For nearly 50 years, Baby Boomers — the roughly 76-78 million people in the U.S. born from 1946-1964 — were the population segment most coveted by marketers because of its size and the enormous influence this group possessed.
Products and services were created to meet their needs and desires; ads were crafted to appeal to them, and success measures were based on their reactions.
But these days, Boomers — who are all at least 50 as of this year — are being overshadowed by Millenials, the 80-82 million people born between 1982 and 2000. Marketers are now eager to cater to this younger and larger segment.
While it certainly makes sense to address the needs of Millenials (or Gen Y, as they’re sometimes referred), ignoring Boomers will mean missing unrealized opportunities at best, and losing existing market share at worst — very likely both.
While no longer the largest population segment, Boomers are still a force to be reckoned with. Let’s face it, 77 million is a lot of people, and this group has extraordinary spending power.
- Control more than 75 percent of America’s wealth
- Have $2.4 trillion in annual income
- Outspend other generations by roughly $400 billion annually on CPG and services and buy 77 percent of prescription and 61 percent of OTC products
- Ironically, Millenials may not be nearly as lucrative a target group as their size would suggest. Millenials’ other distinguishing features include their greater tendency to be:
- Under or unemployed (16 percent versus 7 percent, generally)
- Burdened with debt
- Living at home
Boomers, on the other hand, are a very large group with lots of money to spend, and they also have tremendously unmet needs when it comes to CPG products — primarily via the packaging.
Specifically, as Boomers age, their ability to open packages and read labels diminishes. By addressing these basic challenges, marketers could readily create a meaningful point of difference for their brands — something widely sought, but rarely achieved.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Medical experts predict that rates of vision loss and severe visual impairment in the U.S. will double as America’s maturing Boomers reach retirement age (which is now over 6.5 million Americans over 65).
Of less concern, but more prevalent, is the loss of the ability to clearly see close objects or small print — a condition known as presbyopia. This is a normal process that happens slowly over a lifetime and starts to become more noticeable around the age of 40.
While presbyopia is easily corrected with reading glasses, sufferers may be without them when shopping for or using products. As a result, they may forego a given purchase or usage occasion, or mistakenly buy or use the wrong item — sometimes with unfortunate consequences.
One such example may be personal products such as shampoo and conditioner (few people have their readers on hand when in the shower); another one might be confusing different types of herbs and spices or misidentifying ground roast for whole bean coffee.
Marketers and designers could help Baby Boomers in the selection process on the shelf or at home by adhering to some basic design principles regarding legibility. These include size, weight and style of font, and (most importantly) color contrast. This would thereby eliminate the frustration Boomers might feel when they are unable to choose or the disappointment from making a wrong choice.
LET ME IN
Everyone has experienced the frustration of not being able to open a package at some time, regardless of age.
This could be in the form of medicine bottles with multiple levels of tamper evidence, small electronics hermetically sealed in cardboard and plastic to prevent pilferage, or household items in rigid clamshells which are cheap to produce and virtually impenetrable without the use of a chain saw.
But, as we get older, the challenges become more severe and show up even for packages that had not previously been difficult to open, which can be due to multiple factors.
Starting in our 30s, we begin to lose muscle mass and function — a condition known as sarcopenia — which results in a loss of strength and mobility. At age 40, we lose about 1 percent of muscle mass per year, and it accelerates after age 70.
In addition, arthritis is also a factor. While younger people do suffer from arthritis, it becomes more prevalent with age — going from 7 percent for 18-44 year olds, to 30 percent for 45-64 year olds and 50 percent of those 65 and above.
And, with the aging Baby Boomer population, the prevalence of arthritis is expected to increase by 40 percent by 2030, impacting 67 million Americans.
Many everyday tasks that had been easy, such as opening lids on jars and bottles, become frustratingly difficult. Manufacturers could ease this burden with relatively simple modifications to age-old approaches including switching from metal to plastic (with easier-to-grip ridges) and making lids just a bit taller (with more surface area to grab).
Taking it a step further (with some additional cost), manufacturers can add an easy-grip, rubber-like layer, as Bayer has done for several of its bottles. Interestingly, it is referred to as an “easy-open arthritis cap” when used for Aleve, but no such mention is made for Bayer.
Advil’s arthritis cap is clearly designed with arthritics in mind. It includes both a built-in flange that can be gripped, even by someone whose fingers can’t fully bend to grip, as well as a slot to insert a pencil (or similar implement) to provide the leverage needed when both gripping and turning strength are lacking.
And better still, some caps include flip tops, eliminating the need to grip and turn altogether.
While marketers will continue to focus on Millenials (understandably), they should also consider the additional opportunties that could be realized by giving some renewed thought to Boomers.
This is still a very significant market segment whose evolving needs can be met by some fairly simple and straightforward modifications to product packaging.
Much can be accomplished within the confines of standard approaches that are readily available — such as more legible text or easier to grip lids. Providing these will result in greater shopper satisfaction and increased purchase frequency, not just among Boomers, but by all generations.
Importantly, by taking things to a higher level and creating meaningful proprietary solutions, enlightened marketers can create truly effective differentiation for their brands.
While this may require a significant capital investment initially, the ROI that would be achieved via higher price points, greater market share and deeper loyalty would pay for itself many times over in the long run.
One of the best examples of how far this idea can be taken is Target’s proprietary prescription bottle. It was originally created by a design student who had concerns that her grandparents — each of whom had several prescription drugs in their medicine cabinet — might accidentally take the wrong one.
The package she created includes a cap that is easy to open, color-coded rings which designate the intended user, and a large label that accommodates well-organized, easy-to-read copy.
This life-saving, award-winning package has broad appeal beyond the senior citizens for whom it was originally intended. It has also reinforced Target’s design credentials, as well as making Target’s pharmacy a destination for many shoppers — of all ages.
Of course, not every brand will be willing or able to go this far. But, given how much room for improvement exists and how benefical even small steps are likely to be, it certainly makes sense to at least think about creating Boomer-friendly packaging.
And, ironically, by helping the Boomer segment, all shoppers will benefit — and make their buying choices accordingly.