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Direct Response Marketing

Before the Boom

23 Nov, 2009 By: Bridget McCrea Response

Marketers that haven’t already formulated a plan for reaching America’s senior consumers are missing out on an opportunity that’s only going to increase as the nation continues to age. Deserving a second look right now are the Greatest Generation (born 1901 to 1925) and the Pre-Boomer Generation (born 1925 to 1945).


Most Pre-Boomers and members of the Greatest Generation hold dear to their hearts American values that seem to be lost on the younger crowd. “Our elders (parents, teachers and the community) taught us to be patriots, believe in one another and believe in ourselves,” says Potter. “We still cherish these lessons and practice them to the best of our abilities. It was the Pre-Boomers who taught the Boomers, but somewhere along the line, they didn’t latch on to these values the way we did.”

Potter says the ensuing “me generations” became the symbol of status and the generation of “more.” This pleased marketers, and made it easier for them to sell their goods and services. “As the Boomers came of age, there was a huge group of consumers who were eager to buy what others were selling,” says Potter, who wrote a book about marketing to Boomers entitled The 50+ Boomer: Your Key to 76 Million Consumers.

When assessing the key differences between older and younger generations in America, Potter says technology tends to be the great divide. Whereas Generation X, Y and even many Boomers tend to use the Internet to shop, research and network with one another, older generations still prefer a more traditional approach. Pre-Boomers and the Greatest Generation also tend to be more frugal and less impulsive when it comes to shopping, preferring to thoroughly investigate their options before making a purchase choice.

“The Boomers just don’t know how to stop buying,” says Potter, laughing. To effectively reach older Americans, he says DRTV marketers need to use solid advertising tactics that garner attention and create a desire for the product or service, and follow it up with a strong call to action. “Combine a good advertising strategy with a product or service that truly fulfills a need, and you’ll get older consumers to buy,” says Potter, “even if they’re on fixed incomes.”

And remember that Pre-Boomers and the generation that preceded them are considered more “traditional” than younger Americans, says Potter, and still like to pick up the phone and/or take a trip to the local Walgreens to buy products, rather than going online to do it. “Where younger buyers might whip out a cell phone to make a purchase while walking down the street,” Potter explains, “you won’t find many 65-plus Americans doing that.”

The tradeoff comes in the number of television hours viewed by older adults — a fact that simply can’t be ignored by DRTV marketers who are grappling with the fact that myriad other entertainment media are intruding on the television’s position in the typical American household.

To ensure that his client’s DRTV commercials effectively target those television viewers, Yallen says his creative team draws upon the older American’s patriotism, strong work ethic and respect for authority.

“We take a completely different creative approach and segment that audience, whose media consumption is high when it comes to TV,” says Yallen. “We target them on different networks and programs, rather than just using demographics, and typically use longer creative executions based on the fact that they want more information, and typically take longer to respond.”

Yallen says that while the work involved with targeting specific generations can be tedious, the rewards are significant. “Older Americans are very loyal consumers who come to the table more informed and ready to participate in continuity programs,” says Yallen. “That’s very rewarding because we focus on customer acquisition and live by the philosophy that it’s better to acquire a loyal customer than a disloyal one.”

Blocking and Tackling

Reaching the maturing market requires a targeted approach that sometimes starts with the product itself and that includes more than one decision maker, as was the case of the $14,000 walk-in bathtub that Cesari Direct of Seattle recently developed a DRTV campaign for.

According to Tim O’Brien, vice president of business development, the product was developed for the elderly individual who was facing a tough decision: either move into a nursing home, or find a way to adapt a current residence to his or her needs.

“This product represented an opportunity for them to ‘age in place,’ in their own home,” says O’Brien. The campaign included DRTV spots that appealed both to the older consumers, and to their children (most likely Baby Boomers and Generation Xers who are helping with key choices in their parents’ lives). “We market to the children as well because we know that with high-end products, the decision is going to be collective,” says O’Brien, whose firm used a similar, collective approach with a recent real estate lead generation campaign aimed at older adults.

“We used the same messaging strategy for the elderly consumers as we did for their children or grandchildren,” says O’Brien, “once again realizing that important decision-making is done by more than just one person.”

To further appeal to the older generations, O’Brien says the firm offers expanded payment options, knowing that many such consumers prefer to buy with cash and not rely on credit lines. “We offer an electronic check-by-phone program as part of the campaigns,” says O’Brien, who, like Yallen and Potter, says older Americans are learning to use technology to their advantage when searching for, researching and buying products.

“As the years go by, we’re seeing more and more of these folks getting online,” says O’Brien. “They may not be getting on Facebook and uploading videos to YouTube, but they are the typical America Online Web user who uses the Internet to look at family photos and perform other functions.”

With the Pre-Boomer and Greatest Generations collectively controlling much of the nation’s wealth, Potter says the key to reaching them is to not talk to them as if they were “old,” but to instead think of them as much younger, active and vibrant because that’s how they think of themselves.

“Even though they may be chronologically and philosophically at an older age, you don’t want to treat them as older consumers, but as savvy consumers,” says Potter. “They want all of the information in an easy format. They know how to buy, so just lay it out for them and let them make the decision.”

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About the Author: Bridget McCrea

Bridget McCrea

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