Risky Shades Of Gray: Millennials Are Aging — And Madison Avenue Is Noticing

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Escaping grayscale: colorful Boomer lives

Kodak 1965Boomers knew what Paul Simon meant when he sang “Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colors … everything looks worse in black and white.”

Kodachrome hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in June, 1973, and it’s still worth a YouTube view.

For Boomers who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s most of our little kid pictures were in black and white. But we were still super-cute, squinting into the sun for posterity. Color film was special – a pricey luxury for everyday families.

In fact, color images of any type signaled upmarket and modern. At the movies, Technicolor took top billing; color magazine ads carried a premium price over grayscale, worth it because products seemed more glamorous and modern; and color TV was nothing less than wow!

Color TV Penetration 1964-1980In 1973 when Simon’s hit took off, less than half of U.S. TV households had a color receiver (39%).

But penetration was exploding; it would double to 83% by 1980 to insure that Millennials would be born into a rainbow world they would take for granted.

However, for Boomers and older Gen Xers, the arrival of a color television was an exciting, transformative experience, one of many on our life’s journey.

Along the way, the iconic Kodak film brand slipped into yesteryear Americana along with the One Hour Photo booth and the film processing counter at the corner drug store.

Meanwhile, we careened from one fantastic new technology to the next.Spectrum_Paint swirl 3

  • 1964 / 1965: Kodak’s Instamatic camera and Super 8 film gave affordable color photos and movies to folks who couldn’t tell an f-stop from the Hollywood Sign.
  • 1972: Polaroid introduced the instant film SX-70 camera. Easy. Quick. And for those who valued privacy, no eye-rolls or smirks from the sales clerk at pickup.
  • 1975-1990: tape-based VCRs and video cameras triggered a Beta vs. VHS format war in which Boomers hefted bulky shoulder-mounted videocams, looking like ’80s era insurgents toting RPGs around downtown Kabul.
  • 1996-2000: Solid state/memory card digital cameras – still and movie – and DVD players put old school film and tape systems out of business. Expensive at first – 2 megapixels for “only” $900 – prices dropped quickly and capability soared.
  • 2001-2016: We stream content, can’t live without our iPhones, iPads or their android competitors and no longer see Blu-ray as cutting edge.

Dr Sivana_OldAfter embracing, pioneering – and inventing – this incredible 50-year technology-fest, and creating an amazing world for our Millennial children, Boomers and Gen Xers are irked to learn we are now seen as incapable of adopting new ideas or changing behavior.

So says Madison Avenue, anyway. The ad-biz excuse for what passes for strategic thinking these days is that consumer adaptability defaults to old school immediately upon exiting the 18-49 demo.

Millennials are aging: dad bods and mommy-mobiles

Replacing Boomers in advertisers’ affection are the Millennials, born 1982-2000 (U.S. Census Bureau). However, although the youngest have yet to graduate high school, enough have crossed over to their thirties that taste-makers are sensing the warning signs of creeping normalcy, aka the life-stage effect. Millennials are growing old!

Always a little upstream from the herd, we have often written that Millennials are morphing into their Boomer parents.

Family storytime 2In particular, they are having babies, forsaking urban lofts for affordable new homes in sunbelt suburbs, buying grownup family cars and worrying about how those used-to-be-cool Spring Break tattoos will look on crepey skin.

It gets worse. Writing in MediaPost Boomer Jack Loechner cites further evidence from Nielsen in Millennials Not A Monolithic Group: Lifestyle Changes Things. Apparently, Millennials who are starting families spend more time on live TV, DVRs and DVDs – and less on smartphones – than their childless peeers.

TV viewing hours per day Q4 2015It’s a sure sign that geezerhood is on the way; adland knows that increased TV watching correlates with increased age.

But that’s what happens when life involves cuddling rug rats on the couch and streaming old Scooby-Doo cartoons. Yep, the same ones you watched when you were a kid. They wear well.

Recognizing that no generation is monolithic is the liberating first step for brands looking to increase profit and share. In a year or two, maybe three, mainstream marketers will apply this knowledge to the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™ (Baby Boomers, those born 1940-1945 and Gen Xers now over 50).

When they do these laggards will be too late. We don’t like to brag, but our gurus already provide disruptive brands with a prism through which to shine bright white light on the 50+ space.

And white light – like Millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers – is not monolithic; shone through a prism it reveals an infinite range of rainbow hues.


Boomer - 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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