How to Market to an Aging Boomer: Flattery, Subterfuge and
By ELLEN BYRON
February 5, 2011
When baby boomers call ADT Security Services Inc. with questions about medical-alert alarms, they get
operators specially trained to be sensitive to their needs. Top of the list: Don't remind them that they've
"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
"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.
Surreptitiously, 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.
Invesco Van Kampen Consulting, an arm of Invesco Ltd., suggests financial advisers offer coffee cups
with handles instead of Styrofoam (easier to hold), use lamps instead of overhead lights (less glare), and
turn off the television when clients visit (background noise hampers hearing), says Scott West, a
Euphemisms are flourishing. ADT, owned by Tyco International Ltd., is marketing its medical-alert
system to aging consumers as "Companion Services."
Corp.'s Depend brand, widely considered adult diapers in the past, has had a makeover in
a new TV ad: "Looks and fits like underwear. Protects like nothing else."
Bathroom-fixture maker Kohler Co. struggled to come up with a more palatable word for "grab bar,"
which boomers resist. It introduced the "Belay" shower handrail—named for the rock-climbing technique
—which blends subtly into the wall of a tiled shower. "When you say, 'We've got beautiful grab bars,'
[boomers] just say, 'Naw,' because they don't want to identify as needing that," says Diana Schrage, senior
interior designer at Kohler's design center.
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