Baby Boomers in the Media
Friday, 01 September 2006
The media, advertising and marketing use of “baby boomer” as a synonym for “old” has become irritating in the extreme. Most of the time they are speaking to the oldest boomers who have little in common with younger boomers and almost everything in common with their elders. Yet people my age and older are excluded from the discourse as though we are already dead.
These headlines, part of a longer list collected during the past two weeks, ought to target anyone older than about 50 or 60, but they are aimed at boomers by name, half of whom are under 50:
New Electric Trike For Baby Boomers
(Do they card you before purchase?)
Baby Boomers Rethink Funerals, Go Green
(Of course, no one older ever thought of this.)
Boomers Targeted in New Waistline Scare
(Celebrate. If you’re older, fat’s not a problem.)
Skin care for natural, radiant baby boomers
(Formulated to work only on people 42 to 60.)
For baby boomers, joint replacement hip surgery
(I wonder what that surgery was my mother had 30 years ago?)
Baby Boomers Need to Care for Shoulders
(Everyone knows people born before 1946 have excellent shoulders.)
Baby boomers are big targets for fraud
(Older people, however, are too smart to be taken in by con men.)
Boomers' past sunburns could mean present cancer
(You already knew that sunburns weren’t possible before the depletion of the ozone layer. Right?)
New, tiny hearing aid helps baby boomers
(To hell with older folks; they can just live with being deaf.)
That is not to say there aren’t stories legitimately specific to baby boomers, such as these:
- Nursing Shortage Reaches New Heights as Baby Boomers Retire
- Baby boomers scoop up products that promise to help turn back time
- Museum exhibit caters to memories of Baby Boomers
- Baby Boomers Brace for Retirement
- Gen X dads more involved than baby boomers before them
But more often than not, media writers and marketers substitute the phrase “baby boomers” when they mean “elders” (I would even settle for “seniors”), effectively rendering 46 million Americans older than 60 invisible. It is a form of ageism and whenever one of those headlines turns up, I think, “What am I? Chopped liver? Is there something wrong with my money?”
And that’s what baffles me: that corporations would cut out 46 million people from their potential revenue pie. I may be more extreme than some, but I don’t buy the products of companies that target only baby boomers in their advertising.
Words are the stock in trade of the people who create these stories and marketing materials and they are failing at their jobs. I don’t believe it’s deliberate. It’s laziness; easier to use that cute phrase someone thought up for the post-World War II generation than actually think about what they are writing. But the results are as insidious as intentional ageism.
As we frequently repeat here, language is a powerful tool. Every time it is used to demean, belittle or in this case, exclude a person or group, someone loses. It reinforces acceptance of prejudice and bigotry, and nothing gets better from that.
I agree entirely on the advertising issue. Here in the UK ageism is still blatant. I noticed that our local Adult Education College had pictures of potential 'students' who looked like schoolkids. I know they welcome anyone regardless of age, so I wrote and pointed out the discrepancy between their advertising and real life. They hadn't realised it was an issue and are going to change the pictures to represent a larger and older cross section. Sometimes we have to spell it out in words of one syllable.
Posted by: Charis | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 04:50 AM
Ronni -- you always catch things that go blip on my radar screen.
Prime. Vs. Elders. I see many my age (49) who are still with little children. Some had children early, like our parents, others went for careers and delayed their children. We are not being homogenous like those older boomers and those older than them.
So... we are all over the place. This is why I detect the new up-and-coming gens (X and Y) are perhaps yearning for the times when things were more simple and there were fewer choices.
Hence, the need to not box everyone. Perhaps this is where the writers were coming from... just a thought.
This is NOT to dismiss your premise of oversight and refusal to acknowledge elders. We need elders and your are good to have your antenna up on this.
Posted by: MotherPie | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 05:08 AM
ronni, do you think all those folks our age who object to the senior and elder designations would go for "chopped liver"? i kind of like it but wonder if it's too ethnically oriented. even in new york, would 70 year old asians and hispanics gravitate toward "your neighborhood chopped liver center"? worth a try.
charis, how exciting that in the UK your request could get a response--and action! only lawsuits get attention in the U.S.
Posted by: Naomi Dagen Bloom | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 05:15 AM
The "up" part of this publicity is that we should realize our influence by sheer numbers and a wide age span. We should be taking advantage of this opportunity to change things.
Posted by: jenclair | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 07:16 AM
What you are noticing is marketers attempts to target boomers - who require personalized messages much like their Gen-X and Y children - early. Most boomers ARE in the prime time of their lives (40s/50s) to START to develop a notion of the second half of their lives and for some retirement - this is where marketing really works. After marriage and children, the decades before retirement are an ideal chance to have impact on their thoughts and spending. Of course you are not 'chop liver' marketing to boomers is just hot right now - with no chance of dying down over the new couple of decades. So hang in there.
Posted by: steph | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 07:38 AM
I'm not a boomer, so the term to me always conjures up the "younger" set about whom the press has been talking non-stop since the 1940s. I think it is pay back time for you guys getting all the attention. You started the niche marketing trend.
Posted by: Norma | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 07:43 AM
I just saw an ad for some funeral plan which was available to people 40-75. It's the first time I've been lumped in the same demographic group with my CHILDREN (which is nicer for me than for them, I suspect)
Posted by: Bev | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 08:00 AM
Most of the time they are speaking to the oldest boomers who have little in common with younger boomers and almost everything in common with their elders. Yet people my age and older are excluded from the discourse as though we are already dead.
How surprised I am to hear you say this when only a few days ago you publicly villified me for the same sentiment; that is, as a baby-boomer, I should step down from your elderblogger list to make room people who are my true elders.
You said you blogroll had so many people that it, "...makes the list unwieldy – too many choices is no choice at all." You have made it clear time and again how you resent the way the boomers overshadow every other generation. And yet, when I stood up and gave my coveted spot to an elder, you behaved as if I had insulted you.
Just because my daily concerns aren't the same as my parent's doesn't mean I don't care about them. Just because we don't share the same interests doesn't mean I'm not interested in them.
You are doing a wonderful job putting the spotlight on the generation ignored by mainstream media. Keep it up.
Posted by: M Sinclair Stevens | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 08:33 AM
We may yet have the last laugh. The "Boomers" are the generation who thought they'd never get old. So, when reality sets in, expect to hear some very loud voices decrying the advertisers' ignoring them and targeting younger people.
Posted by: Betty | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 10:33 AM
Oh Betty, But it will be Gen x and y that will be crying. How do you think it would feel to live most of your adult life with almost ever commercial, brochure and article targeted towards your parents?
Posted by: steph | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 11:00 AM
....and too, I owe you an apology. Yup, my aging brain finally found "the Old Grey Poet" on your blog list. Mea Culpa. Yes, furthermore, these are young kids, usually, writing these articles, and these kids are told that we don't matter. Our incomes are static or diminishing. Bone thin children are what matter. Hello? I agree with you.
Posted by: Mage | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 11:15 AM
What gets to me are the many articles which bemoan the fact these "boomers" are a "sandwich generation"; taking care of their own children while at the same time have the responsibility for their aging parents and what a hardship this is on those who carry this burden.
I agree it is a burden but today's boomers are not the FIRST generation who have had aging parents and children to care for.
I am almost 77 years and when my children were small my mother was forced by circumstances to move in and live with my husband and me. She remained with us for over 13 years until she needed care I could not provide and she went into a long term health care facility.
So my question is this; what is new about caring for aging parents and your own children at the same time?
Posted by: Chancy | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 01:57 PM
A lot of laughs in the humor of this piece, Ronni. I guess I don't need to worry about cancer from all the sunburns I had over the years even though I'm fair complected! ;-)
But what the adveristers, marketers write, or the exclusions they make is not the fault of the boomers, nor have I ever read anything you have written, Ronni, that suggests boomers are to blame.
I think there may be misinterpretation by a very few readers that have characterized your writings as anti-boomers with such statements as "oft-reviled baby boomers" which I recall reading in a comment.
Nothing could be further from the truth. My interpretation of what you have said re the boomers has been very inclusive of them as well as the older generations.
Also, in an earlier piece you reitterated the position that your complaint is with "media writers and marketers." This can hardly be interpreted as attacking boomers.
I had an unexpected opportunity in
July to contribute to a series of articles specificially about boomers and marketing in a business newspaper in a large mid-western market in this country.
As the only spokesperson from an older generation in that article, I was extremely pleased that the reporter was bringing to everyone's attention the need for inclusion of older generations, not just boomers, in advertising, marketing, etc.
This is the message I perceive being presented here for readers consideration. This is the message in which I, too, believe. It's all about language.
BTW I did not read any request from you, Ronni, in your Housekeeping post for anyone to withdraw from your Elderblogger listing. I did read your recognition that your list had become "unwieldly - too many choices is no choice at all."
But, you followed that with your planned solution "to organize into categories and then each week...will feature five or ten." All Elderbloggers were asked to do, was suggest what category they thought their blog should be in.
Incidentally, this offering of a solution to a problem you have defined, is one of the attractions of this blog for me. You have applied this problem solving, then a solution, not only to yourself, as in this case, but also on a much broader scale.
For example, many times you have discussed issues affecting all of us, pertaining to governing, many other topics, from the local to the national and international levels. You've identified a problem issue i.e. healthcare. Frequently you, also, offer a solution to stimulate all of us to thinking about possible refinements of your proposed solution, or to offer an even better one ourselves.
It is not enough to just grouse and complain, we need to actively try to solve these problems, too. That is one reponsibility of elders. Obviously, we need the ideas of those boomers who are elders, too. The term "elder" in it's highest form is not necessarily age-related.
I, for one, will be looking forward to whatever you write in the future, whether or not it's issue related ... inviting us to enjoy Maine through a newcomer's eyes, or the more intimate environs of your own new home...oh yes, what Ollie and Grumpy Old Lady think about it all.
Posted by: joared | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 02:18 PM
I think that Elders/Seniors just need to come up with a catchy title for their group - something they can all agree on. That's what's lacking here. People are afraid to call older people elderly, or senior, or old, or aged for fear of offending them. Boomers have a built-in advertising handle that the media can grab onto - and squeeze money out of. Baby Boomers don't necessarily like to be lumped all together, but we are doomed now. So, start a campaign. Come up with a catchy name. Have a contest! Let the marketing frenzy begin!
Posted by: Emma Pod | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 03:36 PM
I thought that we were the Beat Generation.
Posted by: Cop Car | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 05:12 PM
I always thought that the Baby Boomers got extra attention and always wondered why. I am a 50 year old with children(blended family) ranging in ages from 8-29 and a mother who lives with us who is 77 so I am keeping up with what it's like to having children along with parent in the home. May seem unique but until a century or so ago, extended families living in close proximity or together were the norm and not the exception! But I have digressed.
Your blog always provides good food for thought.
Posted by: Cathy | Friday, 01 September 2006 at 06:35 PM
I'm a "Baby Boomer" and mighty proud of all that it entails....and I guess I'm missing the fact that anyone over age 65 is invisible. But then again, we certainly all perceive things differently.
Posted by: Terri | Sunday, 03 September 2006 at 07:32 AM
What follows is an example of the totally different life-styles of two so called "baby-boomers" who are both the same age: 56. These two "boomers" grew up together and are still best friends...one is a mother and grandmother who is totally involved in her family life; rearing her 13 year old son and babysitting her 1 yr. old grandson, while enjoying the fruits of a long and successful marriage to her hubby of 30+ years. She also works part-time as a school librarian at the local elementary school. In other words, her life is so packed with children and family activities and obligations that many would think she's in her 30's or 40's, not pushing the edge of 57. This "boomer" is my best friend Sue, whom I've known since I was 5 years old.
On the other hand, I am a "boomer" who has no children, had two failed marriages, has been living the single life for 10 years, and am retired from a 32 year career; live alone, and learned the hard way that I could only really rely on myself to prepare financially for my elder years. I'm in the process of adjusting to retirement, and finding a new meaning and purpose for life - so far so good but it's not always easy. In many ways, I feel much older than my counter-part "boomer" Sue.
I posted this to point out the fact that "baby-boomers", even those who are the same age and gender - can have vastly different lives, loves, goals and challenges. Sue's life is centered on her family, children and grandchildren; mine is centered on creating new challenges, adjusting to retirement, exploring my creativity, and putting past failures to bed for good. At 56, I am at a contemplative crossroads, and Sue is in the center of a hectic family life. Should I envy her? Sometimes I do, sometimes I do not. Maybe I've grown selfish to be more focused on me for a change, and fulfilling my own needs, while Sue gives all of herself to her family.
I grow tired of the term "baby-boomers" in advertising and the media as well - we are a vast population of great age differences, life experiences and lifestyles, and to lump us all together is down right ignorant, and it is wrong to exclude the many millions of elders above 60 in these "boomer" centered media ads.
Posted by: Melinda | Sunday, 03 September 2006 at 02:40 PM
Doing some research recently on the topic of generational differences, I discovered for the first time that I 'miss' the birth year category to be a boomer by one year (1945), and that my son, (now 41) was born in the last year that does qualify him as a boomer (1965).
The funny thing is, that we share many of the same memories, whenever I start to tell about something that happened I get 'I remember that Mum' - and so on. We still like the same things, listen to the same music, and cook in very similar styles.
I don't think the boomers are to blame for the constant barrage of boomer-centred advertising, I reckon blame the market researchers for identifying this a hard-to-hit target niche.
I named my blog turningsixty for exactly that reason - a target 'market' that refreshes itself every year...
also Ronni, I read the M Sinclair Stevens post that seems to have upset you, I must say that I thought her words very carefully thought-out, I am surprised that you found it offensive?
Posted by: DellaB | Sunday, 03 September 2006 at 07:32 PM
oops, a correction, I meant of course a hard-to-miss target, not hard-to-hit.
Posted by: DellaB | Sunday, 03 September 2006 at 07:34 PM
Melinda has hit the nail on the head, as far as I'm concerned. The problem is not with the so-called baby boomer age group, it is with those, be they advertisers, marketing people, whoever, who want to link together a whole age group as all being alike when each are clearly different individuals.
Maybe the sooner advertising and marketing people start selling to different interest groups instead of age groups, with labels, they'll be getting somewhere.
Posted by: joared | Monday, 04 September 2006 at 03:56 AM
Good piece. I wrote something along the same lines here:
Marketing toBaby Boomers
Posted by: Chuck Nyren | Tuesday, 05 September 2006 at 06:55 AM
I'm a Boomer -- but I'm an OLD Boomer -- born in 1947 & I've never really understood why the press & marketing folks have made a big deal over us -- maybe it's our sheer numbers that makes us a target. I know I don't fit the the marketing folks profile. I guess I'm a washout as a Boomer -- it's just another place in this world where I don't fit in & the good news is that I really don't care too much.
Posted by: Kay Dennison | Saturday, 09 September 2006 at 12:53 PM
I agree. And I find the use of the catch-all phrase boomer irritating anyway! Why can't they just say which age group they're targeting? Or stop referring outright to age anyway? How about some ageless marketing of things we all use. I know my grandmother uses hair products, drinks beer and likes to travel just like I do! If I were an elder I would be irritated that these advertisers don't see me as a person like everyone else.
Posted by: | Wednesday, 08 November 2006 at 04:07 PM