September 9, 1996
Boomers need security blanket
By Sid and Bruce GoodSid 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 of youth.Boomers are 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. Boomers have 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.Younger competitors 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?)And boomers’ 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.Most telling of all, boomers have begun attending funerals for people no older than themselves.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.For example, 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 attract.3. He likes it…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 a connection.Similarly, a 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.Maxwell House 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.5. Coolness 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 children.Disney theme 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 their youth.Wise marketers can reinforce these deep desires to their advantage by wrapping promotional messages in the cozy warmth of some of boomers’ most cherished memories.