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2011: The Year of the Baby Boomer

Will More Carmakers Court The 65-Plus Crowd?

Baby Boomers are defined as those people born between 1946 and 1964, a demographic that's roughly 77 million strong. According to the latest Census, starting on 1/1/11, 7,200 people will turn 65 years old, every single day.

Even more compelling is the fact that "spending by the 116 million U.S. consumers age 50 and older was $2.9 trillion last year -- up a whopping 45 percent in the last 10 years. Meanwhile, the 182 million people younger than age 50 spent $3.3 trillion last year -- up just six percent in the same decade," according to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data conducted by The Boomer Project for USA Today. With numbers like that, it stands to reason that Boomers would be a highly sought after target market for automakers.

Yet many marketers largely ignore this audience for the more trendy, sexy 18-34 year-olds. The thinking has been that the younger crowd spends more and has more influence. Well, we now know that's not true. "Last year, consumers age 50 and older spent $87 billion on cars compared with $70 billion by those younger than 50," reports the Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not only do the oldsters spend more in absolute dollars, but they buy more new cars and spend more on the cars they choose.

But when is the last time you've seen a marketing campaign aimed at greying retirees? Car commercials are almost entirely aimed at a younger crowd. That said, marketing to the Baby Boomer audience is tough. The Baby Boomer generation, unlike their parents, is a much more vital, energetic, and consumer-oriented crowd. USA Today reports that Baby Boomers spend more on technology than other demographics, shelling out an average of $850 for their latest home computer, $50 more than any other group, according to data from Forrester Research. Jacqueline Anderson, a consumer insights analyst quoted in the article takes on the traditional notion that Gen Y consumers are the most eager technology shoppers, pointing out that they don't have the spending power of Boomers. The article also states that Baby Boomers are buying more Apple products not just because they are cool but also because they are easy to use. As much as any generation, Boomers appreciate ease of use, speed, and dependability -- along with style. So on one hand, Boomers are in a different phase of life, but on the other, they are far from being "old." Boomers are acting and living more youthfully and any previous generation of retirees and most are loathe to accept that they're aging.

So where does this leave the carmakers? Some actually seem to get it. From 2007 to 2010, the average age of a new car buyer rose from 52 to 56. Lincoln's average buyer age went past 60 in that same time frame. In acknowledging this, while at the same time trying not to turn off young buyers, Lincoln has hired "Mad Men" actor John Slatterly.

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"Fifty-somethings can relate to him, but he's also cool to people in their 40s," said Matt VanDyke, marketing director for Lincoln.

Overall, other car companies would be smart to do likewise and embrace the Baby Boom generation and realize their buying potential. There's no shame in letting this demographic define your brand if the strategy is executed well, especially when this dynamic and important group has the potential to make -- or break -- your company's profits.

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