Manhattanhenge: more than a solar phenomenon – a way of life
Inspired by Britain’s Stonehenge Summer Solstice sunrise observance, the NYC version is both inverted – it occurs at sunset – and belated, trailing the true mid-summer event by three weeks because Manhattan’s street grid pattern runs 29° off true east-west.
Manhattanhenge mavens say the best vantage point for this Kodak Moment is at 57th Street and Madison Avenue. The irony is hard to miss.
Here, the ancient cult of demo-worship still thrives. Basking in a golden creativity sunset, adland druids revere the 18-49 consumer with a fanaticism the old Stone Age priesthood would have envied.
Like many belief systems, the dogma arose in a bygone Halcyon Age – in this case, the early 1960s, when giants strode the Earth. No, not Mad Men’s Don Draper, but real giants with names like Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, Pappert, Koenig and Lois.
Back then, the 18-49 demographic was considered to define the limits of consumer adaptability; grab’em when they’re young and impressionable, drop’em when they’re old and too set in their ways to waste money on.
Even giants have their day: they never figured that Boomers – the original “question authority” crowd – would refuse to conform to their rigid doctrine. Yep, the sixties changed everything.
Boomers: we are still stardust, we are still golden
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young said it best: we are stardust, we are golden (Woodstock, 1969).
It still holds true today, long after we Boomers grew up – well at least some of
us them – and prospered so well that a 2013 AARP study refers to Americans aged fifty-plus as the Longevity Economy.
Manhattanhenge thinkers, listen up: we’re talking about the world’s third largest economy; bigger than Japan, bigger than Germany, France or the UK. Bigger, in fact, than Germany and the UK combined.
The third largest economy on Planet Earth – hmm, how can this be?
Well, let’s look at the AARP survey in more depth; they found that in 2012 Americans over fifty …
- Controlled 80% of U.S. private net worth
- Dominated spending in 119 of 123 consumer packaged goods segments
- Spent $90 billion every year on new cars – 28% more than buyers under 50
- Created almost half (46%) of the U.S. economy
- Contributed half of all taxes – 47% Federal and 56% State and Local
- Provided employment for 100 million Americans
- Were half the workforce aged 25+
- Made 70% of all charitable donations
It’s a tribute to orthodoxy and entrenched folklore that mainstream Madison Avenue doggedly avoids engaging consumers over fifty. Nielsen reports only about 5-10% of advertising dollars are used to target us – wow, talk about taxation without representation!
Sure, it’s true we get love-bombed by purveyors of pills, potions and portfolios, but just look at the Longevity Economy data – we’re half the economy. For the mathematically-impaired that means we buy half the stuff sold in America.
Boomer adaptability, and how we got that way
Of the 111 million American aged fifty and up in 2016, some 94 million fall into the Boomer-Plus Generation, made up of the Baby Boomers, those born 1940-1945 and Gen Xers over fifty. If we were a country it would be the world’s 3rd largest economy bound together by five strands of shared cultural DNA.
- Adaptability/ constant reinvention – confident in progress through technology
- Formative years spent fearing war on American soil – optimism tempered by caution
- Growing up in the Golden Age of pre-cable television
- The Peter Pan Syndrome – preoccupation with youthfulness at any age
- Backlash after age fifty – we are persona non grata in ad targeting
Lately, a few ad agency outliers have re-read the runes and are touting a post-druidic revelation billed as age-agnostic marketing. However, there is no such thing as age-agnostic perception: older brains process communications very differently from those of younger consumers.
Jim Gilmartin, president of Coming Of Age, a Boomer/Senior marketing and advertising agency explains:
“Empirical studies generally have shown that Baby Boomers are relatively superior to younger adults in understanding emotional states. On the other hand, it appears that older minds tend to be slower in getting the picture when the information representing it is emotionally neutral (expository in nature).”
We put it less elegantly: Druid-speak isn’t where it’s at. Brands that don’t already have more business than they can handle must dump Dark Ages thinking and connect with the golden stardust program. It’s the future.