Ads today often skip over baby boomers

Chuck Nyren is feeling abandoned. It’s not about friends or loved ones. He thinks he’s being ignored by advertising.

A baby boomer of 54, Nyren believes the world of advertising has written off his generation.

“What’s happening now, advertising agencies are pretty much run by kids in their 20s and early 30s,” said Nyren, an ad industry consultant who lives in Snohomish.

“The general rule of thumb is that the best advertising is written to sell to yourself. The wrong people are doing it for the 50-plus markets,” he said.

That, in a nutshell, is the message in Nyren’s book “Advertising to Baby Boomers” (Paramount Market Publishing, Inc., 2005).

It’s not my habit to read or write about business books, but this one caught my attention.

I’m three years younger than Nyren. I remember those stodgy Geritol commercials he writes about, and I agree with his dim view of Cadillac now using Led Zeppelin to pitch a car I wouldn’t want in the first place.

Nyren has been in the ad business more than 30 years and has done work for Microsoft and numerous Seattle-based agencies. A native New Yorker whose mother was a copywriter and father an ad agency executive, he said he was a “true Madison Avenue baby.”

An observant baby boomer, he contends advertising gets our generation all wrong, either ignoring us or making us out to be silly or stupid.

“Saying that will make me about as welcome in an advertising agency as Michael Moore at the Republican convention. I’m saying they don’t have the right people to do the job,” he said.

Ignoring the biggest and richest demographic takes money out of the client’s pocket, he said. The product producers lose out, and we boomers don’t get the information we want in order to choose those products.

Nyren writes that this year, 38 million baby boomers are 50 or older, that we make up 35 percent of the population, have 60 percent of the discretionary income and control more than 65 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Even when another age group is targeted, Nyren said it’s foolish to alienate a secondary market. As an example, he mentioned a TV ad for a Web-based vacation and hotel service.

A young woman is looking for a hotel for her parents. She clicks on a link to “ultramodern.” In her mind, her folks get to the hotel but can’t figure out a Space Age chair. In the bathroom, her father can’t figure out the push buttons and manages to turn on the shower, soaking his wife’s clothes.

The spot is doubly insulting. Older adults are clueless about finding a hotel online, and then can’t figure out the room. In truth, we boomers are more likely the ones who can afford fancy hotel rooms, thank you very much.

Another stereotype is that boomers are hellbent on holding onto youth. “Most of us are not trying to be 30. We are redefining what it is to be 50,” he said.

Does anyone get it right? Nyren said he’s been asked that many times. His answer is New Balance, the shoe company.

“New Balance does a pretty good job targeting people over 40,” he said. “They market their running shoes, tennis shoes or just casual shoes as being involved in a meaningful, holistic lifestyle. Their ads have very little to do with competition and being the best. They’re more about the rewards.”

Nike, with its “Just do it” slogan, is very youth-oriented, he added. “New Balance went in the other direction. They sell lots of shoes to people over 40. Those shoes come in different widths, because our feet change.”

Feet aren’t the only body parts that change with age, but Nyren sees boomers as aging gracefully. As consumers, he said we deserve more attention.

“We’re an unwieldy, varied, complex social group,” he writes. “We’ve lived through interesting times. We’re living through interesting times again.”

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com.

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