Pulse No. 5 – March 9, 2012
Watch any commercial slotted around ‘mature’ programming or flip through any publication designed for people 50 and older and you get a pretty quick picture of what companies think we want to buy. Hair dye, insurance, incontinence pads, vitamins, medication, retirement living and anti-aging products (the last of which seems a tad late – unless they’re selling erasers).
It’s a list that reads like a punch line from a bad joke, and it might be funny if it wasn’t so distressing, if not insulting. Really. Is this what they think makes up our weekly shopping lists?
What it is, in reality, is an ‘old-fashioned’ way of thinking that is not just narrow-minded, it’s nonsensical. Newsflash: Boomers have money and they’re willing to spend it – on all sorts of things.
In fact, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those 50 to 65 earn the highest average weekly income and control 67% of the country’s wealth. It’s similar in Canada, where the same age group has the greatest net worth, and seniors have more disposable income than anyone else. What’s more, Psychology Today reports that Americans older than 50 outspend younger adults by $1-trillion annually. That bears repeating – $1 trillion.
Some people are getting it.
Take New York designer Alexis Bittar. The 43-year-old’s accessories are featured in fashion spreads in Vogue, Bazaar and others, but when it comes to designing his own advertising campaigns for those same magazines, he takes what could be called a uniquely grown-up approach. In 2010, the face of his company was 77-year-old Joan Collins. Last year, he chose Lauren Hutton, 68. And this spring, his spokesmodels are the Absolutely Fabulous duo of Joanna Lumley, 65, and Jennifer Saunders, 53. “I’m amazed how so many advertisers use models between the ages of 18 and 24,” he says, “but the consumer in higher luxury stores is 35 to 65.”
Or consider Tokyo’s Tsutaya Books. Muneaki Masuda, 60, has long been known for his countercultural approach to business, and his Tsutaya Books is now Japan’s leading media retailer. The company’s newly-unveiled flagship store takes the retail experience to a new level – and is designed to cater to Baby Boomers. A sleek-yet-comfortable space houses hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, films and music, while a team of concierges helps guests find new things to read, watch and hear. (Boomer clients appreciate the backlist which includes music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, plus first-edition and out-of-print publications.) Masuda is careful to point out that this isn’t simply a great place for retirees to hang out. It’s intended as a space where 50-plus cultural creatives can meet and work.
And then there’s Sabi. The California-based company intent on elevating the design of everyday items has a new line of lifestyle products aimed squarely at Boomers. Called ‘Vitality,’ it’s a collection of medication ‘accessories.’ (Yes, we’re talking pills, but wait.) CEO Assaf Wand brought in industrial designer Yves Béhar to design each piece – made to dispense, organize, carry, cut, and crush pills – and, not only do these products work (with ergonomic features that are a subtle part of their beauty), but they’re a cool, clean, clever extension of our style.
Given our booming wealth and massive proportions (i.e., by 2015, 45 percent of the U.S. population will be 50-plus), you’d assume that more people would want to make stuff for us. For example, what if some famous fashion designer announced a new line just for the 50-plus and not – as so many have done, and 79-year-old Oscar de la Renta is just about to do – one for children. Maybe someone could make us running shoes. Or maybe cars. What about our own brand of toothpaste? (In fact, maybe we should start making this stuff ourselves.) There isn’t anything that couldn’t be manufactured with a more seasoned consumer in mind.
Not that we’re pushing consumerism, but as things stand, you’d think the world economy could use a new market.
You could get the impression corporations think we’re invisible or worse. That’s why we thought Randy Newman’s tune ‘I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)’ was the perfect anthem for this week’s Pulse. The consummate 68-year-old songwriter has been making music for more than 50 years – for himself, for other musicians, and for movies – and has been nominated 20 times for an Oscar. We regret that this video isn’t directly from his site, but do yourself a favour, buy the man’s new release Live From London and hear the tune with the London Symphony.
The Economist echoes our previously-posted belief that Boomers will save the economy in a recent article titled (in inimitable tongue-in-cheek style) “Enterprising Oldies,” in which they too note that across the pond it’s “older people [who] are becoming more enterprising.”
Next week’s Pulse: Where to, Boomers?
For readers of RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50, each issue of Pulse will offer additional ideas. We’ll share what’s working for others and help you find your way.
Who’s getting it in your circle?
As we prepare for our “ripening” journey, each of us needs to put a support system in place – people who will help us find our way. RIPE explores the importance of a Ripe Circle – people who encourage and keep us moving forward. We also need a team of advisors to help us think creatively and critically about what’s to come and how to make the right moves. Julia calls this the “Ripe Kitchen Cabinet.”
Who might be part of your cabinet? You’re looking for people with knowledge and expertise that will expand your view of yourself and the world and help you uncover your path forward. They might be knowledgeable about a particular sector, for instance, or introduce you to someone you need to know.
This week, take a fresh look at people in your network and those who’ve recently appeared in your life. Who would be ideal for your Ripe Kitchen Cabinet? And remember to choose these advisors with care – are they shifting their thinking about what it means to be 50-plus today? And are they people who want to see you flourish? (Perhaps in the hopes that they’ll one day follow suit.)
Keep your finger on the pulse. There’s a sign-up option in the right-hand column of this page. (Or visit juliamoulden.com and send us an email.)
Julia Moulden and Trisse Loxley have been writing and editing for the media and corporate sectors for a combined 50 years. Today, they’re reconnecting with their generation and helping their clients engage with Boomers, too.
Copyright 2012 Julia Moulden and Trisse Loxley. All rights reserved.