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Generational Marketing with Promotional Products

By Karen Akers

Even the best promotion can fail if it doesn't resonate with its intended audience. This is especially true when you're talking about a specific age group. To help make sure your next age-related promo and the imprinted products you've selected hit their mark, we offer this in-depth look at the key segments that comprise today's marketplace. In part one of this series, you'll learn about the different aspects of the senior market. Look for other age group profiles in upcoming issues of Imprint.

For several years now, Wisconsin's Beloit College has compiled a "Mindset List" for its professors to help them better relate to incoming freshman. It's intended to highlight the different frames of reference between the Baby Boomer teachers and the new Gen-X students, making it easier to bridge the gap.

Beloit's first list, released in 1998, contained some surprising facts:

  • People starting college that fall were born in 1980.
  • They're too young to remember the space shuttle Challenger explosion.
  • Their lifetime has always included AIDS.
  • The compact disc was introduced when they were one year old.
  • They've likely never played Pac-Man and have never heard of Pong.
  • Popcorn has always been cooked in the microwave.
While it's fun to read the lists (you can check them out at www.beloit.edu/~pubaff/releases/mindsetlist.html, they also demonstrate a valid point: If you want to reach out to a specific generation, you have to know its frame of reference.

No matter what type of company you represent – from multinational corporation to major retailer, from local restaurant to corner repair shop – being aware of generational attitudes and differences can help you make more informed business decisions. The right knowledge can help you identify up-and-coming markets and create promotions that resonate with your target audience.

This is the first of three Imprint articles that will examine the major age groups of the current marketplace: Seniors, Baby Boomers and Generations X & Y. We'll look at some of the experiences that have shaped their lives, what makes them tick and suggest how you can harness some of this information to help strengthen your promotional efforts.

Establishing A Frame Of Reference
According to Entrepreneur magazine, 20% of the U.S. population will be over age 65 by 2030. But you don't have to wait that long to tap into the senior demographic; it's a lucrative market today. In fact, the fastest-growing age group in the last decade was 85-plus.

Want to better understand today's seniors? Then you'll need to know some of the major life events that helped form their outlook on the world. When today's seniors were growing up:
  • Pluto is discovered; The Great Depression was only a year old (1930).
  • The "Star Spangled Banner" is adopted as the national anthem (1931).
  • The Social Security Act is passed; Parker Brothers introduces Monopoly (1935).
  • The German airship Hindenburg bursts into flames over Lakehurst, NJ; Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated movie, premiers (1937).
  • Orson Welles creates a panic with his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds (1938).
  • The World's Fair, the "World of Tomorrow," opens in New York; Gone With the Wind debuts; 80% of Americans own a radio (1939).
  • Penicillin is discovered (1940).
  • Pearl Harbor is bombed by Japan (1941).
  • The G.I. Bill of Rights is passed (1944).
  • The U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945).
  • The U.S. Baby Boom begins (1946).
  • Whittaker Chambers accuses Alger Hiss of being a communist before the House Un-American Activities Committee (1948).
Not One Market, But Many
One of the biggest misconceptions about the mature market is that it's a homogenous mass. Although seniors can be considered one basic age group that has experienced many of the same events, everything changes once they hit certain physical and chronological milestones. American Demographics magazine notes that as people grow older, their needs, lifestyles and consumption habits differ more and more from their peers.

AD suggests that marketers consider "Gerontographics," which divides the elderly into four distinct sub-groups:
  • Healthy Indulgers. Most likely to behave like younger consumers, Healthy Indulgers have yet to experience many things that change seniors' lives, such as retirement, death of a spouse or chronic age-related illnesses. In that sense, think of them as being about 10 to 15 years younger than they actually are. Real estate is one market that will benefit from Healthy Indulgers, as they'll likely move from their family homes to apartments or condos as they get older. Other markets with potential include home services (maid service, carpet/ upholstery cleaners); high-tech home-related devices (computers, video recorders, security systems); investment/ banking services; and travel. If you're in any of these industries, this group is a prime target.
  • Healthy Hermits. Psychologically and socially withdrawn, Healthy Hermits have experienced at least one life-changing event such as the death of a spouse or a debilitating illness. They don't like their isolation or that they're expected to act like old people. Markets that appeal to them are those that let them shop at home, such as specialized catalogs, as well as do-it-yourself products and home remodeling tools and services.
  • Ailing Outgoers. This group is basically Healthy Hermits with a better attitude; Ailing Outgoers maintain a positive outlook despite negative experiences. They accept being old, but try not to let it stop them from doing what they want. Markets suited well to Ailing Outgoers include those that help them live a "normal" life despite their limitations, such as restaurants with special menus (low salt, reduced fat, sugar-free); special clothing and services catalogs; assisted-living facilities; and healthcare products/services.
  • Frail Recluses. Like Ailing Outgoers, Frail Recluses have accepted their aging. However, they're less concerned about living life to its fullest and most often turn to spirituality to help make the best of their situation. They're also often in the market for home remodeling products and services, as they're likely to live out their lives in their family homes. But since they're unable to undertake major home repairs themselves, basic services such as landscapingF and home cleaning will appeal to them. Other related industries include home healthcare (especially monitoring kits such as blood-sugar level and cholesterol testers), emergency-response systems and transportation to healthcare facilities.
It's worth noting that seniors' attitudes aren't static; they may well move among a few of these groups during their old age. There are some factors common to most seniors, although in varying degrees. For the most part, everyone's vision, hearing and motor skills usually decline as they age. Keep this in mind when considering products and copy for this demographic. Work with your counselor to find easy-to-use products, such as those with ergonomic grips, and use larger typefaces for copy and logos.

Case In Point: Jesse Owens Redux
Some of the best promotions targeted to seniors are often energetic and can even involve a cross-section of generations. For example, when Living Centers of America (LCA) wanted to create a fun, memorable event for its nursing-home residents and boost the home's image within the community, it turned to counselor Don Anderson. Together, Anderson and LCA created the "Junior/Senior Games" to commemorate National Nursing Home Week.

Local schoolchildren joined the home's residents for the games, which included wheelchair relay races and softball throws. Winning teams were awarded gold, silver or bronze medals, and each participant received a T-shirt, hat, water bottle and button, as well as a small American flag to wave during the performance of the national anthem. The products, most of which featured the Games' red, white and blue logo, appealed to the residents' patriotism, a common bond among many members of the World War II generation. In fact, one resident, a WWII veteran, was photographed on Memorial Day several months after the event wearing his medal and waving the flag he received at the Games.

Not only was the affair enjoyable for kids and seniors alike, but it also attracted lots of local attention – including a live radio broadcast and TV coverage. Anderson says the nursing home and its residents were so pleased with the Games that it became an annual event.

Passing The Torch
With the mature market growing larger every day, it's more important than ever to keep it in mind when planning your next promotion. Getting the right mix of products and messages that will speak to the emotions of your audience can be tricky.

Your company can take the first step by first asking if, why and how you should target seniors (i.e., how could it add to the campaign's bottom line). Then, work with your counselor to make sure the messages and products you use are finely honed, taking the target audience's likes, dislikes and attitudes to heart. This can pay off in several different ways, not all of them monetary.

Another thought: With people living longer than ever, the best investment of your promotional dollars could very well be in creating life-long loyalty in younger generations now. But how do you grab the attention of "those kids" raised on Nintendo and MTV? Next issue, we'll take a look at Generations X & Y and show you how to fine-tune your promotional efforts to reach this unique generation as they begin to move into the mainstream at home and at work.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Karen Akers is associate editor of Imprint

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