September 9, 1996
By Sid and Bruce Good
and Bruce Good are principals of Good Marketing Inc., Cleveland.
Want your marketing
or advertising effort to touch the hearts of the baby boom generation?
Wrap your message snugly in the comforting memories of their youth.
It is easy to
understand why no generation of American has so venerated it own
past as baby boomers, the currently middle-aged men and women born
between 1946 and 1964. Boomers grew up in suburban subdivisions
with all the advantages of post-war America at their fingertips.
And today, their memories are being tapped a prime resources to
gain competitive advantage in marketing and advertising.
We call this
phenomenon "security blanket marketing" and believe that
anyone hoping to win the attention of baby boomers should keep its
principles in mind.
The most fundamental
tenet of security blanket marketing is that the presentation of
products or services in print or broadcast advertising should include
positive references to the 1950s through the mid-1970s when boomers
were children and when they last experienced the freedom and excitement
attracted to products and services that either remind them of their
childhood and freewheeling young adulthood or are presented in ways
that accomplish the same end. Why? Because their most basic desire
is to return, if only in mind, to the safety, security, freedom,
and joy of those earlier years.
experienced more change than any other generation. They have seen
everything from passenger trains to the Concorde, from manual typewriters
to personal computers, from party lines to the Internet, from Sunday
blue laws to "NYPD Blue."
The job security
that their fathers knew is a thing of the past. The stability of
two-parent home life has given way to multiple divorces and frequent
relocations, often taking them far from friends and family.
in the workplace are better equipped to deal not just with computers
but with all of the new technologies that have become ubiquitous
in the past 10 years. (How many parents have to ask their children
to program their VCRs?)
intimations of mortality are confirmed on a daily basis. They look
in the mirror and see themselves getting gray and wrinkled, and
they realize that no amount of Rogaine will stop their steady descent
down the wrong side of the hill.
of all, boomers have begun attending funerals for people no older
We have prepared
a primer of sorts on the fundamentals of security blanket marketing.
This is by no means a complete guide, but it is a good introduction
to the principles on which savvy marketers can build messages that
will reach the boomer market successfully.
1. The memory
is the message. The marketing message for a product or service aimed
at the baby boomer audience should be wrapped within an easily identifiable
security-blanket memory. The memory can be any visual or musical
iconography from the 1950s through the mid-1970s, but to be truly
effective, it must be incorporate din the delineation of the benefits
of the product or service.
a recent TV commercial for the Nissan 200SX shows the sporty car
zipping down various stretches of road. The images run against music
that is easily recognized as the theme from the old Batman TV show.
The music makes an implicit connection between memories of the fun
and excitement of the program's Batmobile and the new Nissan. No
other element of the commercial relates to Batman, but none is needed;
the music makes the point.
2. The real
thing. A corollary to No. 1: You can lose credibility using elements
from the past if they are inauthentic. In other words, the image
or sound must be presented exactly as it is remembered if it is
to add value to the marketing message.
Thus, a commercial
whose sound track includes the song "Wild Thing" as performed
by the Mantovani Orchestra will put off more people than it will
3. He likes
or does he? Invoking the past is valuable only when the
association is relevant to the message you are trying to convey.
You cannot, for example, simply apply a sound track of 1960s rock
music to a commercial for Drano and expect boomer audiences to see
recent commercial that employs technological wizardry to place images
of Mikey from the old Quaker Oats cereal commercial into a new spot
in which he expresses disdain for Snapple soft drinks loses much
in translation. The positive association with the remembered Mikey,
who liked Life cereal, is garbled or lost.
4. Hi mom, I'm
home. Pampered and protected in childhood, baby boomers respond
favorably to images of happy home life. In fact, faced with the
myriad problems of adulthood, it is the secret desire of many boomers
to relive those happier times when their elders took care of everything.
At the end of the day, it sometimes seems, they just want to go
home to Mom and Dad.
has run a series of commercials that convincingly invokes this sense
of safety and security. Each spot shows adult children returning
to the protective confines of their parents' homes, where they share
comforting mugs of steaming coffee and bond in ways that occurred
only in the most heavily varnished memories.
by design. No one forgets the excitement of receiving a first bicycles
or the newest Barbie doll. In fact, memories of presents and "cool"
new toys are among the strongest associations we retain from childhood.
If you are in
the business of selling grown-up toys - sport utility vehicles,
elaborate home entertainment systems, and the like - coolness has
to be a part of the product. Then the marketing message can exploit
that coolness to reproduce the same joy that boomers buying gifts
for themselves once experienced as children receiving presents.
6. Child is
father to the man. Certain products or services meant for children
lend themselves to marketing aimed at their boomer parents. There
is, therefore, great value in reinforcing the good-time memories
of parents when trying to influence what they purchase for their
parks represent archetypal examples of the genre, and Disney advertising
efforts convey this message both implicitly and explicitly. You
loved it as a kid, they say. Don't you want to share the same wonderful
experience with your kids, too?
There are, of
course, dozens of other principles that must be adhered to if security
blanket marketing is to be used successfully. In one way or another,
however, each principle leads ultimately to the same conclusion:
Baby boomers want to feel that they have grown up, not old, and
that they retain the childlike sense of wonder and enjoyment of
can reinforce these deep desires to their advantage by wrapping
promotional messages in the cozy warmth of some of boomers' most