When I was in my teens, 30-year-old people seemed like they were ready for retirement, 40-year-olds seemed like they should be knitting sweaters and the 50+ crowd should be getting their estates in order. Now that I am 30 I know that life is really just beginning and the wisdom that comes with age is invaluable. These misconceptions of age and computer savvy/ability run rampant in the interactive space so I want to shed a little light on things before it goes too far.
When you think of "old" what comes to mind? It's subjective isn't it? Too often, the baby boomer 50-64 (pre-retirement) crowd is tagged as offline, computer-illiterate technophobes by young marketing executives. We think to ourselves "man they're old and they don't even know how to use a mouse, I better stick to just using print and radio ads and small websites with large font sizes". That statement is outdated and needs new, integrated thinking. Instead, look at it this way, the baby boomer crowd has been using computers and the internet in the work setting since they were commercially available (10+ years now). It's true they did not grow up with computers, baby boomers are self-taught and I admire that.
So what are the stats today? According to a recent study by JWT Boom, 72% of users in the 45-65 range are on broadband connections. 82% of them use the web. 40% of the total US population is over 45 years old (108 million people) and control the majority of US spending power. They're also the fastest growing group of internet users and are expected to grow over 50% in the next 15 years (compare that with 3% growth in the 18-40 range). Another key takeaway is that the 65+ age group will grow 32% in the same timeframe.
Another item to take away from this post is that they're spending their time online differently. Boomers are not watching video, downloading music, writing blogs or playing games. They're looking for information and doing research on purchases, communicating with friends and family, shopping and reading. The report also notes the power of integrated campaigns in reaching the boomer demo. 92% visit a web site after seeing a print article, 89% after seeing a print ad and 83% after seeing a TV ad.
Until now, we've been complacent in our efforts to really reach the boomer customer online. Statements like "they're just not online" and "they don't know how to use a mouse" are blatantly false. Boomers control the majority of the spending power and are exploding online. Marketers cannot afford to misjudge this hugely powerful market as we've done in the past. It's time for new thinking, new planning and campaigns that span and re-align media formats with a focus on this powerful group of consumers.
UPDATE: Seth Godin has a great (as usual) insight on boomers and their move to becoming "seniors".