Gen X alumnae of The Logan’s Run School of Marketing are invited to enroll in the remedial Willie Sutton PhD Program
Starting in 2015, four million Gen Xers will turn 50 every year. At the stroke of midnight, gratefully clutching their benefits-laden AARP invitation packets, they shuffle off into the void from which no former inhabitant of the 18-49 demographic ever returns.
It’s all due to the old-guard Madison Avenue meme that consumers are unadaptable after reaching fifty, and no longer warrant targeting. We call it the Logan’s Run School of Marketing.
The 1976 sci-fi movie Logan’s Run is set in an idyllic, hedonistic future regulated by a silky-voiced 23rd century super-computer with a seriously bad attitude. Everything is, like, groovy until the inhabitants turn thirty, at which point they are terminated. Even at her grumpiest, Siri is never that hostile.
In the modern enlightened version, fifty is apparently the new thirty; but our two decade reprieve still ends with an inevitable fade to black.
After Willie was nabbed for robbing a string of banks in the 1930s, he was asked why, and famously replied: “Because that’s where the money is.”
When it comes to consumer buying power, the 50+ space is where the money is – around 80% of America’s private net worth. There is no better place for disruptive brands to grab market share from sleepy competitors.
The only requirement for Willie Sutton PhD Program candidates is a clear understanding that age-restricted targeting wastes brand opportunities. What matters are the interests and values that unite consumers. It’s a simple pass/fail issue.
Okay, full disclosure: this is actually the core idea of David B. Wolfe’s breakthrough book Ageless Marketing (2003). It’s far more informative than our Willie parable, but hey, we tell stories here.
Whole Foods, cute little cars and teachable moments
Whole Foods has an awesome track record in the health and wellness grocery store space. So, no doubt, careful strategic thinking is behind news that the company will target Millennials with a new chain of stores offering lower-prices. Hmm … lower prices at Whole Foods – now that’s news!
The Washington Post discussed it in terms of the Millennials’ renowned lack of spending power, quoting Boomer CEO John Mackey as saying “It will offer a convenient, transparent, and values-oriented experience geared towards millennial shoppers,”
The decision also offers a teachable moment in street smart marketing. Actually, not so smart marketing. We Boomers greet the news with “wow” excitement because we can’t wait to shop at a Whole Foods with lower prices and a cool, youthful ambiance.
We’re betting the outcome will mirror the experience of automakers who launched funky little affordable cars aimed at cool 20/30-somethings. Instead, (HT IHS Research) median buyer ages for three painfully cute little econofun-mobiles looked like this in 2013 …
- smart car: ooh là là – smell the onion soup at a Parisien bistro … 55.3 years
- Fiat 500: summer memories – Volare on a transistor radio … che bello! … 50.8 years
- Scion: Toyota’s “youth-oriented” sidekick brand – cowabunga to the max … 49.1 years
Add the homely-but-cuddly Honda Element to the list. A “dorm room on wheels” (Fortune Magazine) that, although diligently researched at college kid venues, was actually bought by “old” buyers with active, youthful values and – especially – the ability to pay. When it comes to new vehicles, dealership sales staffs can be quite inflexible on the matter of payment. Who’da thunk it?
- When the Element was finally discontinued, the median buyer age was 52 years
But it’s unfair to blame the products. Older buyers were just obeying ageless marketing principles: core values do not respect arbitrary barriers such as a fiftieth birthday.
Jim Gilmartin, ageless marketing expert and founder of the Coming Of Age advertising agency, summarized it best in a November 4th, 2014, blog:
The alternative to age-based is ageless marketing – marketing based not on age but on values and universal desires that appeal to people across generational divides. Age-based marketing reduces the reach of brands because of its exclusionary nature. In contrast, ageless marketing extends the reach of brands because of its inclusionary focus.
Disruptives are slowly recognizing the wisdom of Willie Sutton. The 93 million Americans born as Baby Boomers plus slightly older sibling born 1940-1945 – the Boomer-Plus Generation™ – own over 70% of U.S. household net worth. We’re where the money is; learn how to get your share.