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For the past few years, talk has centered on the enormous spending power of the Tweens, college students, and young professionals with their seemingly endless wants and incomes. The segment that got largely ignored, by both marketers and the media, was older consumers—Boomers and grandparents.

But companies are beginning to realize that Boomers could be the most stable segment available in terms of their income and assets. These customers, aged 47–63 years currently, exhibit different characteristics than the generation that came before them. Unlike the traditional reputation of older consumers, they are comfortable with new offerings, such as digital media, but they also still enjoy print magazines and TV.

Television shows like CBS’s 60 Minutes and CSI continue to earn top ratings, meaning they have not lost the degree of advertising revenues that shows targeted toward younger viewers have. To appeal to this unique generational cohort, networks have realized they cannot just keep showing vintage I Love Lucy reruns but instead need reality series like The Cougar, a celebration of an older, good-looking woman being pursued by younger men.

In another medium, the Web site ebeanstalk.com, which sells children’s learning toys, believed its target customers would be younger people starting a family. But through more research, it realized that 40 percent of its buyers were grandparents purchasing toys for their grandchildren.

The Boomers have paid off their mortgages and are the least likely to be laid off when companies downsize. By next year, they also will likely account for the highest median income, which should accrue to the 55–64-year-old age group. By 2015, 59 percent of U.S. grandparents will be of the Baby Boomer generation. These customers also exhibit appealing shopping behavior for marketers: 60 percent of Boomer households buy beer, 60 percent buy carbonated beverages, and 55 percent buy candy, even though these products generally are marketed to younger consumers. These customers are also willing to pay full price, something the younger segment seems to reject out of hand.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are retailers going after older consumers?
  2. What do these recent findings suggest about market research based on demographics?

Stuart Elliott, “The Older Audience Is Looking Better Than Ever,” The New York Times, April 20, 2009.