Retired People of the World, Unite!

Campus Theater
Campus Theater (Photo credit: Gerry Dincher)
Are marketing gurus waking up to new markets out there? Have they (finally) realized that the Baby Boomers are about to retire - nay, that they're retiring? It's going to be a tsunami of consumers over 60. And that will change the marketing game forever. 

So far, products were sold with pretty pictures of youth. Now we'll get your grandmother selling you a red hot Ferrari, I can just picture her wiggling out of the racing car (or running away?). Ah, no matter, the name of the game is Baby Boomer Buying!

At least that's what AARP and their magazine think - and what they think does matter, after all the magazine sells to over 22 million readers! That makes it the biggest magazine in America (and perhaps the world). As Andrew Newman of the New York Times recently pointed out  (see article below), they've launched a new campaign aimed at advertisers that features people in their 50s and early 60s, arguing that "brands should be focusing on them, not people ages 18 to 34, commonly referred to by the marketers who covet them as millennials."

Indeed. Advertising has traditionally focused on the young and that was a very good strategy when the Baby Boomers were young back in the 60s and 70s. Now they're old, and the numbers should speak to marketeers: as of now, they're some 75 million of them in the United States alone and the numbers are growing. Also population is aging everywhere, Japan in particular but also in China (where by 2040 there will be many more retired people than active workers).

The numbers have clearly spoken to Hollywood. It is trying to get boomers back in the movie theatre, producing films to their taste like “True Grit,” “The King’s Speech,” “The Fighter,” “Black Swan”, “The Social Network”. They have all been "surprise hits" at the box office and reaping Oscars. Wow! So selling to Baby Boomers does work! As the New York Times put it in an article reviewing this developing trend in movies (25 Feb 2011), they have become hits “based on wit and storytelling, not special effects”. 

Gone is the pointless gore and violence and wild, unrealistic flings of fancy. What a relief! As far as I'm concerned (but then yes, I'm a Baby Boomer), I'm totally fed up with wild pursuits through improbable settings, sprays of ketchup blood and the deafening sound of gunfire and explosions. 

Remarkably, people are getting used to seeing old faces. Films featuring old actors are making it to top rankings in the box office: Judi Dench and Maggie Smith (both 76), Helen Mirren (65), Sylvester Stallone (64), Liam Neeson (58), just to name a few. But I'm sure you can think of many more. For example, French actors like GĂ©rard Depardieu or Alain Delon.
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white) Dame Judi Dench attends the World Premiere of 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' at The Curzon Mayfair on February 7, 2012 in London, England. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

What is striking is the change in plots. For the first time, movies are squarely focussed on the retired and aging. For example, “RED”, a hit in 2010, stands for “retired and extremely dangerous” and the current hit  “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” is about a group of British retirees who go to India (Fox Searchlight).

The exploding growth of Facebook and Twitter is largely the result of a surge in adoption by older people: a recent US poll (Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, Feb 2011) shows that the share of Americans older than 50 using social networks doubled in 2010, with a virtual majority of baby boomers, and about one-quarter of the nation’s seniors, now using the sites to stay in touch or reconnect with long-lost friends.
The media is catching up (not just AARP for whom Baby Boomer retirees are at the center of its mandate). Since March 2011, the New York Times has tried to launch a free quarterly magazine and associate website called "Your Guide to Better Living" aimed at Baby Boomers. As far as I can figure out, it's not online yet or at least not visible to the average Google navigator - which goes to show that it's not easy to market to Baby Boomers. This is something that Chuck Nyren points out in his excellent article: a marketing campaign works if it promotes a product that is NOT age-related. Why? Probably because we all like to look hip. It's a left-over of the Baby Boomer heredity. We can't get excited about ashen faces, hearing aids and walking sticks.

The same is true for literature. Novels with the aging and retired as protagonists are on the rise - what I like to call BB novels (for Baby Boomers just like YA novels are for Young Adults). That's precisely what my next novel, A HOOK IN THE SKY, is about. But if BB novels are going to be sad, tragic stories about wrinkles and back aches, you can bet no one will want to read them! 

A good BB novel is one that makes you smile, that let's you get in the head of older people and understand them. Empathy is the key word here. We'll all get there some day, old and bent, but it need not be a drama. No, there can be good things about growing old, it's just a matter of looking for them. I think that's what that Deborah Moggach's novel, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, really does: it exorcises the fear of Death, it tells you how to handle age with grace and dignity and it makes it sound (at last!) like good fun! A skilful black comedy, it's a great read, I highly recommend it.

It's everything a BB novel should be. And I'm not surprised it's such a roaring success - and the film too. It's BB times coming up!
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23:  A detail of actress ...
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: A detail of actress Pooja Kumar's ring and bracelet is seen at the 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theatre on April 23, 2012 in New York City. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

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Caleb Pirtle said…
If we don't write books that appeal to the baby boomer market, then we are missing the best bet in the marketplace.
Jack Durish said…
Advertising has always followed the money. They targeted the 18 to 34 year old market because they were the ones with the most disposable income. Sure the number of aging baby boomers is growing, but will they have disposable income. They might have. But their income will be based on investments rather than work and investments aren't doing so well these days. Indeed, those who might have invested wisely and retained anything significant are being targeted for increased taxes. So, I guess we'll have to wait and see who, if anyone, has disposable income.
Thanks for the comments, much appreciated! I doubt however that the young have much disposable income: they're the ones worst hit by unemployment, and that's true EVERYWHERE, whether you're looking at the US, Japan or Europe...Whereas the baby boomers have been working all their lives (no high rates of unemployment for them when they were young!) and many have set aside savings for their old age.
Do you really believe people don't save?
And then consider that many retirees have good pensions...Plus the fact that deflation which is threatening in Europe and is a fact in Japan (where the yen is overvalued since the 2008 crisis) has made people with fixed income (meaning those living off their pension) much, much better the expense of the young generation!
CLC said…
This is true, but aren't we missing the truly revealing point in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? All but two of those folks had insufficient money for retirement. That's why they went to India. It was quite a social commentary on the current situation an increasing number of BBs are finding themselves in. They can't retire.
Emma Calin said…
Yes- you are quite right about the numbers but there are other boomer issues. Whilst some may be well off, many will not be. Those who have always been in low paid jobs will have saved little. Many boomers are "employed" as unpaid child minders by their own children who have to work more and more to stay afloat. The UK Prime Minister predicts a retirement age of 77 years eventually. The big issue is the unwinding of equity in property which is the principal reservoir of
"wealth" for many boomers. All the same I think there will be enough money in the old hippy jeans to buy books. I'm looking forward to your book.
Thanks Christina and Emma! Well, I didn't try to survey the whole of the economic situation of baby boomers which is really quite complex and tends to change from country to country. Also there are other issues that concern baby boomers like, for example, "grey divorces". People who thought they were married for a lifetime suddenly separate when they hit retirement!
My point was that this is a huge market for us novelists, an important market with serious issues - and certainly not having enough money for retirement is one of them - and therefore lots of meat for our plots!
Chuck Nyren said…
Thanks for mentioning and linking to my blog post.

AARP Magazine probably doesn't have as many 'readers' as they say. If you join AARP you receive the magazine for free. Many if not most people treat it as junk mail. That said, it's still a powerful force in the print media world.

If you pay for a subscription to a magazine, you'll spend serious time with it - so the editorial and advertising will have more influence.

My best sent for your new novel.