Marketing to Boomers-Meeting Ageism with Reality

Article excerpt

When baby boomers became young adults in the 19605, they confronted society's wrath as they challenged the traditions of preceding generations. Born between 1946 and 1955, the "leading-edge boomers" experienced their share of dismissive indictments from their parents' "GI Generation" when those born in the early decades of the 20th century encountered a massive youth cohort set on "doing their own thing." Even younger brothers, sisters and boomers' children nurtured resentments against an outspoken generation often willing to risk everything as it confronted "The Establishment." For many complex reasons, a bad memory still lingers in the collective mind of the United States, and some of the most audacious critics of the boomers belong to the same generation.

Joe Queenan, a regular contributor to GQ and Forbes, calls boomers "a whiny, narcissistic bunch of paunchy, corporatized losers." In his book Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation (New York City: Henry Holt, 2001), Queenan does not pull any punches; he sees his generation as self-centered, rude and obnoxious. He dismisses all but perhaps an elite few (such as himself?) as "fakes, hypocrites, cop-outs and, in many cases, out-and-out dorks."

Some boomers who align with conservative ideology are also outspoken against their peers. Daniel Okrent presented his excoriation of yuppie boomers in a June 2000 Time Magazine article titled "Twilight of the Boomers." He concludes that boomers are fatuous, self-important and lazy. Not to be outdone, David Brooks, author of Bobos in Paradise: The Upper Class and How They Got There (New York City: Touchstone Books, 2001) suggests that many boomers are hypocritical sellouts racing toward a collective self-loathing.

Then, there is gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, who is not necessarily conservative but is an articulate leader of the aging population segment. He predicts in his book Age Power: How the 21st Century Will be Ruled by the New Old (New York City: Tarcher/Putnam, 1999) that the boomer generation's tendency toward self-centeredness could devolve into a future "Gerassic Park" where younger generations rebel, perhaps violently. Fortunately, Dychtwald does not believe that this outcome is preordained; rather, how the boomer generation manages its social agenda in the coming decades will determine intergenerational consequences.

No matter what the age or disposition of the critics, boomers are growing weary of their maligned status. Call us sensitive, but no generation deserves to be dismissed as "self-absorbed" or with some other sweeping invective. A generation by definition is too large, too complex and composed of too many unique individuals. Additionally, generational bias is simply another form of prejudice, just a different verse and chapter of the primordial thought processes that foster sexism or racism, homophobia or xenophobia. When this bias focuses on a generation quickly growing mature and confronting the challenges of being old in America, then prejudice morphs into ageism almost overnight.

Boomers want and expect a chance to right the record and overcome damage wrought by their protest and political movements during youth. Many want to confront adversaries with the force of reason and debate. Others prefer to triumph over the negative stereotypes by doing "good works," by reinvesting time and commitment for nonprofit organizations and philanthropic causes. Still others hope for a fuller, more balanced reporting of the challenges and constraints they faced when they began young adulthood during a time of war, assassinations, racial unrest and a highly segregated society. And many boomers want to update the record with greater commitment to giving back to their communities during retirement.

HIDDEN VALUES

The 75% Factor: Uncovering Hidden Boomer Values, released in June 2002, addressed this point. This revealing study was coauthored by generational demographer James V. …