Why Don’t Advertisers Care About Me Anymore?
By Eric Nagourney
Greetings. You people are all irrelevant.
Well, let’s not paint with too broad a brush. Almost all of you are irrelevant. You 48-year-old boomers bringing up the generational rear? You may have as much as a year left of mattering. Then you, too, will slip out of the 18-to-49 demographic that advertisers most want and TV programmers cater to.
Why? you may well be asking. Why? I do my part. I can consume with the best of them. There is a good chance I am earning more now than I ever have before. And there are so many of us boomers. Why ignore us?
It’s not that none of you are pierced or tattooed (though if you are, here’s betting there’s a good back story). And it’s not that you don’t buy lots of stuff. It’s just that, Summer of Love generation — how can we put this? You are not very good at playing hard to get.
Advertisers know where you are, and they’ll get to you when they get to you. Your generation is watching five to six hours of TV a day, as much as an hour or so more than the national average, The Wall Street Journal reported. And though boomers are hardly averse to using digital recording devices or streaming shows, many still engage in “appointment TV.” That means that if “Seinfeld” is on at 9 p.m. Thursday, you will be dutifully sitting on your couch at 8:55 — though if you were planning to do that this week, we have some bad news for you.
“The boomers are an important audience, but boomers are a little easier to find, because they probably watch TV in a more traditional way,” said John C. Verret, an associate professor at the Boston University College of Communication. That’s a polite way of saying that for advertisers, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel — chubby fish with bad knees and AARP discount cards.
Those 18- to 49-year-olds, on the other hand, have an air of mystery that advertisers can’t resist. You can never be sure where to find them, and when they do, advertisers pay for the privilege.
So in 2010, when “Dancing With the Stars” managed to pull ahead of “American Idol,” it didn’t really help ABC’s bottom line, Bill Carter noted in The New York Times. “Dancing” viewers were older than “Idol” viewers, so even if there were more of them, a 30-second commercial on the first show cost about $209,000, compared with $642,000 on the second.
Herbert Jack Rotfeld, a professor in the marketing department at Auburn University in Alabama, said in an e-mail that advertisers liked the younger viewers because “in general they are the ages at which people are most willing to change the past way of doing things.”
He continued, “Since advertising often tries to attract new customers, or get prior customers to buy more often, younger people are more likely to make this happen.” But advertisers often put too much faith in younger audiences, and when they do they risk losing older customers, Professor Rotfeld said.
It’s not just a matter of energy drinks and headphones. Twenty-year-olds might not have much disposable income, but sooner or later they may be buying cars and washing machines, and advertisers want to lay claim to their loyalties now.
There is evidence that some of this may be changing. As audiences age, The Journal noted, TV shows are increasingly featuring older characters. And advertisers may be starting to realize that baby boomers appear more open to change than older consumers once were. But boomers are unlikely to emerge fully from the shadow of younger viewers.
Don’t feel too bad. We had our moment. “When the boomers were younger,” recalled Professor Vetter, who was in the business for 29 years, “we were really hammering them.”