Genius car marketers target exactly who isn’t buying cars, ignore Boomers who are

Conventional marketing wisdom — first formulated back in the Don Draper days — says, “Get ’em while they’re young.” Marketers  target young families because, in theory, their brand preferences are still in play. Get them to try your brand when they’re just coming on to the consumer marketplace, and you might have them for life. As  for older customers, why bother? Their brand habits are set in stone, they don’t spend much and they’re going to be dead soon, anyway.

Longevity and the “reinvention” of aging have made nonsense of these theories, of course. But it’s astounding how they still persist. Nowhere is that more true that in the auto sector, where carmakers, following the traditional script, target the Millennials….while the bulk of sales are racked up by the Boomers and those even older.

You can get all the details in this article. Here are some of the highlights:

  • In the USA, drivers over age 75 register six times as many new cars as those aged 18-14
  • The number of cars registered by US households headed by someone 65+ has jumped by 65% since 2010
  • Consumers aged 50 to 63 account for 63% of US car sales
  • While the average age of the US population is 38, the average age of a new car buyer is 52
  • In Canada, consumers over the age of 60 buy more cars than any other age group

And yet, according to AARP, carmakers devote less than 10% of their ad budgets to targeting seniors. They continue to chase the cash-strapped Millennials, ignoring the fact that between 1989 and 2013, overall spending by those aged 75+ increased by 15%, while spending by the 65-74 age group jumped by 18%. Every age group below 55 saw a decrease in discretionary spending.

As Steven Szakaly, chief economist of the US National Automobile Dealers Association puts it, “It takes four Millennials to replace one Boomer in terms of economic impact.”

In fairness, some carmakers — most notably, luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW – emphatically do get it, and are seeing strong increases in sales and market share.

Also, many people who direct the carmakers’ ad campaigns will argue that they knowingly frame the messaging as if it were aimed at a younger consumer precisely to attract an older consumer, who wants to “think young.” This might explain some of the creative strategy, but it doesn’t explain why the allocation of media dollars is still heavily tilted to Millennials who absolutely cannot and do not buy the products.

You’d think marketers would be the first to “get” and appreciate new trends that bust old ways of thinking. But for some reason, it continues to take a lot more time than I’d ever have imagined.



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. Vice President, Zoomer Media Ltd. . Author of "The New Old" . 30 years experience in marketing communications, advertising, media . Speaker, writer, commentator on the revolution in aging and how to market to Boomers and seniors

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