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The Mission, The Man, The Money: Marketing to Baby Boomer Men

By Brent Green, author, Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers

Legendary guitarist and rock singer Steve Winwood gave optimism a new ringtone when he released Back in the High Life Again in 1986. He lyrically proclaimed: It's so hard to just slow down, so don't be surprised to see me back in that bright part of town.

And what is true for the ebullient classic rocker tends to be true today for the male Boomer cohort, of which Winwood is one high-profile example. This insight arrives in contradiction to some prevailing wisdom about Boomer segmentation opportunities.

For example, several new books identify women 40+ as today's muscle consumer. As Mary Brown and Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., co-authors of BOOM: Marketing to the Ultimate Power Consumer - the Baby-Boomer Woman, observe: “She is already making the majority of household purchases, spending well over a trillion dollars a year on consumer goods and services. And now, as both her numbers and dollars continue to dominate the consumer marketplace, she's poised to turn the marketing world upside down.”

According to these authors, women “make 80 percent of home improvement decisions… account for 65 percent of all new automobiles sold every year, and purchase over 66 percent of computers.”

These books would lead some not to focus on Boomer men. Why bother?

For one, Boomer Y chromosomes hand American business about $1 trillion annually. For another, gender proclivities coupled with generational affiliation present important targeting and business development opportunities that demand to be noticed.

When Demographics, Social Revolution and Business Converge
Never before in the history of this nation have so many men entered the 50+ lifestage. Nearly six thousand Baby Boomer men turn 50 every day, and a Boomer male turns 60 about every 15 seconds. This inexorable march to 60+ will continue for the next seventeen years, and then this generation's longevity dash continues onward toward the eighth, ninth, and tenth decades of life. Someday, millions of Boomer men will survive beyond the average terminal age achieved by their grandfathers and fathers.

Demography by itself does not fully predict the future course for this generation. The idiosyncratic Boomer value set, inspired by the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960's and 1970's, adds dimension to future scenarios.

Generational cohorts consist of those born in a contiguous historical period. As a generation comes of age, roughly between 15 and 25, members experience the same major events, forming collective mentalities in reaction to these events, thereby influencing sociology and culture of the generation. Formative experiences can have enduring influence throughout life, with implications for the marketplace. How so for Boomer men?

First, this generation of men has experienced the consumer power that came with being at the top of the nation's traditional social hierarchy. When they were young adults, Boomer men were favored with jobs, wage and salary advantages, and access. Social status influenced them to resonate with ideals about manhood as demonstrated by heroic marketing archetypes such as the Marlboro Man and the Shelby Ford Mustang.

Second, they also remember standing side-by-side with female peers during long months of struggle to achieve greater economic and social equality for women. Many protested for greater racial inclusiveness. A man coming of age in the sixties and seventies learned to empathize with the underdog and to challenge authority.

Social inclusiveness has appeared in countless advertising and marketing campaigns during the last half of the 20th century. An iconic magazine ad campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle - “Think Small” - embodied the underdog achieving celebrity status. This sense of equality has powerful new implications as the nation embraces its first African American (and Boomer) president.

Third, Boomer men have always been unwilling to accept the status quo bequest by older generations. They have a feisty history of revolutionary behavior, and they've transformed every lifestage they've occupied.

They ushered in the yuppie. They gravitated to products such as the BMW sports car and Mont Blanc pen, reflecting their well-honed sense of technology, design and luxury. With their power lunches and 24/7 work style, they popularized a grueling productivity ethic.

Boomer men today are wary of disempowerment and restrictive rules governing full participation by mature men in society. They've watched too many of their resigned fathers trudge over the horizon. Caricatured advertising portrayals of men as silly and inane propose an unwelcome second-class status.

They are unwilling to accept systemic marginalization. They express their independence in a number of ways and particularly when consuming.

Aleve television commercials portray athletic Boomer men refusing to give up competitive sports and surrender to worn-out joints. The message resonates with a generation that continues to embrace metaphors of youth: conquer, don't capitulate.

An abundance of 50+ men promises to inculcate new vitality to masculine aging. Boomer men are creating new paths of meaning for all men to follow, and this will be revealed culturally through brilliant marketing.

Here are some underdeveloped opportunities for generational and gender nuances in marketing:

Collaboration between Boomer Men & Women
The Boomer generation has played a significant role popularizing gender inclusiveness. While one spouse may have greater influence on the choice of some product categories, big ticket purchases are usually a byproduct of spousal deliberation and cooperation. Gone are the days when Dad pulls into the driveway with a new car that he has selected and purchased unilaterally. And gone are the days when Dad comes home to find a new clothes washer and dryer. Boomer spouses have learned to collaborate, and males and females can often be reached effectively with messages shaped around gender considerations.

Mainstreaming Metrosexual Men
A new sociological male segment, identified in recent years by British writer Mark Simpson, is not dominated by homosexuals, but they've embraced the feminine sides of life while holding onto traditional male identity. As Simpson observed: “Metrosexuality actually gives men a certain amount of independence from women: after all, they can actually choose their own clothes, operate a washing machine, and maybe even cook for themselves. Whereas the retrosexual depended on women to mother him, the metrosexual mothers himself.” And they shop. He may go to Home Depot to buy a power drill and stop by Macy's to shop for an aftershave balm.

Single Boomer Men, Autonomous Shoppers
A significant number of Boomer men have never married and an even greater number have divorced and are living alone or with non-romantic roommates. I estimate about 15,600,000 or 20% of the Boomer generation are both single and male. Single males make most of their shopping decisions independently, so advertisers have untapped opportunities to reach those who are both male and living alone or without a female spouse.

The Allure of Gifting and Boomer Men
When was the last time you saw a woman buying an engagement ring? Or sending herself flowers on Valentine's Day? Boomer men buy a wide range of products for spouses and significant others, and opportunities abound for clever marketing strategies that simplify these harrowing tasks around the holiday gifting seasons and anniversaries.

Products and Services Just for Guys
Many products appeal more to men. Product categories most amenable to male marketing strategies include dress suits and upscale shoes, such as those purveyed by Cole Hahn; male magazines targeting Boomers, such as BestLife and Esquire; pharmaceuticals for male performance, such as Viagra; luxury muscle cars, such as Lincoln MKX; outdoors equipment, such as a sizeable male segment served by the boating and fishing industry under the cross-promotional rubric called Take Me Fishing; and the exploding industry of male grooming and personal care products now being addressed by traditionally female-focused companies, including Calvin Klein, L'Oreal, Lancôme, and Clinique.

Boomer Gay Men as a Market Force
A marketable percentage of Boomer men are homosexual and rely substantially on male marketing and culture for shopping and purchasing decisions. My estimate, based on studying GLBT survey literature, suggests this U.S. segment is comprised of over three million males. Critical success of the popular television series, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, underscores that gay sensibilities in popular culture can resonate with straight men.

Powerful Influences of Gender on Attitude
Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), based in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, has been conducting consumer research into the Boomer generation mindset since the beginning of this decade. NMI's research has uncovered significant trends in Boomer attitudes about aging, healthcare, shopping preferences and the impact of current economic conditions.

Boomer men and women share many core values. For example, based on NMI's Healthy Aging/Boomer Database, 81 percent of Boomer women and 78 percent of Boomer men strongly or somewhat agree with taking responsibility for health matters: I'm very concerned about my personal health and am actively managing it.

Both sexes strongly or somewhat agree that exercise is a primary way to promote healthy aging (94% of women and 92% of men). Both sexes strongly or somewhat believe vitamins and nutritional supplements promote healthy aging (75% for both genders). Both sexes believe that maintaining independence as they age is of highest priority (98% of women and 96% of men).

However, upon closer study of NMI data, noteworthy gender differences emerge. Steve French, managing partner of NMI, believes many attitudes have distinct gender influences that marketers can use to construct and target commercial messages.

“NMI research follows the opinions of 10,000+ Boomer men and women, and our survey data is revealing surprising gender insights,” said Steve French. “For example, Boomer men are more likely to aspire to live very long lives, but they are less likely to embrace the behaviors that correlate with longevity, such as prioritizing a healthy diet and pursuing supportive social networks. Differences between men's aspirations and reported behaviors create opportunities.”

When asked if they would like to live to 100-plus years old, 61 percent of Boomer men strongly or somewhat agree, while 53 percent of Boomer women hope for such advanced old age. Concerning a belief that the best years of life are still ahead of me, 77 percent of women strongly or somewhat agree while 68 percent of men share this degree of confidence in the future.

A large percentage of Boomer men aspire to long lives; yet, many do not have faith that bonus years will be so golden. A gap between ambition and outlook is an opportunity for marketers promoting late-life reinvention, such as community colleges offering curricula for men to learn meaningful new vocations.

While a majority of Boomer men hope to live long lives, Boomer females are more likely to share information with peers when they learn something new about health & wellness (80% female versus 63% male). Advertising and sales promotions can compensate for men's relative lack of reliance on peer opinions.

Finally, Boomer men are more prone to spend discretionary dollars during the economic crisis. They are more likely to make impulse purchases than women (25% men versus 9% women). They are more apt to spend than save (37% versus 28%). They are more self-directed on investment decisions (70% versus 46%).

At the grocery store, they are more willing to buy national brands over generic store labels (46% men vs. 26% women). At big-box wholesale club and specialty stores, they are more willing to spend today on home renovations, appliances, vacations, and new technology.

Men of the Boomer generation are moving into a time of renewal, as if a phoenix rising from ashes of irrelevance, when the generation's large numbers and antiauthoritarian persona are coalescing to challenge traditional views of aging, manhood and consumerism.

A new sociological construct for male aging is aptly being demonstrated by a former president, Bill Clinton, and his former vice president, Al Gore, who are at the leading-edge of this generation. Like these leaders, Boomer men are bringing new context to late-life generativity - sharing of wisdom and resources for the benefit of younger generations. They're spending lavishly on children and grandchildren.

Ready to change the meaning of aging and masculine identity, they will expect more, acquire more, challenge more, and give more than their predecessors. Business implications are transformational.

About the author:
Brent Green is a creative director, copywriter, author, professional speaker, and consultant focused on the Baby Boomer generation. Author of Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers: Perceptions, Principles, Practices, Predictions, Brent speaks and consults for organizations focusing on the Boomer segment. His blog,, addresses media, marketing and social issues affecting this generation. Brent Green & Associates, Inc. is an internationally award-winning marketing communication firm based in Denver.
About Natural Marketing Institute:
A leading business consulting and market research firm, NMI assists Fortune 500 and start-up companies across many types of industries with insightful market analysis and strategic planning surrounding new product opportunities, branding, communications, consumer target identification, sales strategy, and strategic business planning.

Copyright 2009, Brent Green & Associates, Inc.
ists Fortune 500 and start-up companies across many types of industries with insightful market analysis and strategic planning surrounding new product opportunities, branding, communications, consumer target identification, sales strategy, and strategic business planning.

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