How Brands are Turning to Events to Engage Baby Boomers

How Brands are Turning to Events to Engage Baby Boomers
One Way to Target Baby Boomers? Focus on Adventure

How Brands are Turning to Events to Engage Baby Boomers

Iconic rocker Mick Jagger is one. So are big screen hunks like Viggo Mortensen and Richard Gere. And sex symbols like Jamie Lee Curtis, Christie Brinkley, Kerry Smith and Madonna.

Yep the over-50 set doesn’t look like it used to Mavis. Baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are not only looking younger and living longer they’re working well into their retirement years and redefining what it means to age gracefully.

And just like the post-war boom that gave them their name they’re heading for another population explosion. Forty-one percent of the adult population in the U.S. is already over 50. According to the U.S. Census over the next 10 years for every person that enters the 18 to 49 demo nine will enter the 50-plus demo. And it’s not only where the population is it’s where the money is too. Boomers hold 70 percent of the nation’s wealth—an estimated $2 trillion in annual spending power. “Marketers for a very long time have been focusing on the 18 to 49 demo ” says Patricia Lippe Davis associate publisher-marketing at AARP Media Sales. AARP produces the largest annual event in the U.S. for consumers over 50. “But I think that the bull’s-eye of the target has actually moved and is now 50-plus. It really is the unsung marketing demographic.”

Meet the generation that’s bucking trends and changing perceptions and find out why marketers at mega brands like Quaker Microsoft NASA and Hewlett-Packard are turning to events to engage with them more than ever before.

Defying Stereotypes

Hitting 55 is no longer about getting the gold watch and puttering away the retirement years on the golf course. “I am not like my mother and grandmother were at this age ” says Lippe Davis. “I’m aging but I have no intention of growing old.”

The over-50 set is working longer. Nearly 25 percent of adults ages 65 to 74 are still in the workforce according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—up from 19 percent in 2000. “It’s a way of staying involved and motivated ” says Lippe Davis. “People are reinventing themselves starting new careers going back to school volunteering.” At this year’s Life@50+ event AARP’s annual convention that hosts more than 25 000 attendees organizers were surprised by the number of attendees who showed up to résumé workshops with credentials in hand ready to discuss new careers relocating and going back into the workforce.

In addition to working longer seniors today are much more tech savvy than most marketers give them credit for. According to a January 2009 joint study by TNS Compete and the Consumer Electronics Association consumers age 50 and older are as likely to own or plan to purchase an HDTV as those ages 49 and younger. Eighty percent of 60-somethings used a cell phone in the past week—a rate similar to those ages 18 to 34. And about 71 percent of 60-somethings and 52 percent of 70-somethings used a search engine in the past week compared with 77 percent of those ages 18 to 34. Social networks for the 50-plus set like and are growing in popularity too. AARP in April added a social network to its website and within nine months had 250 000 members.

Wild Oats

To promote the heart-healthy benefits of its breakfast bars and cereal to its sprightly 50-plus target Quaker got booties shaking and hearts pumping at last September’s AARP Life@50+ event in Washington D.C. Visitors to the booth could jump on the dance floor and go freestyle take a dance lesson or take a break and munch on breakfast bars and cold cereal samples. Attendees were invited to record their dance moves and upload their videos to for a chance to win a $50 000 grand prize—a tie-in to a month-long on-air promotion with the show “Live! With Regis and Kelly.”

“Both marketing programs were great opportunities to spotlight Quaker Oatmeal’s leadership in heart health and its commitment to helping people lower their cholesterol ” says Karen Raviv heart health marketing manager at Quaker Foods & Snacks. “The celebratory platform also helped Quaker Oatmeal communicate that it wants to help people put more life in their years starting with a healthier heart.”

Lippe Davis says AARP has seen an explosion in new marketing investments by CPG brands like Quaker which may finally be realizing the influence of the boomer and early senior demographic. “Brands had been marketing to mom gatekeepers for so many years who are now becoming 50-plus and who maybe have adult kids or teens at home ” says Lippe Davis. “They’re still the gatekeeper but their purview for shopping has opened up.”

Game On

In 1997 Microsoft and AARP partnered on a seminar series designed to educate older Americans about computers and the internet. The partnership sparked the development of Microsoft’s aging group—a division that waxed and waned in the years that followed but was resurrected in June 2005 when the company recognized it needed to tend to the 50-plus demo.

“The reason why we resurrected the group is the fact that you can’t go a day without reading about the world aging and the ercentage of individuals that are going to be on pensions ” says Gary Moulton product managertrustworthy computing group at Microsoft. “The boomer certainly characterized that but I think it was more the international aging dynamics that motivated us.”

Moulton’s event strategy splits the 50-plus demo into b-to-c and b-to-b audiences. The brand activates at ASA-NCOA the American Society on Aging’s annual convention to reach out to therapists doctors nurses and academics that work with the 50-plus market; and at AARP’s annual Life@50+ consumer event where Microsoft has been the technology pavilion sponsor for the last three years. The brand’s product groups use the real estate to demonstrate products they think will appeal to those over 50. Many demos focus on digital literacy to help seniors navigate the fast-changing online worlds of e-government and e-health (think: IRS online banking insurance websites). But Moulton was surprised by the number of over-50 gamers. Yes gamers.

Last year was the first year Microsoft’s casual games group activated at AARP’s event. Research had shown that the largest and fastest-growing group using its product was women over age 50. “I think there will be more groups as time goes on within Microsoft that will realize that this is a market segment that they might not be addressing directly yet are using their products ” says Moulton.

Moon Walk

Over six million American grandparents have children under 18 living with them. NASA tapped into the trend at AARP’s Life@50+ event as a way to get traction on one of its key missions: leveraging the Apollo generation to get new generations of American kids excited about science and space.

NASA created an experience designed to spark a conversation grandparents could keep going when they got home from the event. Under suspended 12-foot earth and moon globes the agency used its footprint to work the theme: going back to the moon. Activities included a wind tunnel simulator a 24-inch globe with an animated touchscreen and a chance to put on 3D glasses and check out a 10-foot-by-20-foot image of Mars. Visitors could jump in front of a green screen and take a picture and a 30-second video floating in space ” and then send it to friends plus take a copy home with them. Or chat up experts about what people eat and how they pee
in space. NASA also invited grandmas and grandpas to lay down and get run over by a threewheeled remote-controlled rover. They loved it ” says Jim Hull manager exhibits and artifacts at NASA. “Talk about engaging. Even the elderly will lay down and get run over by it.”

Attendees could also step in front of the camera to answer the question “Where were you when we landed on the moon?” The video testimonials of the boomers’ personal experiences on July 20 1969 helped connect their life experiences with NASA’s renewed mission to the moon. Visitors could go to to view and share their memories with friends and family.

“It’s an exciting vision of the future that we try to describe not only to the grandparents who are supportive of NASA because they’re the Apollo age—they watched the launch and walking on the moon—but their kids get equally excited because they’re the ones that are going to be going and actually doing this stuff ” says Hull. “And that is the real key to keep that excitement and that spirit of exploration alive.”

Open Access

Despite living healthier and longer lives most Americans will eventually be faced with the limiting effects of aging. Hewlett- Packard’s accessibility and aging group markets products and technology designed to make the transition easier.

“Many grew up with technology or are technology savvy and they still want to do a lot of the things that they’ve been doing ” says Michael Takemura director-accessibility and aging program office at HP. “Sometimes they just have a little bit more difficulty doing it because of diminished sensory capabilities vision for example or manual dexterity becomes more challenging. People have many different types of abilities and disabilities so there’s a great opportunity to market to those many different markets.”

HP breaks up the over-50 segment into two groups: those just turning 50 and those in the 50-plus category that want to keep their parents engaged. In the first group “the opportunity is they’re excited about getting technology from many different sources ” says Takemura. “They’ll go to the 50-plus show. They’ll buy things online. A lot of it is word of mouth. They’re open to the different ways things are marketed to them.” For the second demographic “it’s not as intuitive for them or they didn’t grow up with the microwaves and walkmans and electronic devices but a number of them are engaged in multi-generational homes ” Takemura says. “It’s a mobile society so they want to help give them access to email and share photos and announcements from their children’s children.”

To reach both demos HP turns to shows like AARP’s Life@50+ event the one-day Silvers Summit at CES (a first-time event this year that showcased technology for seniors) and the What’s Next Boomer Business Summit.

Messaging products to a mixed audience of 50- to 70-somethings can be tough especially when none of them wants to define themselves by their age. “The one thing that we’re still challenged with is that no one wants to claim the label ” Takemura says. “Particularly in the senior market a lot of people don’t want any labels attached to them.” One strategy Takemura says is to craft a message based on an experience—a live scenario like an event where consumers can see how it all works together first-hand. “If you describe it in those terms they can say ‘Oh yeah that’s something mom or dad will want. They can accept a gift like that and not feel like they’re being put down or it’s demeaning to them. It’s something they can embrace.”

Jessica Heasley
Posted by Jessica Heasley

Jessica worked for more than 15 years in marketing and events before joining Event Marketer in 2007. She earned her master’s degree from t he Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and her bachelor’s from the University of Washington (go Huskies!). Her last gig before coming to Red 7 was at Psychology Today magazine. Her proudest professional accomplishments include fixing a branded 1972 VW bus accelerator pump on the side of a highway in South Carolina with a paper clip and some string the night before a 30-city college tour; convincing Dr. Laura that she wasn’t writing a piece about lusty event marketers having lurid affairs on the road (which she kind of was); and, while at an independent film dot-com called AtomFilms, using about fifty bucks worth of chocolate chip cookies and a couple gallons of milk to lure film festival attendees away from Steven Spielberg’s (now defunct) big budget “Pop! Multimedia” booth to her company’s tiny living room event space. Although she is a native of Seattle, she never once owned an umbrella or rain boots until she moved to Brooklyn, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter. She was born in Everett, WA, home of the pulp mill.
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