty buff. If there's an activity in your ad or commercial, make it tennis or rock climbing, not shuffleboard. And show fit, vigorous, 50+ people like Christy Brinkley or Clint Eastwood. Or 50+ hotties like Jamie Lee Curtis and Jimmy Smits. Not folks who look like codgers or grandparents.

- Show boomers-and-seniors in mixed-age groups. Your ads and commercials shouldn't look like an AARP chapter meetings or the afternoon nosh-and-nod session at the old folks home. There should be a (credible) mix of ages.

- Use music that resonates with boomers'-and-overs' early adult years. The music people hear in their late teens and early twenties imprints on their memories and makes an immediate emotional bond when they hear later in life. So use the Stones, Beatles, Janis, Bob Dylan, the Supremes, Buddy Holly or the Beach Boys if you can afford to.

- Use large type (11- or 12-point) in print and collateral. Boomers'-and-olders' eyes aren't what they used to be. But don't make it look like the large-type edition of The New York Times. Make it easy to read, but don't make it obvious that you're making it easy to read. Use serif faces for the 65+ group. But sans serif (like the Arial used on this web site) is OK for boomers.

- Editing pace of TV commercials should depend on the age of the target audience. Boomers and the younger part of the "and older" group reached visual maturity in the psychedelic-lightshow-quick-cut era. Fast-paced commercials are fine. Short bursts of two or three scenes a second are OK, but they should be interspersed with alternating stretches of one- to three-second scenes. This is definitely not to say quick cuts are necessary. Slow paced lyrical commercials work just fine with this group. It just means that quick cuts are perfectly possible if they help communicate the message effectively. For the older end of the spectrum, 70 and over, keep scenes to 2-to-3 seconds or longer. Their visual idiom was formed by film, with has much longer scene lengths than TV.

- Mix TV and radio tracks with clear (dominant) voice tracks and music in a relatively compressed frequency range. Boomer-and-older folks' hearing isn't what it once was. The voice track should be somewhere near the +/- 2,000 Hz pitch which is optimal for human hearing. It should also be mixed hotter than the music and effects to stand out clearly. The ability to hear high frequencies diminishes with age, so anything higher than about 12,000 Hz will be inaudible to most 60-year-old audience members. Actually, since many people listen to TV and radio over speakers that can't reproduce much above 10,000 Hz, all music and effects tracks should always be created to work adequately on those lowest-common-denominator speakers, no matter who the target audience is. So high frequencies aren't present. Tracks can be mixed with additional material to enhance the sound on high-quality home theater systems, of course. But the first listening test should always be over the small, cheap speakers all good sound studios use to be sure the track works well when heard on the large majority of TV sets and radios with tinny speakers.

In principle, reaching and communicating effectively with boomers-and-olders isn't any different than reaching and communicating with any other group: Put your message where they are and make sure that message is in language, tone and style they can relate to. The next step is a bit trickier: persuading and motivating boomers-and-olders.