As a result of a hyper-focus on remaining relevant with the ‘right’ consumers, marketers are leaving older generations behind, writes Stephanie Harlow, Senior Trends Analyst at GWI. 

In today’s fast-paced marketing landscape, brands are often told to focus on the newest generation on the block. If it isn’t Gen Z then it’s “forgetting millennials and Gen Z” to make room for the next generation. There’s an often overlooked and missed opportunity in baby boomers – not only are these older people spending more time on social media and regularly buying online, but their spending power is unmatched. 

Their social footprint continues to grow

Despite what you may expect, baby boomers are increasingly spending more time on social media. In fact, over the last two years, the amount of time they spend on social media has grown by almost 10 minutes, while Gen Z’s has fallen by a similar figure. 

As social networks continue to evolve and the focus becomes more on short form, visual, and video content, baby boomers are also adapting with these moving trends. Although Facebook is still their favorite platform, the number of baby boomers who regularly use Instagram and TikTok is climbing. In fact, the number who say they use TikTok has grown by 57% since 2021. 

As they’re engaging more with photo and short-from content apps, boomers’ reasons for using social media are also changing. A growing number of baby boomers say they follow influencers (up 13% between 2020 and 2023), and in the UK, the number of boomers who say they use social media to see updates and content from their favorite brands has grown by 20% in the last two years. 

Not only are older generations exploring more with how they use social media and spending more time on it, they’re also gaining attention on such platforms. Older influencers have been using social platforms to defy ageist stereotypes and inspire others. Many have even gained influencer status, Barbara Costello, Lynn Davis, and Gym Tan are just a few standout names with millions of followers between them.

Content where brands work with older influencers isn’t just appealing to older demographics either. In fact, younger generations’ demand for more authenticity from brands online can lead them to older creators, who are often less scripted in their content, and therefore appear more genuine. They’re also able to share more life experiences and therefore advice to their audience. TikToker Ann Russell is a good example, as she’s gained 2.5 million followers on the platform by sharing washing and cleaning advice to her followers. 

Some brands have started to recognize the potential of working with older influencers. Beauty brand ILIA, for example, created a buzz by working with influencers aged 50+ in a move to change perceptions around age in beauty. 

As baby boomers spend more time on social media, it’s becoming their go-to place for brand and product discovery. Over a third discover brands and products through social media, whether it’s ads, recommendations, or updates on brands’ social pages, and the number has grown by 23% since 2020 – at a faster rate than Gen Z. As the ways that boomers engage with media are changing, it’s important for brands to adapt their approach.

A brand aimed at older consumers that’s really built social media into its marketing strategy is beauty brand Trinny London. Its social-first strategy is aimed at older women and has yielded an online community of 90,000+ people on apps like Instagram, and contributed to its £50 million turnover.

So, baby boomers are becoming more social media savvy, but why should brands prioritize them over Gen Z? 

Money, money, money

If you had to choose between Gen Z and baby boomers, which generation would you think is most likely to buy online? The answer may surprise you. 

Globally, boomers are more likely to say they buy new products online each week, own a credit card, and have high purchasing power. 

They’re also more financially stable than younger generations, 43% of baby boomers who save money say their current financial reserves would cover basic living expenses for six months or more, compared to 18% of Gen Z. 

It goes even further than financial stability. Baby boomers are the generation who were in the right place at the right time, making them the wealthiest generation on the planet. Their wealth and stage of life also means that right now they’re splurging more than younger consumers, who are spending more on things like housing and basics. 

But despite all this, as things stand, brands are likely to have difficulties persuading boomers to part with their money. Current advertising doesn’t resonate well with them – they’re the generation least likely to feel represented in ads, which has a knock-on effect – they’re also less likely to be led to a purchase as a result of an ad. The takeaway for brands here is to ensure that these shoppers feel included. 

Currently, many advertisers are stuck portraying stereotypes when it comes to older audiences rather than reflecting the realities of their life. Being unable to use technology is a stereotype which is often used, portraying baby boomers as being technologically challenged, and yet the growth in their social media presence says the opposite is true. In fact, a quarter of baby boomers own 5+ devices, and are more likely to than Gen Z.

They’re also underrepresented in different contexts. According to research by CreativeX, the majority of older groups featured in ads appear in family or domestic settings, with less than 1% being shown in professional environments. 

This means that ads are not reaching the 24% of employed boomers who describe themselves as career-focused, the 35% of grocery-shopping boomers who say they like to explore the world, or the 31% of clothes-buying boomers who are interested in live events. 

Baby boomers are still active consumers leading vibrant lives, and research suggests that on average, people feel about 11% younger than their actual age, so brands and advertisers should represent these consumers more accurately. 

As with all marketing, the more represented consumers feel, the more responsive they’re likely to be to those brands that have made an effort to resonate with them. 

Our takeaway for brands

It’s understandable that brands focus on younger generations, as they provide a longer period of time to gain their loyalty. But just because Gen Z may be the new and exciting generation, it doesn’t mean they’re the only route to revenue success, especially in economically challenging times where shoppers are feeling the pinch. 

Consumers who are running low on savings might need a bit more convincing to part with their cash. Smart brands won’t just look to younger consumers for a lifeline, they’ll make an effort to engage with different audiences, including boomers – a generation that have money now, are online, and are actively shopping.