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Over-50 boomers a rich, mostly untapped market

Posted: Friday, February 13, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) Grandmother or not, Ann Dickerson isn't interested in prescription drugs, medical insurance, RVs or the other products aimed at over-50 consumers.

Dickerson has a different mindset as she powers over the Rocky Mountain foothills on her mountain bike every day, staying ahead of stereotypes about aging and marketers' expectations.

''I think of myself as young,'' said the 51-year-old resident of Golden, Colo. ''I still don't need arthritis drugs I don't know what they're after me to get.''

The over-50 crowd never has been a priority for most marketers. But the new wave of active, affluent baby boomers like Dickerson that's swelling the ranks of that age group is making them harder to ignore.

Americans age 50 and above control $7 trillion, or 70 percent, of all U.S. wealth, bring in $2 trillion in annual income and accounting for 50 percent of all discretionary spending. Yet they are the target of only about 5 percent of advertising dollars, according to gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, president of the Age Wave think tank in San Francisco.

Dychtwald thinks marketers should be pitching more concepts like home remodeling, anti-aging medicines and sports cars to 50-and-ups, instead of old-age products for ''mature'' consumers. But the first step is to focus on them at all.

''Most companies are not paying any attention whatsoever to people over 50,'' he said. ''It's absolutely unbelievable.''

The number of 18-to-34 year-olds shrank by 9 million between 1990 and 2000, he noted, while the 50-plus group rose by 12 million as the first boomers born from 1946-64 surpassed the half-century mark.

''There has definitely been progress,'' Dychtwald said of the acknowledgment of older consumers in the advertising world. ''But the progress is trivial in proportion to the demographics and the spending heft of people over 50.''

At least one industry has responded to the demographic shift, as anyone who has watched TV commercials lately can attest.

''If I see another drug commercial for dysfunctional sexual performance, arthritis or the host of other drugs being pushed by pharmaceutical companies, I think I'm going to OD,'' said Harriet Brand, a 55-year-old New Yorker. ''When they market to baby boomers, they consider us geriatric cases with failing bodies and brains.

''The reality is that we're finally past paying for college tuitions, we've amortized much of our house mortgages and we have more dispensable income than any other age group,'' she said. ''But shhh, don't let the marketers know. We'll be bombarded.''

The largest group representing older Americans, AARP, agrees that its members are neglected by marketers and is trying to do something about it. AARP Publications kicked off a new advertising campaign in January that's aimed at drumming up more business from marketers, telling them not to write off the 50-plus market.

One of the catchy ads depicts shoppers wearing body bags. Another shows a fashionably dressed woman in the ladies' room of an upscale restaurant, outlined in chalk. At age 50, according to the kicker line, 'These days, doctors don't pronounce you dead. Marketers do.''

Jim Fishman, group publisher for AARP Publications, says companies figure their messages already reach the over-50 generation because they watch television and read newspapers more than other age groups.

''Marketers, at a time like this when the economy isn't great, their attitude is 'We don't need one more place to have to put our advertising dollars,''' he said. ''What we're saying is the more personalized the message is, the more effective it's going to be.''

More companies are starting to ''get it'' where over-50 consumers are concerned, according to Fishman including Anheuser-Busch, which is marketing a low-carb beer using older models. But he says most car manufacturers and ''a ton'' of others don't, often out of a fear that appealing to older consumers may hurt their image with younger ones.

Population trends may help change companies' minds eventually. About 54 million boomers will be between 50 and 64 by 2010, according to AARP, bringing the total of 50-plus Americans to 90 million.

Author Tom Peters, who preaches a message of seeking business excellence, cites companies' shortsightedness in not going after aging baby boomers as an example of how they need to ''reconceive'' themselves.

''My experience is that companies are fabulous at using all the new marketing tools to discover how to deal with left-handed 17-year-olds who do this, that or the other,'' said Peters, whose newest book is ''Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age.'' ''But they miss the truly giant trends like the 51 percent of the population who are women, or the 80 million boomers who are loaded with bucks.''

On the Net:

www.aarp.org



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