Marketing to baby boomers Part 2

So here’s the thing. We might be getting older (baby boomers are currently aged between 50 and 70). But unless physical reality insists on impinging, in our heads we are only 25.

Last year I moved house (no, NOT into a retirement village), so some of these purchases are atypical. Even so, last year’s big expenditures: furniture, replacement laptop when mine went belly up, replacement garage door, mattress and bedding, about 200 ebooks, some TV series on DVD (no streaming capability where we live), solar panels, baby gifts for a nephew.

Next year (maybe, depending on funds): electric bicycle, garden plants especially herbs, more ebooks, a digital SLR camera, accommodation for a trip to Grenfell, Mudgee and the Lachlan River in regional NSW, possible rail trip to Melbourne to see family, dictation software and microphone, a barbecue.

Not a single mobility aid, insurance policy or cruise among these items, notice? Nothing there that someone of 25 or 35 or 45 might not want (although I admit holidays in the country may not appeal to everyone, that’s a personal preference. I like seeing rural Australia.)

Where’s the advertising for these things in the Seniors Directory I just received? Rail travel gets a guernsey, sure, but the rest of it, just not there. And you won’t see any ugly old people in “normal” ads for these things.(Don’t get me started on the sweet loving old granny who wants nothing more out of the next 20 years than to feed cookies to grandkids).

I don’t expect personalised ads. What I do expect is not to be bored out of my brain being inundated with ads for things that YOU (a 20-something marketer) think I ought to be interested in. Marketing is finding out what people want and finding ways to sell it to them. That isn’t what you are doing.

Instead, you are imposing an incredibly narrow, outdated view of age, based on century-old stereotypes, on people that it just doesn’t fit. In the marketing brain old has only two modes: either a sad bedridden old lady in a nursing home, or a rich grey nomad couple, masses of coiffed grey hair blowing in the breeze as they hoon around the countryside in an upmarket Winnebago in between rounds of energetic tennis or a leisurely excursion in the yacht.

Guess what? Most baby boomers are a thousand miles away from either of these stereotypes. We are just like you only we’ve been here longer. We don’t all want the same things. We never have and we never will. Stop trying to cram me into a tiny box of your own design. I’m not going quietly. In fact, I’m not going into that sad little confined space in your imagination at all. And you’ll watch your ever-shrinking market share and wonder why.


Science vs magic

I grew up in the space age, when we thought science had the answer to everything. In spite of my parents’ efforts (they thought I should be interested in literature and foreign languages), what I really wanted to learn about was physics and chemistry, geography, geology, plants, horticulture and landscape design. Useful things.

We live in a physical world and it really, really helps to have a bit of a clue how it works. The time comes when a cistern needs to be fixed, or you need to explain to someone why an evaporative air conditioner only works if there is air flow.

My parents, born in the nineteen thirties, instead lived in a world of mysterious magic.

They had a hand-held vacuum cleaner that was battery charged. When I visited it was sitting on the floor on the laundry, turned on but not actually vacuuming anything. Very noisy, for hours and hours. Why? They had been told to run the battery down before recharging it. I explained that you didn’t have to do this every time you used it. The worst that would happen if you recharged it often without running it down very far was that the battery would lose its ability to recharge fully. They were quite surprised.

This is an example of magical thinking. They didn’t understand why they were doing this action. Instead they followed a ritual, applying a rote response to a situation because of a complete lack of understanding of the underlying science (how different kinds of batteries work).

Here’s another. My mother was forced to study domestic science at high school in the 1940s. This representation of the nutritional content of an egg was in her text book.


She told me that for at least 20 years she had believed this was a literal diagram of where those things were located inside an egg.

Her interpretation makes no sense at all. After all, she had cooked and eaten thousands of eggs, seen the yolk in the middle and the white and shell surrounding it, and it is obvious to anyone that the inside of an egg just doesn’t look like this diagram. But this chasm between the symbolic and perceived reality didn’t result in her asking questions to resolve the problem. She just didn’t have any scientific curiosity. And she hated domestic science on principle.

What about the next generation? I saw a suggestion recently that calcium from milk was inorganic and couldn’t be absorbed by the human body, while, in contrast, calcium from plants was organic and therefore could be. So many misconceptions here I don’t know where to begin.

I don’t want to be too critical; I have been known to approach computer problems by rote methods. But without science, how can we understand, let alone solve, complex environmental problems? Problems of water management, salinity, erosion, soil depletion, loss of habitat and diversity, the impact of climate change, the behaviour of wild fires; solutions to all these depend on scientific knowledge and method.

Often these are seen primarily as political or economic problems. Perhaps this isn’t sheer bloody-mindedness, but just ignorance? Maybe most Australians are living in a world of magic, just looking for the right spells and rituals to make things right. The world is full of intricate, wicked problems, and it seems we are too stupid to fix any of them, or even to realise that we must understand the science first. Just a baby boomer view.


Hume Highway duplication— you’re welcome

An accusation that really bugs me as a baby boomer is that, somehow, we have sucked the economy dry for our own benefit and left nothing for anyone else.

After paying taxes for forty years I resent this. My taxes paid for all those new schools, those fabulous fancy arts centres, those new bridges, those flood and bushfire repairs, those hospitals. And those roads. You know the ones, the ones you hoon along at 20 kph over the speed limit, giving me rude gestures for daring to drive on it more slowly than you do.


The Hume Highway is a massive road that connects Australia’s biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. We rarely drove on it in the past. It was terrifying—trucks, semitrailers, the dreaded caravans, narrow, poorly aligned, hardly anywhere to overtake, degraded pavement.

Between about 1969 and 2013, this road was duplicated. It is now two lanes in both directions. This job took the whole of my adult, taxpaying life. While it was going on, it was a nightmare to drive on, with detours, delays, and long stretches of gravel and dirt.


Now it’s a dream. You could almost drive it in your sleep (it seems some people actually do that). And its fast. Canberra to Sydney was easily a four hour drive (now under 3 hours).

Just a little gift from us to you. You’re welcome.

All images from Roads and Maritime Services, NSW

Marketing to baby boomers

Yeah, we’re invisible. Unless we want funeral insurance, final expenses insurance, incontinence products or retirement village homes.

Do the people who make these ads have any clue? Over 50 is not the same as 90, or even 75. We’re talking half the human life span here, people, and all you can think of to try and sell us is 4 products?

Sorry, forgot the cruise ships. Sure, that’s my idea of a holiday, being incarcerated with a whole lot of other people exactly the same age as myself. Perhaps we could pass the time comparing hair dyes or hypertension medications?

This is an absolute failure of imagination by marketers. Older people have exactly the same huge range of interests as younger ones do. Try advertising for diversity in age as well as all the other demographics. I’m pretty sure your efforts to pigeonhole people aren’t going to work. Lazy stereotyping and wishful thinking won’t get it done.

And while you’re at it, stop assuming baby boomers aren’t using technology. Who do you think invented most of it? (And no, that isn’t an invitation to fill our email boxes with spam.)

Interesting article on this topic here

Hogging big houses

I saw a recent flurry of age bashing in newspapers. Selfish baby boomers are refusing to leave their own houses, houses that they are “rattling around in”, houses with back yards. We are supposed to pack ourselves away into little closets somewhere out of sight so that “families” can have our houses instead. Think of the children!

Not happening. I love my backyard. I can make a mess there, watch birds, play with plants. Not giving it up until I have to.

The Australian love of big suburban houses is honestly come by. Here’s a quote from Town life in Australia by Richard Ernest Nowell Twopeny, published in 1883:

“The colonist is very fond of living in his own house and on his own bit of ground.

Terraces and attached houses are universally disliked, and almost every class of suburban house is detached and stands in its own garden.”

One hundred and thirty years on, our cultural preferences haven’t changed. We still love our backyards. And our cars. You want people to change how they live, make the case, don’t use manipulative shaming techniques.

Introducing Sue

Hi all, welcome.

Australian countryside
A typical bit of Australia

I’m a baby boomer, class of ’54, and I’ve been lucky enough to live my life in Australia. I’ll be using this blog to express my many opinions and discuss topics that interest me. This will not include coffee, baristas, shoes, babies, overseas travel, clothes, makeup or any aspects of fashion whatsoever. It might include bellyaching about politics or economics or the environment. In other words, the same things baby boomers have always cared about.