Sunday, 6 February 2011

Marketers Discreetly Retool for Aging Boomers.

FEBRUARY 5, 2011.

Marketers Discreetly Retool for Aging Boomers.

The oldest Boomers start hitting 65 this year -- just don't call them seniors! -- and corporate America is paying attention. Kelsey Hubbard talks with the WSJ's Ellen Byron about products that cater to the new oldsters without them even knowing it.

"Boomers are used to being independent, and they get agitated if you're talking too slowly," says Barry Primm, an ADT home-health team manager who trains new operators to speak quickly and get to the point with these callers. "They just want to get it done, fast and business-like."

The generation that sent diaper sales soaring in the 1960s, bought power suits in the 1980s and indulged in luxury cars in the 2000s is getting ready to retire: The oldest boomers turn 65 this year. To accommodate their best customers' needs, American companies are overhauling product lines, changing their marketing and redesigning store layouts.

But there's a catch: Baby boomers, famously demanding and rebellious, don't want anyone suggesting they're old.

From cars to music to product packaging, manufacturers have always strived to accommodate aging baby boomers.

"We don't do anything to remind boomers that they are getting older," says Ken Romanzi, North America chief operating officer at Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., which has targeted the health-conscious generation as its primary consumer base.

Companies are making typefaces larger, lowering store shelves to make them more accessible and avoiding yellows and blues in packaging—two colors that don't appear as sharply distinct to older eyes.

In the past, most big consumer products companies didn't specifically target senior citizens, since people over 65 traditionally spent less and resisted trying new products. But many marketers believe the baby boom generation—born between 1946 and 1964—will turn that conventional wisdom upside down.

The 76 million boomers already account for an estimated half of total U.S. consumer spending. With longer life expectancy and lower savings rates than previous seniors, they are projected to spend an additional $50 billion over the next decade, according to market-research firm SymphonyIRI. Rather than passing on their wealth to future generations, they're expected to splurge mostly on themselves as they move households and pursue active lifestyles.

"As a generation, they're large enough that they expect to be served uniquely as they age," says Sean Seitzinger, an analyst formerly with SymphonyIRI. "That's very different from the generations before them."

To be sure, companies catering to seniors face drawbacks. The recession reduced many boomer nest eggs, requiring them to save more and rein in spending. By its very nature, an aging boomer demographic will shrink every year as the oldest members die.

Nevertheless, the generation that drove the growth of hula hoops, bell bottoms and personal computers will continue to be an influential market as it ages.

A big driver of boomers' increased spending is the fact that over one-third plan to move to a new home within five years of becoming empty nesters, according to SymphonyIRI. Many more are expected to adapt their homes to better accommodate diminishing mobility, all in hopes of maintaining the independent lifestyles they have embraced since their rebellious teenage years.

"A lot of boomers have been downsizing into new homes, and when you move into a new home, you need to redecorate, which is a very good thing for us," says Ellen Moreau, vice president of marketing for Sherwin-Williams Co.

"The boomers are much more focused on enhancing their well-being versus just trying to address being sick, as the prior generation might have been," Mr. Tompkins says.

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