Incredible shrinking Boomers: advertisers channel old sci-fi

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Boomer optimism: born in the Atomic Age

Before there was a Space Age there was the Atomic Age – an era that shaped the young years of the Boomer Generation, born 1946-1964. 

And wow, was it ever cool! Tiny atoms were the next big thing.

Pop science 2

The technological advances of the Atomic Age imprinted Boomers with the innate optimism that became a key strand of our generational DNA.

The Popular Science archives are a terrific resource for Millennials seeking to understand the mood of our formative years. Browsing the cover art is an education in itself.

Atomic Age technologies drove prosperity and social progress across America; Boomer optimists learned the future could always be better if we looked for ways to make it so. 

Boomers at the movies: every silver lining has a cloud

The Atomic Age also ushered in the Cold War. This harrowing time of international tension persisted until the youngest Boomers turned 25 in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet bloc began to crumble.

Despite our confidence in the future, the Cold War created nagging fears that nuclear attack might rip everything away; we were always ready to duck and cover.

Hollywood captured the angst of the era in a steady stream of sci-fi movies which exploited America’s jitters.

Incredible shrinking man V2Many focused on technology gone terribly wrong. Atomic radiation mishaps topped the list; “amazing, colossal” 60 foot men, 50 foot women, gigantic tarantulas, huge ants, monster scorpions and a menagerie of other mega-critters rampaged at will.

One of the best of the genre bucked the gigantism trend. In The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) the hero is accidentally irradiated – of course – and shrinks away slowly, inexorably into a tiny speck, a mere shadow of his once-powerful self.

The incredible shrinking Boomer in ad-world: an outdated script

Over fifty years downrange, the movie is still enjoyed by film buffs and exerts a powerful influence over many mainstream brand advertisers today.

When they think about Boomers – which is rarely – Madison Avenue traditionalists follow a rigid script ripped from the cobwebbed vaults of Hollywood’s Atomic Age.


In their screenplay, a slow, inexorable shrinking of relevance sets in at midnight on each American’s 50th birthday. According to the story line, after this tipping point our ability to switch brands or change buying habits dwindles steadily. By the time we leave the conventional 25-54 demographic, we are invisible. Fade to black.

Boomers in the Matrix: reloaded and partying on, dudes

Meanwhile, out in the real world, Boomers have been evolving all our lives – Cap’n Crunch to TechCrunch. It is way too late for us to stop now.

  • The conventional definition of the Baby Boomers is demographic – people born 1946-1964, but their slightly older siblings born 1940 to 1945 grew up in the same socio-cultural environment. Taken together, we call them the Boomer-Plus Generation™ … 89 million Americans who represent the 3rd largest economy on Earth after the U.S. itself and China.

This enormous 50+ audience owns more than two-thirds of America’s private net worth. It represents a larger, more affluent market than Japan, Germany, France, the UK or the combined economies of Canada and Australia.

Despite this colossal Boomer reality, mainstream brand advertisers hide us from view so effectively we might as well be trapped in the Matrix.

Matrix Agent Smith V2The establishment rationale is that Boomers are stuck in an endless simulation of the last century. We are tolerated only for our assets – which, theoretically, can be harvested without any special effort, thanks to our alleged knee jerk brand buying behavior.

Disruptive Millennial thinkers – the Neo, Trinity and Morpheus rebels of ad-world – find no lack of orthodox enforcers trying to keep them out of the 50+ consumer space.

But the rebels understand that, away from the spotlight, we Boomers steadily reinvent ourselves, adapting and prospering. We actually stream content on our smartphones. We use tablets – no, not pills for our alleged slew of old-age ailments, the touchscreen kind. We text, send emails. And – OMG – we even buy stuff online.

Matrix star, Boomer Keannu Reeves turned 50 himself in 2014. Much as we loved him as Neo, for many of us it’s his 1989 role as Ted (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) that captures the real Boomer spirit: party on dudes!

Matrix party onBoomer - neXt SM logo_MMOriginally published as a Boomer-Plus Consulting Group post; in September, 2017, we up-branded as Boomer / neXt to welcome the 4 million Gen Xers who join the Boomers in the 50+ space each year.

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