Paul W. Barada
Back in the ‘70s, I had the good fortune to attend the Institute for Organization Management put on by the University of Notre Dame and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. The professors were from the Notre Dame faculty and were truly outstanding. I recall one marketing professor who predicted exactly what’s happening now. He suggested that, as the Baby Boom generation began to get older, marketing efforts would increasingly be directed toward that generation. Baby Boomers, in case you’re not aware of who we are, make up the generation of people born between 1945 and 1964, right after the end of World War II.
An example of the beginning of the changes that the marketing professor predicted is Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. Remember the ads for the “no tears” shampoo for children? Well, as the Baby Boom generation got older, Johnson’s started marketing their “no tears shampoo” as simply “Johnson’s Shampoo” in order to reach the older demographic, which was the largest segment of the post-war population.
If you watch much television today, perhaps you’ve noticed that the products being advertised are more and more focused on the aging Baby Boom generation. Think about the types of ads that dominate the airwaves. There are ads for chairlifts, walk-in bathtubs, mobility scooters, glasses, false teeth, walkers that pivot, and life alert necklaces used to call for help when, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” just to mention a few.
Then, add all the products that are directed specifically to aging Baby Boomers: everything from pain killers to that holiday favorite, “the clapper” for turning off the TV or the light. The airwaves are loaded with all sorts of salves, nostrums and balms for everything from arthritis to shingles. Perhaps the most frequently seen ads are the ones for men who suffer from one particularly type of dysfunction. One of the more popular ads ends with an older couple in separate bath tubs holding hands that encourage men to be “ready” when the moment is right. There are also numerous ads for prescription medications that are designed to treat every type of ailment that comes with age. The most memorable line from this type of ad is, “Ask your doctor if zanafanadoo is right for you.” Well, with all due respect, if I were suffering from whatever “zanafanadoo” is supposed to treat, I would expect a doctor to already know about it and to have already prescribed it if he thought I needed it.
And it isn’t just television that is reaching out to aging Boomers. Magazines, newspapers, the Internet and just about every other medium that reaches boomers is chock full of remedies of one sort or another to restore us to those wonderful days of yesteryear when nothing hurt or ached or had quit working as well as it used to work. But it’s a huge market with lots of money. Something like 76 million American children were born between 1945 and 1964. Furthermore, Baby Boomers control 80 percent of personal financial assets and generate over half of all consumer spending. Boomers buy 77 percent of all prescription drugs and 61 percent of all over-the counter drugs and are part of 80 percent of all leisure travel. That’s a huge market for potential sales of everything from useful products that really do what they claim to thousands of products that don’t work at all.
It’s understandable, however, why aging Baby Boomers are likely targets for all sorts of “snake oil” salesmen. Rather than go to the doctor for an aching back, millions of people fork over hard-earned cash for everything from heating pads, salves and ointments, pain patches, and pain killing capsules, to books on “mind over body.” I’ve even seen ads for joint replacement implants which ask the viewer to “discuss with your doctor” to see if their brand “is right for you.” When people start asking their primary care physicians if Dr. Runamuck’s replacement stainless steel knee joint is right for them, it’s time to step back and ask who’s running the practice of medicine in this country – the prosthetic knee manufacturers or the doctors!
Although people have elective surgery all the time – I’ll bet I’ve seen the ad touting the benefits of facelift surgery a hundred times – thinking twice about the risks involved is probably a very good idea. I was in school with several guys who went on to become primary care physicians. Everyone, without exception, has said to me, at one time or another, that surgery should always be the last resort, when there’s no other medically sound option left.
The problem, of course, is that aging Baby Boomers not only make up a huge segment of the population, but also are rather desperate to hang on to their youth and will try just about anything that makes them “feel” younger, no matter how risky or ridiculous the remedy may be. Although I can’t find a source, some wise person once said, “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.”
The best way to slow the process of aging is not with hair dye or the surgeon’s scalpel, but by eating your fruits and vegetables, washing your hands with soap and hot water, exercising regularly, and having regular check-ups.
As Dr. Margaret Cochran recommends, “Enjoy the ride!”
That’s –30- for this week.