Marketing is not a static sea but a swift-flowing river—always changing, always dynamic. However, one thing that has remained fairly constant for marketers over the past several decades is their accent on youth. Even as changes in the consumer environment have buffeted the poor marketer to and fro like a storm-tossed ship, he or she still targets younger demographics. With few exceptions, health and beauty marketers have followed this credo, and countless commercials have shown these vibrant, young men and women using toothpaste on pearly white teeth, lotion on supple skin and shampoo on thick, luxurious hair.
However, the tides have turned. This one last truth has now melted away like so much snow in July. As the popular expression goes: “Sorry about that!”
It’s not just the fact that the average age of the head of the household in the U.S. is just a few months shy of 50 that is significant, it’s that the country as a whole is as similar as oil and water. For example, the consumer in the Northeast is older, Caucasian and likely childless. Compare that to the younger, ethnic consumer in the West with children. Now try to tailor a marketing message toward both consumers. It’s pretty impossible.
And here’s the most significant statistic: More than 80% of the growth in the number of households during the next five years will be among those headed by people 55 and older. That means that by 2013, aging baby boomers will add more than one million consumers per year to the 65-and-older segment—increasing its overall number at more than twice the rate of the past five years.
As you can clearly see, the consumer marketplace is shifting. So far, at least, the attempts to reach the aging baby boomer have been tepid in most industries, beyond the obvious, such as retirement planning.
To increase market share, considering the current economic softness, marketers need to target multiple demographics. Where or 60-year-old consumer using shampoo or brushing his or her teeth?
As marketers, we need to connect with aging boomers on a more personal level. Even young people are changing. The same soccer moms who scheduled every second of their kids’ free time during the 1990s have been replaced by what some are calling “millennium mom.” This is a different type of mom than existed a decade ago, so showing her in an ad applying skin lotion while frantically driving the kids all over is an outdated concept. Like the attempt to show elderly boomers deep sea-diving and then taking a certain brand of painkiller, it misses the point and applies to maybe one out of thousands of consumers.
What personal care marketers need to do is look at their parents or their neighbors and ask: How do we reach them? An older consumer is harder to convince to try a new product because of pre-conceived attitudes. Showing someone using that product while about to parachute jump is not effective, because most consumers can’t relate and probably figure the only way they would jump out of a plane is if they were forced to at gunpoint, which is, to say the least, not the best advertising concept. By the same token, marketers can’t ignore the changing face of the younger consumer. Old attitudes have to be replaced by new realities.
So is this the end of youth culture? Probably not, but it is the start of a greater emphasis on diversity—a world with aging boomers and millennium moms. And like the heading on this column says, “Marketing matters!”