September is Boomer Wheels Month
Every fall, car enthusiasts around the world eagerly await the kickoff of the auto expo season. It begins in Europe, alternating annually between Frankfurt, Germany, and Paris, France; in 2016 it’s the turn of The City of Light to play host (October 1-16). We celebrate the event by observing September as Boomer Wheels Month.
It’s only fair.
While almost invisible in auto advertising, consumers over fifty buy half of all the new vehicles sold in America. In fact, at over 7 million units, that’s more new cars than France and Germany combined.
So, with all those check-writing Boomers, why don’t automakers and their ad agencies specifically target buyers outside the 18-49 demo? The usual excuse is that we are too old to switch brands and – anyway – our decrepit presence creeps out younger prospects.
The real reasons are more subtle.
It takes courage for managers to buck conventional wisdom and, even if unleashed by their play-it-safe bosses, most Millennial creatives don’t understand Boomer-speak well enough to authentically engage older consumers.
Unfortunate. With their impressive array of disruptive talents, Millennials would be hell on wheels if given the task of boosting auto brand share in the 50+ space.
Hell on wheels – hmm, we sense a segue …
Bucking convention: Somewhere West of Laramie
It was 1923.
Car guy Ned Jordan made automotive history with his flashy new model, the Jordan Playboy; more important, he made automotive advertising history with his breakthrough campaign, Somewhere West of Laramie.
Long after the Playboy itself had run its course, Jordan’s revolutionary approach would set the standard for emotion-based auto advertising for generations to come.
Focused on the personality of the car and its driver, he provided no stats, no mechanical data or specs. Instead, he let the broncho-busting, steer-roping girl at the wheel thrill prospects into showrooms.
That’s right, the car was marketed to women: Jordan sure wasn’t afraid to buck convention. And he wasn’t afraid to use the word “girl” either. When Jordan bucked conventional wisdom, he really bucked it.
Here’s the long copy version.
Well, in 1923, Wyoming – home to Hell on Wheels, the rowdy end-of-track shanty town that followed the transcontinental railroad construction crew – was part of a Wild West that was still very much alive in the public mind.
Outlaw Frank James died just eight years back, Buffalo Bill Cody only six years ago.
And Wyatt “OK Corral” Earp was consulting for Hollywood westerns, drawing on his colorful past to coach screen cowboy idols like William S. Hart and Tom Mix. When Earp died in 1929, Mix wept at his funeral.
What Jordan knew full well was that the West symbolized, above all, freedom, adventure and action. As, too, did automobiles.
Thanks to the Boomers, his insights still play out in the modern American auto market.
Boomers and westerns: imprinting that endures
Boomers grew up with westerns, but we didn’t invent them – they were already big back in 1923. But it took John Ford’s classic Stagecoach (1939) to vault the genre – and its young star, John Wayne – into A-movie status.
By the time we came along, sprawled on shag carpets in front of the world’s first electronic baby sitter, westerns had expanded from movie theaters, radio and comic books to television.
In the late 1950s / early 1960s over twenty westerns ran weekly in prime time; year after year the top-rated series pulled in 30-40% of the viewing audience in their time slots. Today, only the Super Bowl does better.
And “horse operas”, also known as “oaters”, stayed in the mainstream well into the late 1970s.
Gunsmoke (1955-1975), Bonanza (1959-1973) and The Virginian (1962-1971) kept the TV trail wide open and at the movies John Wayne ramrodded twenty blockbuster westerns from 1960 through 1976, winning an Oscar for True Grit (1969).
Yep, pardner, we Boomers were well and truly imprinted with that Somewhere West of Laramie spirit long before we got our first set of wheels.
Western wheels in the Digital Age
What makes engaging Boomers so difficult for Madison Avenue is our complexity. Not only did we little cowgirls and cowboys dream of riding the range, but we had this sci-fi adventure thing going on t the same time.
Even today as the 94 million members of the Boomer-Plus Generation™ – Baby Boomers, their siblings born 1940-1945 and Gen Xers over 50 – embrace the Digital Age, texting, Googling, shopping for a Tesla online, deep inside we’re still captivated by the call of the wild.
Mosey down automobile row and take your pick: Ford F150 Lariat, Jeep Wrangler or Laredo, Chevy Colorado or Tahoe – even the imports will gladly sell you a Tacoma, Santa Fe or Tucson. Heck, there’s hardly a place out west left to name a truck for unless anyone is brawny enough to throw a rope on Last Chance or Chugwater.
With all this opportunity, we figure there must be at least a few adland Millennial mavericks willing to quit the herd and head into Boomer territory. Holler, we’ll help you blaze the trail.