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Advertisers Go Online and Prosper By Targeting Boomers

At 74.1 million strong, Baby Boomers still rank as the United States’ largest generation. But to many marketers focused on connecting with consumers in an increasingly digital world, this group of 54- to 72-year-olds is a forgotten demographic, viewed mainly as one big group of old-fashioned technophobes, unreachable by the online means increasingly favored by their younger, tech-savvier cohorts.

But marketers should know that not all Boomers are carving cuneiform* into clay tablets for communication and commerce purposes. A large faction of them are actually using digital tablets (and PCs) to access social media, buy things online and manage their finances—which are for the most part healthier than those of later generations. According to a pair of new reports from eMarketer, younger Boomers—those under 65—aren’t so much “digitally clueless” as they are digitally careful of how and where they spend their time online. For marketers seeking to reach this group, here are some takeaways on what resonates with, and repels, younger Boomers—and why it matters now.

Function Over Fashion
Younger Boomers are not naïve about the digital realm. They were, after all, the generation that drove the initial growth of personal computers and made email mainstream. And 85% of them will be internet users this year, according to eMarketer. But their use of the web and devices skews toward the practical rather than the passionate, near obsessive embrace exhibited by Millennials and Gen Xers.

For example, while more than three-quarters of younger Boomers own smartphones, their use of them favors practical functions such as text, talk and, most recently according to Pew Research, getting news, rather than as the device of choice for viewing video or going online. Similarly, while almost half of younger boomers are on social media, their apps are mostly limited to Facebook (90%) and LinkedIn (24%) which they use strictly for socializing or professional networking rather than the performance and entertainment purposes that motivate Millennials’ and Gen Xers’ preference for SnapChat, Twitter and Instagram. As a consequence, mobile campaigns aren’t as likely to engage younger Boomers as Millennials, but that doesn’t mean online is off-limits to advertisers trying to target them.

Digitaling for Dollars
Younger boomers are active online shoppers (three-quarters do it) who, according to eMarketer study author Mark Dolliver, go digital to get deals. But marketers need to tread intelligently and respectfully with their online advertising to Boomers. While Millennials have the (inaccurate) reputation for being online ad averse, Dolliver says it’s actually Boomers who hold the most skeptical views of all formats of digital ads and who also have the most privacy concerns. That’s not a deal breaker for advertisers by any means. Younger Boomers respond to good discounts and great customer service and online campaigns that leverage these will engage Boomers—as long as they don’t have to provide extensive personal information to get them.

Go Where the Money Is
But the biggest reason marketers should be paying more attention to younger Boomers both online and off (they watch 5 hours of TV per day, second only to older Boomers) is because most of them are still working, likely at the heights of their careers, and have the fatter wallets to prove it. According to eMarketer, younger Boomers’ median net worth of nearly $200,000 is significantly higher than that of Millennials or Gen Xers and, more significantly as noted by Robert Passikoff, President of Brand Keys Inc., in a New York Times article, they actually go online to spend rather than play.

“While the Millennials are sharing stuff, Boomers are buying stuff,” Mr. Passikoff said. “If you are a brand, you are in business to make money, and a tweet or share or laugh online doesn’t translate into actual bottom-line dollars.” For this reason alone, he said, “boomers are an audience that’s worth pursuing in virtually every category.”

And the time to do it is now, according to Dolliver, while younger Boomers are still working and aren’t tightening the purse strings to manage retirement.

*Thanks for indulging the ancient history geek in us. We’ve been looking for a way to use cuneiform on our blog and finally saw the opportunity. We even link to the definition for those readers who thought it might be a typo. Those of you old enough to have encountered the term before, well you must be on the upper end of the Baby Boomer range. Or you’re a well-schooled outlier!