John Farquhar: marketing to the undead

I thought I'd watch a little television this week and see how marketers see me, someone over 50. Apparently I'm dying, in constant pain, infertile, incontinent, undersexed and over-pollinated.

I thought I’d watch a little television this week and see how marketers see me, someone over 50. Apparently I’m dying, in constant pain, infertile, incontinent, undersexed and over-pollinated.

According to the diagnosis of the marketing industry, I don’t have long to live. So let me get this out in a hurry.

You guys are some seriously confused puppies. All these pathetic, alienating portrayals of the collective boomer group will not serve you well. We’re either the butt of the jokes or ignored all together. And as for this endless fascination with youth, well, you guys have to grow up.

Why? Let’s start with this delusional pursuit of youth. Last time I checked, the purpose of marketing was to get the largest amount of money from the largest number of people as frequently as possible. Those under 30 are the most susceptible to the vicissitudes of this recession. They have the highest jobless rate. They have the lowest discretionary income. And they are understandably hoarding what little they have left.

And the boomers? We’ve got the money. The over-50s comprise about 40% of the population and are responsible for a total personal income figure of approximately $388 billion out of a Canadian total of $974 billion (PMB). We’ve paid off our mortgages. There are no more daycare bills. In fact, the kids are out of the house and we’ve got cash burning a hole in our Hugo Boss jeans.

But of course, as conventional wisdom goes, we’re not going to spend it on your product. Boomers have made their choices. We’ve chosen the brands we’ll stick to for life. Everyone knows that. So why spend money getting us to change when we never will?

Wrong again. A recent Roper ASW study shows that consumers in their 20s and 30s are actually more averse to trying new brands than those in their 50s. Give us better quality. Give us something more interesting and we’ll effortlessly change brands.

Boomers are the original experimenters. Remember President’s Choice? This is the generation that rejected supermarket brands en masse in favour of better, more interesting Memories Of Dave Nichol offerings.

Boomers were the original brand experimentation consumers. They went from American cars to Japanese cars to German cars and now Korean cars. The fact that more hybrid cars are sold to 50+ consumers proves that boomers are as ready today for a new idea as they ever were.

‘I’m a Pontiac guy and always will be,’ the guy said. Okay, who exactly is that guy? He no longer exists. Dead as Pontiac.

And we buy a lot of cars. Boomers are estimated to buy on average another nine cars before we shuffle off this mortal coil. Look at our driveways. We even buy them two at a time.

You’ve got a target group that’s easy to reach: we still watch TV, we still read newspapers, and we listen to conventional radio. We spend a ton of time online and we’re easy to find there. We’re methodical in our decisions. We pay on time. And once more for effect, we’ve got the cash.

Who’s driving that new Lexus convertible? Who’s dining in the hottest restaurants? Who’s flying full fare to Europe? Who’s buying 3,000 square-foot condos? Who’s decked out like Lance Armstrong and riding that exotic $6,000 titanium/graphite alloy road bike? It’s the guy with the grey hair.

But, you CEOs say, ‘In 30 years they’ll all be dead and gone.’ 30 years? Really? REALLY? Dude, you’re just trying to make it through the next two fiscal quarters.

Granted, we’re in a recession. Stock portfolios and RRSPs have taken a major hit. The vast majority of those portfolios were held by boomers. So we’re all a little bummed right now. But we know that money is coming back. How do we know? Because we’ve seen this before. And when it does come back, we will be the first ones spending and spending big. You are going to see a spending spree of Russian mobster proportions.

And who are we going to spend our money with? The people that haven’t given a rat’s ass about us? The people that portray us as doddering, hair-plugged, sad-ass, ‘it’s-Patrick-and-he’s-bought-life-insurance’ doofuses? What do you think?

I’ll leave you to mull on a cautionary tale from Monty Python’s The Search for the Holy Grail: ‘Bring out your dead!’ called the soldier pulling the wagon full of plague victims. ‘But I’m not dead yet!’ said the older man as he’s tossed on the pile of corpses by his stone-hearted son, ‘I’m actually feeling much better!’

I’m actually feeling pretty good myself. I think I’ll go out and buy something.

John Farquhar is president and creative director of Toronto-based Wild Mouse Advertising. When he’s not out shopping like an oligarch, he can be found at