Historically, typical marketing segmentation strategies have dictated that the 18-49 year old adult should be the primary focus of firms’ promotion efforts. However, as the last of the baby boomers, the 78 million individuals born between 1946 and 1962, celebrate their 50th birthdays, marketers are quickly realizing that they will have to alter their traditional tactics if they hope to tap into this group’s collective spending power of more than $2 trillion - some 50 percent of U.S. discretionary income.[1]

In particular, reaching aging boomers online represents both a challenge and an opportunity for today’s marketers. The 53 million baby boomers online make up the largest generation surfing the Web, and represent 29.8% of all US Internet users.[2] Yet, regardless of their intentions, businesses are not taking full advantage of the chance to target this generation online; more than 72.5% of adults aged 45-54 and 83.2% of adults 55 years and older believe online advertising is focused on younger generations[3].

Boomer Marketing Challenges:

In trying to determine the difficulty in reaching baby boomers, some demographers have noted that the generation might actually be better understood if split into two distinct groups: older boomers (born between 1946 and 1954) and younger boomers (born between 1955 and 1964). While there may be a case for further segmenting the boomers by past experiences given the number of years this age cohort spans – this is really only the tip of the iceberg for marketers looking to reach this diverse group.

Raised by permissive parents, who were anxious to provide their children with the material goods, security, and pocket money which they had been deprived in their own childhood, baby boomers grew up in an era which celebrated youth and prized individualism.

In fact, if you are looking to find the greatest common denominators underpinning the boomers' collective aspirations, you may discover that they can be found in this generation’s desire to be perceived as youthful and unique – and, of course, to see themselves through this lens.

To this end, marketers using messaging tailored to ‘seniors’ or ‘aging hippies’ may find themselves alienating a group whom expects to be catered to on their terms. It’s necessary to consider the goals and concerns of the baby boomer audience based on that which is relevant to them today, rather than focus purely in terms of past shared experiences.

Themes in the Midlife Stage:

Among other things, this involves a closer look at the impact of increased life expectancy on the midlife period, which is characterized by distinct rites of passages that mirror neither those of senior living nor young adulthood.

To do so, it may be valuable to consider the roles that each of the following play in the lives of boomers:

Indulgent Caregivers

According to a recent study conducted for 54% of all grandparents, almost 38 million, are younger than 65 years old and 51% of the grandparent population will be baby boomers by 2010. Spending by grandparents on their grandchildren has grown an average 7.6 percent per year since 2000, nearly double the average annual growth rate for consumers overall and the study expects grandparents to spend $52B on their grandchildren in the next year.

Additionally, adults over 40 spent nearly twice as much per month on children and three times the amount per month on teenagers as those under 40[4]. As the Hallmark Channel’s Henry Schleiff recently noted in a NY Times article, in the midst of a recession, the boomers offer advertisers “an audience — and here’s your quotable quote — that has assets, not allowances.”

Cougars: Sexy at Any Age

In a recent interview with Marketing Daily, Carol Davies, a partner at innovation consultancy Fletcher Knight, discussed the new TV Land show ‘The Cougar’ and its place in highlighting boomer women’s desire to look attractive and – yes - feel sexy.

Davies highlighted the growing cultural sense that women want to continue to be sexually relevant even after they turn 50 as well as the hyperactive beauty trial mode, in which boomer women conduct a mad search for beauty products, exercise regimes and nutritional solutions to help them look as young as they feel.

Health & Wellness Information Seekers

Boomers are highly motivated to go online to find out more about a drug, condition or regimen they have seen advertised on TV. In an earlier ThirdAge/JWT BOOM survey of 1,039 people over age 40, 68% said that seeing a health-related TV commercial had prompted them to go online for more information.

And, among those seeking additional information, a whopping 80% said they clicked on an online ad related to health issues!

Targeting Tactics:

By targeting based on the needs of the midlife stage detailed above while simultaneously considering boomers’ collective aspirations and beliefs in messaging, marketers may find that they grow increasing effective in reaching this elusive group.

Here are some ideas on tactics that may resonate in marketing messaging:


One way to achieve success in the boomer arena is to create a brand that is associated with trust – and prove it. Boomers tend to be less brand loyal than younger generations, and, in fact, according to an AARP/Focalyst survey in 2008, some 61% agreed that “in today’s marketplace, it doesn’t pay to be loyal to one brand.”

On the other hand, once a firm manages to attract a boomer following, it can pay back in droves, particularly among female consumers. A year-long survey by Keller Fay Group for Prevention magazine found that word-of-mouth is a strong influence in buying decisions among boomer women. Some 68% of boomer women rated information they heard in conversations as credible and 55% said they made purchases based on their conversations.

Quality Products and Accurate Information:

Perhaps because they have seen more trends come and go than their millennial counterparts, your messaging should reflect boomers’ focus on a products long term quality and value; this generation is not typically interested in short term fads.

According to a 2008 Focalyst Survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents ages 43 and older said they paid more attention to ads for products they already planned to buy. Since boomers are not brand loyal, they are likely to decide on a product purchase without having a brand in mind, as a result, they are highly receptive to advertising that provides additional information on products they intend to purchase and more likely to be willing to experiment with new brands.

As a caveat, false advertising can be harmful to your brand, the same Focalyst survey revealed that two-thirds of Boomers would be less likely to buy a product if they found the advertising to be offensive – such is the case with ads that bucket them as ‘seniors’.


Recently, we've seen nostalgia-themed advertising campaigns for companies like Target, Coke, and Nationwide Insurance; marketers' goal in revisiting the past is to distill the economic anxiety of the present. Some of these campaigns involve combining the best of the past and present in order to bring in younger audiences, but boomers, in particular, tend to benefit from nostalgic targeting that reminds them of their youth.

[1] Value Retail News; Dec2008, Vol. 26 Issue 10, p19-19, 1/3p
[2] comScore Media Metrix Research, September 2008.
[3] Burst Media Corp., March 2008
[4] TV Land’s “Generation BUY: A Close Look at the Boomer Consumer” study.

Fans of progressive British rock might recognize the question that Pink Floyd asked over 25 years ago in their critically acclaimed album, The Wall. Today in the retail industry, it has new meaning. At times over the past six months, the economic climate we've been subjected to has seemed as apocalyptic and outlandish as anything Pink experienced on his journey towards isolation. Some marketers may be asking, what has happened? Where are our consumers? Why aren't people buying the things I'm selling? Or put more simply, and to quote another seminal British rock band, "where have all the good times gone?" (The Kinks, for anyone playing at home.)

But here's the thing: no matter how bad the economy might seem, people still need the things you're selling. And if they don't actually need them, they still want them. Only now, with portfolios crumbling, layoffs pervasive, and personal budgets tighter than ever, consumers are being much more selective and discerning with their money. I know I am...aren't you? I still need what I need, and I want what I want, but I'm going to make sure I'm getting exactly the right thing before I shell out any of my hard earned money. And I'm going to make sure I get it at exactly the right price. In short, I'm going to do my research.

For a discerning shopper, the Internet offers unfettered ability to do all the research necessary before pulling the trigger on any purchase, big or small. Search, in particular, puts all the information a shopper needs to make a decision right at his/her fingertips. And for the half of all sales affected by web research , shoppers are making the most of their access to this information.

Compete, Inc. and Google recently released a study that shows just this -- what they term the "latency of online conversions". In short, online purchases thus far in 2009 are not declining compared to 2008. Across almost all Retail sub-categories, in fact, they are on par, if not up slightly. What has changed, however, is the time it takes someone to purchase. Compete's research shows that in 2009, the amount of time between a shopper's first click and their actual purchase has increased, and that the number of conversions occurring within the first 24 hours is declining. Their research also shows the timeline of search-driven conversions , confirming what other research supports in that as many as half all search conversions occur after the first 24 hours.

So studies are good, but how about a real life example? I'll give you mine, but think about how you shop these days and how your consumers might be shopping. In my home we desperately need a new color printer/copier. Other things have been calling our paychecks over the past 6 months, so we've been putting up with the old printer for a while now, ignoring its interesting choice of colors. But now it's time, so I begin my quest for a new printer. I think I want one with lots of bells and whistles, but I'm not certain which features I need, what they all cost, and which brand makes the best all around printer. So I search.

I type "color printer" into Google. Lots of results. Lots of choices. I click on a few of the more interesting ads and links, but quickly realize I need some advice. So I search again, this time for "color printer reviews". More results, including a few paid links. After more clicks and more research, I'm thinking I'd like a laser printer/copier, want something that does photos really well, and don't care about a fax machine. So I try again, this time "multifunction laser printer". Lots of results again, but I'm smarter now and have a better idea of what I want. After a few more clicks it's down to 3 different brands. Hmmm... I'll probably take a day or two to think about it, and in my spare time I'll also check to see which stores/sites might offer the best price on those brands. I'll do a search for a specific model number and see what is on offer. Anyone offering free shipping? How about order online and pick up in store for free? Any sales? Any deals that include free ink or something extra? Where am I going to get the most for my money?

Ultimately, I'm definitely going to buy a printer. But you get the point - it's going to take me longer, and I'm going to do my research before I buy. So what can you as an advertiser do about this? How should you react to this evolving consumer behavior, and how can you use search marketing to continue to drive purchases of your products both online and offline?

Here's a short list:
  • Choose the right keywords. Expand your reach with keywords, remaining relevant to your products but getting into the upper funnel of a consumer's purchase consideration. Include more generic and research based keywords to make sure you connect with a user from the very start of their process. Using the "printers" example, consider keywords like "color printer", "laser printer", "multi-function printer", etc.
  • Make your ads compelling. Call out the things that matter most to consumers, and the things that set you apart from your competition. Getting them to click on your ad takes more than just appearing when they search. Give them a reason to visit your site and come back. Going back to the printers example, use statements like "affordable color printers", "get $100 off quality laser printers", or even just "get great deals on high quality printers".
  • Expand your conversion cookie. Take into account the longer consideration cycle of buyers today. Make sure you are regularly employing your Web Analytics data to make sarter choices. Monitor your website traffic as consumers visit and move through your site to see how they behave and interact with your site, and ultimately convert. Check out Avinash Kaushik's blog "Occam's Razor" for more information about the importance of using web analytics.
  • Be there the next time. And remember, one visit is likely not enough for them to decide to buy. If they come back it might be through another search, so be there again the next time they're looking. Ensure your keyword selection is complete, top to bottom, for all the products you offer. If you have what a shopper needs/wants, then the more you appear for relevant searches the more trust you will build with them.
Things will get better, but this evolution in consumer behavior may be here to stay (or at least for a while...we have short memories, after all). Don't ignore it. Change your behaviors and tactics in order to work best in this new landscape, and find ways to reach your customers every time they're looking for what you offer.

For those that have already watched part 1 of our interview with Bob Houk - below is part 2.

In part II Bob Houk, Executive Director of the Trade Promotion Management Association, dives into the online channel's opportunity to harness traditional trade promotion tactics.

For those that missed part 1, but prefer to skip it and get to the end of the story ... here's a quick recap: For decades retailers and manufacturers have joined forces to promote products to end consumers. Those practices have evolved over time, but have been a bit slow to make their way to the online channel. Bob Houk, a trade promotion expert, discusses what he believes retailers and manufacturers should and could be doing in the video below.

It seems that everywhere I look, I am reminded that we are battling tough economic times. Whether watching the news or my favorite TV programs, reading content on the web, at the bus stop, or while reading magazines…I am bombarded with advertisements on how I can afford products and services in an economic time that rivals the Great Depression. Most advertisers seem to recognize that in order to keep sales up in a time when many are cutting “unnecessary” purchases, they must appeal to consumers where it counts the most – their pocket books.

While the degree to which consumers are becoming price sensitive to meet their spending budgets differs, experts throughout the industry agree that marketers' behavior must change to accommodate all ranges of sensitivity. Recently, The Economist ran an article From buy, buy to bye-bye, where John Gerzema of Young & Rubicam echoed this shift, saying, “there will need to be a move from passion to compassion in marketing.” Advertisers are employing a compassion-based message that lets consumers know brands understand their financial concerns. Experimenting with recession messaging to address customer concerns, while enticing them to continue spending, is a key survival tactic during the slowdown.

Additionally, The Economist details how consumer shopping behavior has normalized from projected “affluence” to saving and buying within one’s means. This new consumer behavior is expected to outlive the recession; therefore, it is prudent to assess the benefits of advertising coverage of deal terms and recession-themed advertising to retain lifetime customers.

Finally, in this new value-driven economy, consumers are increasing their reliance on social media as a “word of mouth” vehicle. More than ever consumers want to know that what they are purchasing is worth it and will look to their friends for recommendations. It is important to be active in the social network communities representing your brand and promoting your value proposition, to retain customers.

I have included some samples of advertisers that are adjusting their marketing strategy to the shift in consumer behavior. The first is an example of how Target is leveraging the keyword “coupon” to reach deal-seekers and keep competitive in the tough market.

Second, Domino's Pizza Chief Executive Officer David Brandon, center, offers a "big-taste bailout" aimed at "hardworking people on Main Street," not "fat cats on Wall Street.”

Another savvy advertiser, Trojan condoms leverages clever recession messaging to keep sales strong. The ad states, "To help America cope with these tough economic times, we put forth our own stimulus package: The Trojan Pleasure Pack."

The final example demonstrates how Jamba Juice has incorporated a combination of recession vocabulary and a fun play on words (i.e. "stimulate" and "buck the economy") with a value deal (oatmeal for $1) in a catchy way to spark consumer interest and leverage today's consumer trends.

In conclusion, it is important to contemplate the following questions during this economic time: Is your creative message aligned to the emerging value-trend? Am I capitalizing on value, deal and coupon terms in my search campaigns? Am I positioning my products to show the most recession-worthy features and benefits? Am I actively involved with the social community speaking about my brand? Each question is key when planning a strategic response to the recession-based consumer behavior shift.

Source: Economist ran an article From buy, buy to bye-bye
Target search ad:
Domino's commercial: YouTube
Trojan commercial: YouTube
Jamba Juice:

A hot topic within online advertising circles is how to leverage traditional trade promotion and co-op ad spending in the online advertising arena. I wrote a blog post about it a few months ago - and continue to dig deeper.

Rather than re-invent what trade promotion tactics can be executed specifc to the online industry - I've found it very helpful to first learn what traditional tactics are effective and try to apply those learnings to "our" medium ...

A big help in that process has been Bob Houk, Executive Director of the Trade Promotion Management Association (and author of the book "Trade Promotion Marketing"). Below is Part 1 (of 2) of our conversation. These first 5 minutes cover trade promotion basics. Part 2 will talk about specific online strategy ideas.

We visit once again with Les Moeller from Booz & Co in the final installment of our video interview series.

In the past segments Les offered insight and advice around the changing consumer landscape and consumer behavior as a reaction the the new economy. Today Les will tackle the issue of "marketing in a down economy" - how aggressive should you be?

If you missed Part I or Part II - just search the blog for "moeller".

Posted by, Emma Weisberg, Google Retail Team

I started in advertising on the agency side, as a media buyer on accounts ranging from family entertainment to finance. Every day, my team received requests from our media partners to come in and walk us through a new research study. One study would show moms are spending more time online. Another would prove his site drove more conversions for a “white label retailer” than others.

During these presentations, it was our job to poke holes in the stories and question the research. This was not to be defensive, but to ensure the research we’d be using to mold our clients’ media campaigns was rock solid. Now, on the other side of the desk, I am the media partner calling my clients with “a great new research study to prove…”

What I’ve realized from my experience is that 3rd party research can never be 100% accurate for my business. I hear from the field, “that white label retailer is smaller than me,” or “my target audience is older than the one in the study,” etc. This is not to say 3rd party data isn’t valuable. On the contrary, if we can learn how other advertisers have succeeded by studying their research, we are only the wiser. But instead of using 3rd party data to validate our campaign strategies, it’s time we start conducting more of our own research tests.

With retailers now being forced to “do more with less,” we must prove the value of every single ad dollar. We can no longer afford to take someone else’s word that banners drive search, or that multi-channel shoppers spend more. We need to set up methodical tests, using our own retailer data, to better understand how our advertising is driving sales. Instead of the mantra “do more with less,” we should be asking, “how can we make the most with what we have?”

Every retailer will want different questions answered. And every test will vary based on what we’re trying to prove. But to get the testing ball rolling, here are a few thought starters. So put your hole-poking hat on, and question my testing ideas. Then, set up time with your Google account team to share what you want to prove about your online campaigns this year. Work together to devise the appropriate test using your own data set. And after you test and learn, test again, and then again. And then maybe publish your results in a white label case study. We really do love them.

Test #1- Is my search campaign driving in-store sales during a promotion?

Goal- Drive store sales by informing online shoppers (searching for your products) that you are having a promotion in their purchase category.

Execution- Run search at 100% SOV against all relevant categories in the days leading up to the store sale. Google can provide estimates on impressions and clicks against specific categories.
Measurement- Match known users on your website with in-store credit card behavior by aligning the two customer data bases. This will show you if the consumers who searched on your website later went in-store to buy.

Test example (mock data for illustrative purposes only)

Promotion- Spring Sale
Sale dates- 4/25 – 4/26
Product focus- jeans
Search timing- 4/22 – 4/26
100% SOV Impressions- 3M
CTR- 2%
CPC- $0.70
Clicks- 60K
Search investment- $42K

Test #2- How are my product-based (non-brand) search campaigns impacting my business?

Goal- Correctly assign value for individual product categories by testing the impact of coverage against high-volume category keywords.

Execution- Bid on groups of high-traffic, high funnel keywords to determine the value of the “first click.”

Measurement- Use cookies to track user behavior over 30-day window (purchase cycle varies by product category). Monitor behavior after first click for subsequent search activity, direct load, general site activity, and in-store purchase through customer database matching.

Test example (mock data for illustrative purposes only)

Product category- cookware
Sample keywords- saucepan, grill, frying pan, crock pot
Search timing- May
Search investment- $60K

Posted by, Jen Anderson, Google Retail Team