Attention CMO’s: To better understand where California Seniors are going, first learn where they’ve been

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A “must read” book to help better understand today’s senior consumers

You don’t have to be a professor of psychology to understand the importance of one’s childhood as it relates to the values and beliefs you have as an adult. And the book that best portrays the way most Baby Boomers and Seniors grew up in the 1950’s is Bill Bryson’s funny and insightful The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. 

Bryson describes growing up in the 50’s in the middle of the largest generation in history. And while his childhood took place in Des Moines, Iowa, it turns out to be a similar upbringing for most kids all over America–including California. (And just as an aside, I happened to be raised in Des Moines at the same time and in the same neighborhood as Bryson. Talk about a coincidence!) Bryson describes this time in history as follows:

I can’t imagine there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than America in the 1950’s. No country has ever known such prosperity. It was a time of growth, prosperity, and progress. By 1951, Americans owned 80% of the world’s electrical goods, controlled two-thirds of the world’s productive capacity, produced more than 40% of its electricity, 60% of its oil, and 66% of its steel. The 5 percent of people on Earth who were Americans had more wealth than the other 95 percent combined.

Remarkably, almost all this wealth was American made. We became the richest country in the world without needing the rest of the world.

Yes, in many ways it was an idyllic time. Kids rode their Sting Ray bikes with baseball cards in the spokes, built tree houses, wore superhero costumes and Davy Crocket hats, and played with their Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets and slot cars. There were no computers, cell phones, or video games. But kids did watch TV–lots and lots of TV. And for the most part, people were happy and optimistic. (Except for that one “little” threat of nuclear annihilation.)

Is it any wonder that today seniors look back on their childhoods with positive and nostalgic feelings? Coming on the heels of WWII, this group was more of a “we” generation than a “me” generation. They have a sense of purpose and duty to country and worked extremely hard to better themselves. Gary the Bookworm sums up The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid this way:

Bryson offers up the unforgettable depiction of the decade that shaped America. For all the innocence, the cultural landscape was shifting inexorably, driven by the explosion of television and the preponderance of automobiles.

Anyone who is, or knows a Baby Boomer, has to read this.

Of course right around the corner for the these young Boomers was the 60’s and that decade offered more experiences that made them bond like no other group before them. Together they witnessed or were a part of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the space program, political assassinations, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Women’s Rights Movement. As a result, they tend to be more open-minded than prior generations, and are associated with freedom and experimentation.

In addition to reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, marketers who want to target Seniors should study American life in the 50’s and 60’s. You’ll understand why this consumer group resents being ignored, disrespected and misrepresented. They’re proud of their accomplishments and nostalgic about their past. Remember, they’re the largest and most affluent consumer group. Give them attention, respect, and an occasional “thank you” and you’ll be amazed at how well they respond.

Photo by Elzbieta Sekowska

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