Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Boomers and Racial Diversity

There is a growing amount of "talk" around the changing racial composition in America today and how the various generations are responding to this new reality. The main point of most of the articles and postings is that the race issue isn't a black vs. white issue anymore, it's an old vs. young.

That is, older America is mostly white and younger America, whites are the minority.

The secondary point is that older white Americans are not comfortable with this change and a generational race war is brewing.

That's a bunch of crazy that we're not buying. Here's why:

Boomers are the generation raised by parents who came of age when Jim Crow laws were still on the books in many places. However, Boomers themselves came of age during the Civil Rights movement and the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr. The result, despite the mindset of their own parents, Boomers as parents raised a mostly color-blind generation: Millennials. (Read an earlier piece on this very topic: How Boomers Transformed Race Relations in America.)

Boomers are the "pivot" generation, eschewing the belief system of their parents to instill a new belief system in their own children that the hue of one's skin doesn't matter.

A recent op/ed by demographer William Frye points out that in a Pew study last November, only 23% of Boomers agreed that the "growing population of immigrants" was a "change for the better." What the esteemed (and we mean it) Mr. Frye fails to report is that only 30% of Gen Xers and 35% of Millennials also agreed with that statement. Certainly Boomers are less happy about immigration than younger generations, but not by much. Plus, the study doesn't ask "why" someone might think immigration isn't a change for the better.

There might be other factors to consider beyond skin tone and country of origin.

The same Pew study shows that 60% of Millennials think it is perfectly fine to marry someone of a different race, indicating that they are indeed mostly color-blind. Only one out of three Boomers said the same thing. Maybe on the race issue, Boomers succeeded in "don't do as I do, do as I say."

Given that, maybe it is premature to predict a generational battle over racial issues. Yes, America is changing colors. But does color really matter in today's melting pot?

Bottom Line for Marketers: Look beyond the raw data and understand the underlying sentiments better.

Mis-marketing to Boomers: Toyota

About a year ago the fine folks at Toyota launched a new TV and Web campaign targeting Boomers for their Venza crossover vehicle (between a car and an SUV).

We took them to task on the ad campaign, not to be mean, but to be instructive for other marketers. We presented two basic points: The campaign intentionally presented the Venza not only as a vehicle for Boomers, but also expressly NOT a car for anyone under 35. We said it was dumb to eliminate half of the potential buyers with ads that communicate this is not a car for you.

Our belief is that you can do marketing to Boomers that doesn't turn away younger consumers. The opposite is not usually possible. Ads targeting the young often turn off older consumers.

Our second point was that the ad campaign itself, while funny, was also actually disparaging to the very Boomers they were targeting.

Our full rant is in this op/ed that ran last summer.

So what happened to sales? Were our predictions correct?

(Would we be posting this if we were wrong?)

According to publicly-available data, Venza sales did not rebound in 2011. The latest data we can find shows this following:

  • For the 11 months immediately preceding the campaign launch, Toyota sold 36,051 Venzas.
  • For the 11 months since the launch, Toyota has sold 31,535 Venzas, a sales decline of 12.5%

Of course, overall Toyota sales year-to-date are up 25%.

Bottom Line for Marketers: Targeting Boomers and consumers over 50 can work for you, but you have to get it right. There may be other issues with the Venza that are affecting sales volume, but this campaign isn't helping.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Generational Perspective

Marketing experts who purport to be generational experts ought to do their homework. Social scientists and demographers are the ones who get to name generations, and specify start and end dates, not marketing agencies.

Recently a company issued a press release claiming to name the next generation after Millennials. They came up with "Plurals" but without any convincing data, insight or even argument for it. Rather than tell you all the reasons we think this is bunk, let us point you to Neil Howe, a social scientist and demographer who has posted a compelling response to this "news."

We happen to be students of the work done by Neil Howe and the late William Strauss. If you want to understand generations, start with their 1991 book, Generations (with the provocative subtitle: The History of America's Future). If you want to understand what's happening today and what to expect in the next twenty years, buy The Fourth Turning.

Bottom Line for Marketers: If all you want to do is figure out what to call the next generation, then follow our lead: We call them "kids."

In time, a moniker will be developed that makes sense and sticks. We have time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rockin' in 2012, Again

Apparently this summer isn't the Summer of Love, but the Summer of Re-Love.

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton may be trying to tap into 1970's nostalgia with Dark Shadows, but the action isn't on the screen, it's in the music behind the movie.

Hearing all those 1970 hits again, and seeing that Alice Cooper is not only still alive, he's still rockin', was enough to get us to buy the soundtrack. Turns out we're not alone.

The music business realizes there is money in the pockets of millions over 50. Check out the bands on tour this summer: Van Halen, Kiss, Glenn Frey, The Beach Boys, KC & the Sunshine Band, Melissa Etheridge, REO Speedwagon, America and on and on we go back into 1970 all over again.

We noticed Boomers were driving the music tour business two years ago when we saw that Bruce Springsteen's tour, at age 60, earned more revenue than did the tours of Coldplay and the Jonas Brothers combined. Born to run, indeed.

Bottom Line for Marketers: Wake up and smell the Ben-Gay -- older consumers spend money, lots of money. Tap into them now and guarantee yourself a recession-proof summer. You'll love it.

Opening a Channel, Captain

Every day we see some Boomer-related news or information and feel compelled to tweet about it.

But recently we realized confining our comments to 144 characters is, well, limiting. So we're going to blog, again (we did this several years ago). Our plan is to post regularly, and to drive our current newsletter readers to subscribe so they can get our insights more routinely.

The other reason we want blog now is that we crave interaction, feedback and conversation. Blogs allow for that easier than do email newsletters. Let's have conversations.

Here we go.