Marketers Gradually Understand Potential of Boomers

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I was both frustrated and pleased to read the article Older Consumers Will Reshape The Business Landscape in the April 9th edition of The Economist. I was pleased because I was flattered that an esteemed publication like The Economist shares pretty much the same insights as mine some nine years ago when I first started this blog. In 2007 on this blog’s home page, I wrote, “Very few companies have fully realized the immense opportunity that baby boomers present for their businesses. As marketers, we must consider the needs of this demographic now, more than ever, as the aging population increasingly grows in importance.” The British magazine echoed the same sentiments: “Yet companies have been relatively slow to focus on this expanding market – certainly slower than they were to attend to the youth-quake (a term coined by Diana Vreeland, the editor-in-chief of Vogue in 1965, to describe how baby boomers were shaking up popular culture).”

The Economist now replaced this term with a “grey-quake” instead. The potential of baby boomers as a marketing target is huge, not just in Canada, but worldwide. According to the publication, those over 60 constitute the fastest-growing group in the populations of rich countries, with their number set to increase by more than a third by 2030, from 164m to 222m. Older consumers are also the wealthiest and the over-60s currently spend some $4 trillion a year and that number will grow.

But I was frustrated because it seems like marketers have made very little progress in targeting the greying population. The publication pointed out that The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) calculates that less than 15% of firms have developed a business strategy focused on the elderly. The magazine’s sister organization, The Economist Intelligence Unit, found that only 31 percent of firms it polled did take into account increased longevity when making plans for sales and marketing.

I’ve always said that one of the main reasons for this lacklustre progress is because marketing to older people is not perceived as sexy. The other reason, as pointed out by The Economist, is that young people dominate marketing departments and think that the best place for the old is out of sight and mind. Apparently, Britain is no different from North America. A study by fast.Map, a marketer, and Involve Millennium, a consultant, found 68 percent of British 65-74-year-olds “don’t relate” to advertising that they see on television.

Because most greying baby boomers consider themselves at least 10 years younger than their age, the surest way of alienating them is to talk down to them or treat them as old. When Procter & Gamble repackaged some of its dental products as “selected for aged 50-plus consumers,” its sales plunged. In the U.K., Bridgestone made a mistake by promoting a new line of golf clubs as one for pensioners, thus producing poor sales.

However, The Economist said that “change is in the air.” A report by the Mckinsey Global Institute (MGI) points out that older consumers are one of the few engines of growth in an otherwise sluggish global economy. While BRIC countries are drastically slowing down in growth and millennials around the world suffer from the twin burdens of student debt and the lingering impact of the 2008 financial crisis, the older demographic seems to be the only hope for despondent marketers. MGI calculates that pensioners in the developed world spend an average of $39,000 on consumption compared with $29,500 for the 30-44 age group. The publication pointed out that “the old are becoming the new new thing.”

In Japan, NTT DoCoMo not only produced a phone with large keys and a big display screen, but also redesigned its marketing, promoting the new phones during bus tours for pensioners and providing classes in shops to explain the ins-and-outs of apps. Electronics manufacturers are also producing devices that are designed specifically for old people. For instance, Independa, based in the U.S., manufactures a monitor that sends an alert if something goes south for an elderly person, making it easier for the frail senior citizen to stay in their own homes rather than to move to nursing homes.

New, innovative ideas appealing to older consumers also appear to be on the rise in Canada. I’ve posted on this blog on November 11, 2014 about the launch of a Canadian venture, Blaycation (, a bucket-list travel adventure company providing customized, curated luxury-focused travel for baby boomers. Since its launch, the company has been doing well as an online travel planner for baby boomers and mature adventure seekers. Its website features over 20 personally-designed tours that include many exotic travel destinations and bucket-list adventures including an Irish Castle Aristocratic Experience hosted by the 7th Earl of Erne.

Although I remain skeptical about how long it has taken marketers to focus on the mature population, it is encouraging to see that companies around the world are making an effort to take the older population more seriously. Marketers should really take heed when one of the most influential publications in the world is hopeful that baby boomers will continue to change everything they’ve touched, including retirement!

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In Praise Of Millennial Musicians

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In spite of the many differences between the millennial and the baby boomer generations, there is the universal appeal of music that often crosses generations and influences both. Needless to say, millennial musicians dominate the Billboard Hot 100 – from Adele and Rihanna to The Weeknd to Justin Bieber to Drake, and the last three happen to be Canadians!

As a boomer who loves music, both old and new, I’ve recently added two millennial musicians to my most-favourites list: Danish pop/soul/funk group Lukas Graham and American singer and songwriter, Meghan Trainor.

I first heard Lukas Graham’s 7 Years on the radio while driving in Florida and fell in love immediately not only with the music, but the lyrics of the song. Originally an Internet sensation, the Danish group of four, all averaging 27-29 years old, has just released their first album in North America with Warner Brothers titled with the same name as the group. The 11 songs on the album not only dazzled me with the music, but also the poetry in the lyrics. From his tight bond with his late father and the wisdom of his mother while growing up, to the criminal company he kept and the love stories including the loss of his virginity to a stripper, group leader Lukas Graham Forchhammer sang about his poor upbringing in Copenhagen, his dark past and his gratitude to his parents for making him what he is now. 7 Years might be the band’s first worldwide hit, but I believe it’s their last track on their album, Funeral, which will make them a cross-cultural, inter-generational superstar.

Why would a millennial think about mortality? Shouldn’t this generation be fearless albeit disillusioned? Instead, the song that starts with the chiming of church bells, begins with: “When it’s my time, I know you’ll tailor a new suit for me, And buy a new tie, so I look this good; Boy, you were right, you said, “Only the good ones die young,” Never in my life, did I look this good…” and ends with a partying attitude, ” You’re all on my tab, Bartenders pour out the whiskeys on me, And don’t be so sad ’cause I lived this good. We’re all closer, now it’s over, But it doesn’t mean it’s closure, I see you and I love you, I’ll be watching out above you.” Next to Robbie Williams’s Angels, this is, by far, the best song about death and funerals that I’ve ever heard!

What I like about Graham is his ambition and focus. In an interview with The Huffington Post, he said, “I don’t want to be in the Hot 100 with a Hot 100 song. I want to be in the Hot 100 with 7 Years.” And he did – with a song on the themes of aging and growing up. Graham said that it’s the age that captures people first because everyone is getting older. “You can’t stop that,” he said. Sounded like a boomer talking?

Apart from Lukas Graham, I’m hooked on the music by 23-year-old American singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor. It’s not surprising that boomers like me would naturally love her first album Title because of its 1950s and 1960s rhythm and sound. But it’s once again the lyrics of Trainor’s songs that caught my attention. From the themes of modern womanhood, body image and female empowerment, emerged the success of a young woman whose debut album in 2015 won her numerous awards, produced four top 20 singles, and sold over one million copies just in the U.S. alone.

Her second release, Thank You, scheduled to release next month, already produces a lead single, No, which has reached the top three on the Billboard Hot 100. Instead of the retro-style R&B tunes so prominent in her first album, the song No is more hip-hop and rap. However, the lyrics remain feisty and feminist: “All my ladies, listen up, If that boy ain’t giving up, Lick your lips and swing your hips, Girl all you gotta say is – My name is no, My sign is no, My number is no, You need to let it go, You need to let it go, Need to let it go, Nah to the ah to the no, no no….” This is the perfect “no means no” song for college girls who are prone to sexual violence and date rapes on university campuses.

To Trainor, her winning the Grammy Award for Best New Artist this year was both a breakthrough and an irony since she has already written, recorded, performed and produced three independently-released albums between the ages of 15 and 17. Nevertheless, she cried on stage when she received the award and the whole world was happy for her!

In this day and age of superficial celebrity culture around the likes of the Kardashians, it is gratifying to see the success of both Lukas Graham and Meghan Trainor who impress all generations with their confidence, talent, hard work and perseverance even though they may not initially appear as the most physically-attractive entertainers on stage. It is their music and individuality that make these young musicians beautiful, and inner beauty trumps it all!

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Multicultural Retirement Communities On The Rise

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Canada is well known for its diversity and that’s why Toronto, as the country’s most multicultural city, leads the way in ethnic retirement homes. Chinese elderly homes are probably among the most high-profile pioneers – Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care and Mon Sheong Long-Term Care Centres have both been established for a long time and have been growing healthily due to successful fundraising campaigns. The Italians have Villa Colombo and the Greeks have Hellenic Home. Suomi-Koti in Leaside, Toronto, caters for the Finnish population and Baycrest Centre is renowned as a long-term care facility for the Jewish community.

In addition, there are at least 18 other ethnic communities that have their own respective retirement homes including Armenian, Lithuanian, Filipino, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Ukranian, Tamil, East Indian, Slovenian, Russian, Caribbean, Ismaili, Japanese and Korean.

About half of Toronto’s 2.6 million residents are born outside of Canada, speaking a first language other than English or French. With over 140 languages and dialects spoken in the GTA, our city is a language and cultural mosaic. In spite of the ample diverse homes for the aged, the waiting lists are still long. The Toronto Star reported that some of the most reputable retirement  homes such as Yee Hong and Hellenic have been growing but not fast enough.  Hellenic, like Yee Hong, has activities that are geared specifically to its community. Kalamatiano, a traditional Greek dance, is performed almost daily. Seniors, even those on wheelchairs, wave around scarves, clapping to the music. Men gather in the common space to socialize, drink Greek coffee and play backgammon while women make Koulourakia, traditional Greek cookies, honey balls and dolma with staff in a kitchen on the second floor.

Such activities are designed to engage seniors, some of them with Alzheimer’s and dementia, allowing them to smell, taste and touch materials while reminiscing about their past. The idea is to remind them of their youth, encouraging feelings of happiness and belonging to their community as well as spirituality. Homes such as Hellenic Home and Yee Hong keep ethnicity in mind when determining everything from menus to fundraising to daily activities and entertainment.

The growth of multicultural retirement communities is picking up even in the U.S.A. The ShantiNiketan, a planned 55-plus community in Tavares, Florida, is designed for Indian Americans. From the architecture to the vegetarian meals and Bollywood dance classes, retirees and seniors feel they are very much at home. According to The New York Times, developers call these kinds of housing options “affinity group communities.” In addition to those established by and for members of religious groups, they include retirement communities for military officers, for gays and lesbians, and for the alumni of particular colleges and universities.

Facilities for specific ethnic groups in the U.S. have appeared more recently, but the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, an industry research group, said that they are on the rise. Among those already in operation include Aegis Gardens, a 64-unit Chinese-American assisted living complex in Fremont, California, opened in 2001. With a staff that speaks Mandarin and Cantonese, daily tai chi sessions and a Chinese chef, it maintains nearly 100 percent occupancy, said the chief executive of Aegis Living. The company operates 30 assisted living facilities on the West Coast and is building a second Chinese-American facility, a $50 million independent living, assisted living and memory care campus in Newcastle, Washington, scheduled to open next year. Monthly rents are likely to start at $5,300, not including help with the activities of daily living.

In Queens, New York City, a small non-profit group called India Home runs “culturally appropriate” senior center programs for South Asian immigrants. The Desi Senior Center in Jamaica, Queens, attracts older Bangladeshis with hot halal lunches, English instruction and a screen separating men from women in exercise classes. For Latinos, the first Hispanic facilities will be seen in Southern California and the Southwest.

How long will the market for ethnically-specific senior housing and programs last in North America? Immigrants’ more assimilated offspring may care less about traditional cooking or a Gujarati-speaking staff. The demand right now is pressing. Ethnic long-term care is aimed at old people who are unable to speak English. When they need something, like medical care or the bathroom, they really need it and they can’t suddenly learn English. Even for elderly immigrants who speak English, they would prefer their own ethnic foods.

Some dislike the idea that anyone, even the elderly, can be made comfortable only with others of their own ethnicity, which is more than language. Realistically, one’s cultural upbringing is usually deeply rooted even in the aging process. I have Chinese boomer friends who speak fluent English and are fully integrated into the mainstream community but would go bonkers without Chinese food for more than two days! I cannot see them living in a non-Chinese retirement home unless mainstream retirement facilities start hiring Chinese or Asian chefs. For the next 50 years, ethnic retirement communities will continue to be in hot demand. The pressing need now is to gear up for pending demand from the aging population and shorten the waiting list for admission.

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Never Too Old To Learn

fact 3 baby boomers in school

It is inspiring to learn that a 90-year-old French woman Colette Bourlier became one of the oldest people in France to be awarded a Ph.D. this week, 30 years after she first began researching immigrant workers in Besancon, in eastern France.

The New York Times reported that she wrote all 400 pages of her thesis by hand and was eventually awarded a doctorate in geography after being questioned for more than two hours by an academic jury. She received a “high distinction” for her thesis, titled “Immigrant Workers in Besancon in the Second Half of the 20th Century.” Born in 1925 in Lyon, Bourlier, a former geography and history teacher, began to study for her doctorate after she retired in 1983. Asked why it had taken her so long to complete her thesis, Bourlier said it’s because she took some breaks. As she was going deaf, she had to sit close to the jury during her oral examination so she could hear her questioners.

Bourlier is not the oldest student in the world to have been awarded a doctorate. Last June, Ingeborg Rapoport, a 102-year-old German woman, received her doctorate nearly 80 years after Hitler’s anti-Semitic laws prevented her from completing her final oral exam. To prepare to defend her thesis on diphtheria, a bacterial infection that was a global threat at the time, Rapoport, whose eyesight was failing, had to brush up on advances in treating the disease over the previous 80 years.

Another nonagenarian Ph.D. graduate is Lis Kirkby, who in 2014 earned her doctorate from the University of Sydney at age 93. Her thesis examined the impact of economic orthodoxy on unemployment during the Great Depression in Australia. Before receiving her doctorate, Kirkby was active in state politics in Australia, acted in a soap opera and worked as a journalist and a sheep farmer.

We boomers do not have to wait till we’re nonagenarians or centenarians before we complete our highest level of education. Nor do we necessarily have to become a Ph.D. graduate. In fact, one is never too old to learn and many baby boomers are increasingly hitting the books again and taking courses designed just for them.

Most universities in Canada offer courses for mature students in their Schools of Continuing Studies. In the U.S., the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) is an educational program that offers courses designed for older adults, funded by the Bernard Osher Foundation. The Foundation sponsors 117 programs in all 50 states, all in-person, and the best part is there is no mid-term exams, finals or grades.

The Road Scholar, a division of Elderhostel, Inc., is an educational travel organization geared to older adults that offers national and international learning experiences for lifelong learners looking  for a scene outside the classroom. It offers beyond-the-classroom exploration of the world with 5,500 tours throughout the U.S. and 150 countries, including Canada, led by expert instructors. Examples include going behind-the-scenes of American diplomacy in the Washington D.C. program or explore the French cuisine in Paris while learning about the culture.

Programs vary in duration. Seven to 21-day programs are available, many with international destinations, which often appeal to retirees. Costs for a course typically run from U.S.$500 to U.S.$1,000 with overseas courses costing around U.S.$3,000. According to JoAnn Bell, vice president of programs at Road Scholar, their international business is up 30 percent. “We think we’ll see tremendous growth as baby boomers become age-eligible for these programs,” she said.

Another interesting avenue for lifelong learning is the Harvard University Institute For Learning In Retirement established in 1977. It offers no grades or degrees, but provides an idea-centric curriculum that changes all the time. Limited to 550 members to keep it a manageable and close community, the Institute is a peer-learning membership organization that is self-governing and offers more than 500 interesting programs.

I’ve mentioned before in my media interviews that baby boomers have an insatiable desire to learn. With so many lifelong learning options available to us now, nobody should “expire” in retirement!


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The Art Of Being Alone


The baby-boom generation has become the “singles” generation as the number of people aged between 45 and 64 living on their own soared by 23 percent over the past decade. More Canadians also live alone than ever before. The Globe and Mail reported that current Canadian, American and British studies suggest that 25 to 45 percent of the population regularly suffers loneliness. But I’ve always said that being alone is different from being lonely. You can be married or be in a room full of people and still feel very lonely. Or you can enjoy the solitude of a singleton and seek fulfillment in the freedom of being alone. A happy single person is one who is content with time spent with oneself, but also enjoys the frequent company of good friends and family. He or she might be alone, but never lonely!

With the increasing popularity of books rejecting the stigma surrounding loneliness and single people, marketers in all sorts of industries are beginning to enhance the art of being alone. Solitude is now positioned as worth experiencing, exploring and even celebrating. With the growing number of solo diners, hotels and resorts are making sure they are comfortable. The New York Times reported that The Plume restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., created a program for solo diners last fall. Several of its 18 seats are dedicated to diners who want a sense of privacy yet a feeling of inclusion. According to the restaurant’s manager, the seating for this type of diner does not include being in the centre of the room. “We make sure they are not near the entrance or exit for discretion and privacy while making sure the diners have items like newspapers and magazines delivered to their table if they need it. At Metropolitan by Como, Miami Beach, a dinner-for-one menu made its debut earlier this year, with recommended seating at the corner of the hotel’s terrace and the Traymore bar positioned for people-watching along a pedestrian area of Miami Beach Drive. Solo diners are also able to log into PressReader, where they can read their favourite magazine in their preferred language from their phone or tablet.

The new “Just Cook For Me Chef!” program at Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona, was designed to bring together several solo guests in the kitchen so they can enjoy samples from the daily menu. This option was designed to be a smaller version of the communal-style tables that are enjoying a wave of popularity.  Other hotels are taking a similar approach. At the Atwood Restaurant in the Hotel Burnham in Chicago, the general manager said that an extension of the bar area was intentionally blended into the lobby to attract the solo diner. According to Bjorn Hanson, a clinical professor of hospitality and tourism at New York University’s Tisch Center, there was a recent increase in solo dining among those travelling on their own. “This type of experience continues to become more of a desire, and much of the stigma is less of an issue for younger travelers,” he said.

The travel industry is also beginning to cater to solo travellers. In 2015, a TripAdvisor survey of more than 9,000 women from around the globe reported that 41 percent had travelled alone; the number jumped to 74 percent when combined with the segment of women who planned to travel alone that year. The 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions Study also reported that solo travel is on an upward trend. The study surveyed more than 13,600 travellers over the age of 17 from 25 different countries. It found that the incidence of travellers who travelled alone on their most recent overseas leisure trip had increased to 24 percent in 2015, up from 15 percent in 2013.

According to CTV News, solo travel has almost doubled among affluent and first-time travellers, and has increased among the so-called “Superboomers” – adults over the age of 44 – to 18 percent, up from 16 percent in 2013. Professor Gabor Forgacs, from Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said in an interview that the rise of solo travel is a reflection of changing population trends. The travel industry noticed that there’s a significant growth in single households; there are more people living alone than ever before, so logically there’s a change in travel patterns.

But it’s not just single people who are driving the change, Forgacs said, noting that many people who are in relationships are simply opting to vacation alone. Visa’s Global Travel Intentions Study of 2015 reported that the number of affluent adults who vacation on their own has more than doubled to 32 percent, up from 14 percent in 2013. With those kinds of numbers, resorts, cruise lines and tour operators are responding with packages to attract them. Vacationers who book through the Solo Collection program of Breathless, one of Transat Vacation’s new Solo Collection resorts, won’t pay more for travelling alone (there’s no single supplement); room service is free; and the resorts have set aside a communal table where solo diners meet and mingle. Air Canada Vacations also caters to the solo crowd with programs at 17 hotels and resorts in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and one in Hawaii. These resorts will drop the single supplement fee and offer various unspecified activities for those travelling alone. Several cruise companies have started offering state rooms designed for those travelling alone, and some holiday companies that sell packaged vacations have started to waive the single supplement fees that are typically charged to solo travellers.

An American 2014 survey on solo travel aimed at older vacationers indicated that travellers report high satisfaction rates when they take the plunge and explore solo: 97 percent of respondents enjoyed travelling on their own, and 81 percent planned to do it all over again in the following year.

Being alone should no longer be a mark of personal failure. Romantic coupledom has long ceased to be the absolute achievement. I’ve seen so many married couples experiencing the loneliest moments in their lives, while single, but socially-active people enjoy unbridled freedom and happiness. Single boomers should continue to build a more richly populated life while enjoying independence and freedom at the same time.

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