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.