The Story: Changing the Narrative About Older Consumers
Take an advertising lesson from when the Baby Boomers were young, and apply it to changing the narrative about those very same (now) older consumers (and beyond).
What we now call empowerment marketing can be traced back to a revolutionary advertising shift in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, the empowerment of young people and the celebration of the emerging youth culture came at the expense of older people. This resulted in a casual and systemic form of ageism that we have to unravel, both as marketers and as a society.
The irony is that those very young people at the time are the older people of today. The Baby Boomer generation has been on both ends of a 60-year spectrum of empowerment and inadequacy.
An even greater irony is that we can take an advertising lesson from when the Boomers were young and apply it to changing the narrative about older consumers. All we have to do is tell the truth about the new breed of older consumers in engaging and specific ways.
Changing the story is not just about Baby Boomers and their wealth. It’s also about Generation X and even the Millennials as we approach the tipping point where all three generations become part of the 50+ market.
But first, let’s go back to 1959. It was a time when selling just about anything was a naked appeal to status … or specifically, the lack thereof.
Thinking Differently About Cars
When it comes to “inadequacy marketing” that preys on insecurities about status, there’s no better example than how cars were sold to Americans in the 1950s. And the top dog in terms of “elevated status as salvation” back then was the Cadillac.
It was all about the car in your driveway, according to the advertising at the time. These ads didn’t really sell the features of automobiles – they sold the opportunity to associate yourself with certain values, an in-group identity with successful people, and the good life.
Driving a Chevrolet? Better work harder to get into a Buick. From there, Oldsmobile was the next step up in price and prestige until you reached the pinnacle — the outrageously expensive Cadillac.
The ads were not the least bit subtle1:
The 1959 Cadillac speaks so eloquently – in so many ways – of the man who sits at its wheel. Simply because it is a Cadillac . . . it indicates his high level of personal achievement. Because it is so beautiful and majestic, it speaks of his fine taste . . . why not visit your dealer tomorrow and arrange to have a new Cadillac tell its wonderful story about you?
But the 1959 Cadillac suddenly had a most unlikely competitor. This car wasn’t a real alternative to those who craved the particular type of status the Cadillac promised.
Instead, it was a shift in what constituted status itself to a growing group of people with an entirely different set of values. And the ads that promoted this car were truly revolutionary at the time.
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