Marketing to SWELS: seniors with energetic lifestyles

If your day-to-day business involves marketing healthy foods, beverages or dietary supplements to baby boomers, then you know their buying power is amassed into the trillions, even with the downward economic spiral. As Kimberly Lord Stewart found out, successfully reaching this demographic begins with avoiding two common mistakes

Despite the fact that there are 78 million people in this country born before 1965, and that every 8.5 seconds another person turns 50, marketing to the baby-boomer generation is not as simple as it seems. Why? Because every boomer in America is a market of one, according to research by Blaine Branchik, professor of marketing and advertising at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. Each boomer has unique experiences, unique ways of gathering information, and his or her unique health concerns.

Perhaps the biggest mistake any company can make when targeting boomers is to categorise them as one happy ageing demographic with predictable patterns of behaviour. In this digital age of pooling demographics, a muddy puddle will result if one thinks all boomers will respond similarly to the same marketing campaigns. Boomers are not a homogenous group.

Boomer marketing is all about establishing relationships; part of a concept David Weigelt, chief marketing strategist and partner for Immersion Active, calls Meaningful Online Engagement. In Weigelt's book, Dot Boom: Marketing to Baby Boomers Through Meaningful Online Engagement, he suggests that rather than solely touting the features and benefits of a product, marketers need to connect with boomers by appealing to their basic human needs. (Excerpts are available at

"It's not that boomers don't want to hear the facts about a product," Weigelt says. "As all humans age, we become more whole-brained thinkers, and our world-view changes based on a lifetime's worth of experiences. That means that we are more inclined to trust our gut in making purchase decisions. The best way to connect with an older consumer is by making an initial emotional connection (right brain), and then follow up with product information (left brain). Focusing on basic human needs and understanding how those needs are satisfied based on the consumers' season of life establishes an authentic and genuine connection that results in sales and turns customers into ambassadors."

Too often boomer marketing campaigns are based on age. While it's never polite to ask someone's age, it's even worse to make assumptions about age. Why? Boomers don't think of themselves as old, and within this demographic there is a vast difference in perceptions and experiences (see sidebar below). For instance, some boomers may still be parents, others grandparents and still others are both parents and grandparents.

Age is relative. For example, the Pew Center recently posed this question to more than 2,900 adults: what age marks the beginning of old age? The answers are revealing.

For an expanded version of this story on marketing to boomers, go to

Within this vast range of perceptions and years is an equally broad range of health concerns, ranging from minor aches and pains to chronic illnesses. Health is more about how one feels than birthdates. Regardless of age or health status, "boomers make decisions based on how they feel, rather than the age they are," says Anthony Cirillo, president of Fast Forward Marketing.

Jim Gilmartin, author, lecturer and baby-boomer marketing expert at, sums it up in this statement excerpted from Tell Them a Story: "Though we don't notice it happening — any more than a child notices he is growing an inch taller during the summer — changes take place across our life span in how information is processed by our brains. How a 30-year-old mind processes the contents of a commercial print ad or direct mail pieces will be markedly different from how a 50- or 60-year-old mind processes the same information."

Age of respondent

When they say old age starts







65 +


Who's your market … a Kennedy, an LBJ or a Truman boomer?
An IRI study released in July 2009, "Baby Boomers II: Preparing for the Upcoming Wave of Aging Shopper Growth," shows that boomers can be segmented into specific markets or micro segments: LBJ … ages 34-43; Kennedy … ages 44-52; and Truman - ages 53-62, each with distinct lifestyles, experiences and buying habits.

For instance, the IRI study reveals that Trumans' food preferences include coffee over carbonated drinks, and chocolate, nuts/seeds and ice cream for snacks. They are more apt than younger boomers to take vitamins for wellness, and OTC products for digestive health, and they adjust their diets to manage high blood pressure and diabetes.

The IRI report revealed the following nuances:
I eat for nutrition:
84 per cent of Trumans
79 per cent of Kennedys

I eat to manage a health condition:
61 per cent of Trumans
46 per cent of LBJs

Case study of Actimel's nuclear family
Meet Anne and Louis, grandparents at the top of the family tree for Danone Actimel's fictitious probiotic family. Anne and Louis are active grandparents of Sam (age 6) and Claire (age 12), and parents of mom Rachel (age 36), and parents-in-law of an unnamed husband to Rachel.

The story behind the story was the brainchild of Senior Agency in the UK ( Despite the success of Actimel for younger adults and families, boomers weren't catching on to the idea of a daily single shot of immune health. So before deciding how to proceed, the Senior Agency posed this question to a group of 50-plus consumers: why do I need to strengthen my immune system? The answer tells a clear story that for the boomer set, it's about feelings, not age.

Men 50-60:
Stress - In my 50s I'm very busy, but I accept that my resistance to stress is now lower (which is why I need to strengthen my immune system).

Women 50-60:
Fatigue - With menopause, my body gets a little slower, which is annoying. But, mentally, I still have the same ambitions and driving force (which is why I need to strengthen my immune system).

Men 60-70:
Balance - Now that I'm retired I can finally have much more serenity, as long as my body feels the same way (which is why I need to strengthen my immune system).

Women 60-70:
Companionship … I'm still part of a couple and now that we're both retired I hope we'll have the time and energy to do the things we like together (which is why I need to strengthen my immune system).

From this simple question, the motivators of stress, fatigue, balance and companionship emerged. The resulting message on the Actimel website tells a story about Anne and Louis, "We know that we are more vulnerable at our age but there's so much to take advantage of at this point in life that we need to stay in shape, we want to see our kids, our grandkids, and see the world." Anne and Lois go on to say that they heard about Actimel from their children and now they love it.

In a few sentences, the Actimel brand captured a story about Anne and Lois who had a need to stay in shape so that they could see their kids and grandkids (emotion), and travel the world as a couple (action). They learned about Actimel from a trusted source (no, not Danone) … their own children. On the scientific side, Actimel's scientific research is also categorised online by life stage … children, middle age and seniors. To see the online campaign, go to or


Cardiovascular health and boomers
According to a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the medical system will continue to be hampered by the increasing numbers of baby boomers with health problems related to cardiovascular and metabolic issues. This is where the functional-ingredients world could play a bigger role, especially as compared to the pharmaceutical industry.

Prevention takes a back seat in the pharmaceutical world because drug ads sell people on the idea that they are sick through hyperawareness of minor to severe conditions. This may be changing. For boomers, awareness is growing about the unique role of functional foods (See more on this online at In coming years, boomers will find a host of new products that address a primary health concern … preventing heart disease.

In recent years, the introduction of cardio-health ingredients such as DSM's tensVida for maintaining normal blood pressure, the merging of Ocean Nutrition's Meg3 and PL Thomas' MenaQ7 K2 branded ingredients for cardio and vascular health, as well as the addition of Salvia hispanica L to snacks and processed foods, all point to an increasing wealth of products designed to prevent heart disease. Product developers would be wise to consider incorporating these key functional ingredients into future products for boomers (for more ingredients and conditions, go to


Select suppliers
Healthy fats/oils
Algatechnologies AstaPure

Azantis Krill Oil

Carotech Tocomin SupraBio

Croda Europe Incromega Trio

Diana Naturals HealSea

Enzymotec USA Krill Oil

EPAX Omega-3 Concentrates

GAT Food Essentials Omega-3

MegaNatural-BP Grape Seed Extract

Solazyme Algae

Pizzey's Nutritionals SelectGrad

Salba by Core Naturals

Plant Sterols
ADM CardioAid Plant Sterols

Cargill Health & Nutrition CoroWise Plant Sterols

Wild Flavors Phytosterols

Other Cardio Ingredients
Bioenergy Life Science RIBOSE

DSM tensVida

Fluxome Sciences Trans-resveratrol

LycoRed Lyc-O-Mato

Natural Health Science Pycnogenol

PL Thomas MenaQ7

San Francisco Herb & Natural Food Hawthorn Berry

SourceOne Global Partners CoQsource

Boomers look online for information and entertainment
Members of the Baby-Boom generation are increasingly shifting away from traditional TV in favor of online services and entertainment, and now spend more free time online than they do watching TV, according to a study by ChangeWave Research.

The May benchmark survey of business professionals ages 45-63, focused on TV viewing habits vs. home internet usage. It found that Boomers spend an average of 12.9 hrs/week online, compared with only 11.8 hours/week watching traditional TV. It also found that many Boomers would be willing to give up their subscription TV service if they could get the same programming online.


Moreover, by a five-to-one margin Boomers are watching less traditional TV than they did a year ago. Among this group, 62% say it's because they're not as interested in what's on TV these days, and another 26% say they're spending more time surfing the web, ChangeWave said.

Boomers Unwilling to Pay for Social Networking
Though more than half of Boomers have a social networking profile on a site such as LinkedIn (51%) or Facebook (55%) or another site, 77% of users say they would not be willing to pay a subscriber fee for social networking. Of all the services, LinkedIn is the most likely to attract paid subscribers — but only 7% say they'd be willing to pay a fee if it was no longer free.

Traditional TV vs. Alternative Programming
Among traditional TV viewers, 20% of survey respondents say they would be likely to downgrade or cancel their current TV service package in the next six months. The likelihood of canceling is highest among cable (22%) and satellite subscribers (22%), and lowest among fiber-optic TV subscribers (7%).

When asked which one paid subscription — among all media choices — they'd be most willing to give up, 44% selected TV service, which fared significantly worse than any other subscription service.


ChangeWave said that the vulnerability of TV subscription services is a direct result of the growth of internet video, which is providing a direct threat to traditional TV. More than two-thirds of Boomers (69%) say they've watched video content on their computer over the past 90 days and 48% say they'd be willing to pay a monthly fee for a subscription to an internet video service if it provided the same programming currently available on TV.

In terms of the top TV websites, (79%) is the leading online website Boomers use to watch video, followed by TV network websites (39%), (16%) and iTunes (11%).

Some Ads Okay
In terms of willingness to watch ads associated with internet video, the survey found, not surprisingly, Boomers clearly want to see fewer ads than they do with conventional broadcasting. However, more than two-thirds (68%) say they are willing to view at least some ads online.


About the research: The survey was conducted by polling members of the ChangeWave Alliance Research Network, a group of 20,000 business, technology and medical professionals and early-adoptesr. ChangeWave surveys this network of members weekly on a range of business and consumer topics, and converts the information into a series of proprietary quantitative and qualitative reports.

Mature Adults Gravitate to Vibrant, Single-Image Ads
Mature consumers prefer single-image advertisements over ads with multi-image collages by a margin of 66% to 34%, and also gravitate to images that show products and lifestyles, according to a recent image-preference survey by Creating Results.


The "Photo Finish" study of more than 400 Americans age 40+ was conducted to determine which type of photography is most effective when advertising to Baby Boomers and older generations, as well as some members of Generation X. Survey respondents were shown a series of pictures and asked to respond to questions about which attributes they preferred.

Key findings about images in advertising:

  • Vibrant pictures featuring brighter colors and expressive models trumped subdued images with cooler colors and contemplative models, 65% to 35%.
  • 65% of respondents preferred images in which the model's face was clearly identifiable vs. cropped photographs.
  • The older a consumer, the stronger his or her positive feelings for identifiable photos. 76% of those over age 75 preferred recognizable photos, as well as 75% of 65-74-year-olds and 62% of those ages 55-64.
  • Lifestyle photography was preferred to product photos by all respondents (59%) and was most effective with those designated by Creating Results as Caregivers (71%), Gardeners (78%) and Volunteers (75%).


  • While 56% of all respondents preferred product images over product-in-use images, men differed from the overall group. More than half (54%) chose product-in-use as more appealing.

"With more than 115 million Americans over 40, spending trillions of dollars on travel, healthcare, housing and more each year, mature consumers represent a great opportunity for lifestyle-related businesses," said Todd Harff, president of Creating Results. "Understand their preferences. Pick your pictures wisely, and you can help your product or service cut through advertising clutter and speed the purchase process."

About the survey: The non-quota, intercept survey was conducted among 414 adults age 40+ in a variety of locations, including large conventions in urban settings, suburban neighborhoods, retirement communities, airports and other public venues. It was fielded from Sept. - Dec. 2008. Respondents were chosen at random and asked to complete a two-page survey. Additional demographic information is available in a free report from Creating Results.

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