What Does the Female Boomer Consumer Want?

Last Updated Aug 27, 2007 2:24 PM EDT

shopping-question.jpgThe Gap tried and failed (with their Forth & Towne division) to attract baby boomer women, and now Ann Taylor's taking a stab at it. It's no secret baby boomers have money to spend -- Ad Age estimates the demographic's spending power at 1.7 trillion -- but the question seems to be: do baby boomers want to be addressed as a niche market? And if the answer is no, how can a company like Ann Taylor successful advertise to baby boomers?

Analysts speculate that Ann Taylor will succeed by offering trendier clothes than its competitors, presenting boomer women with options that appeal to their desire to stay youthful -- but this isn't a huge departure from The Gap's approach. One blogger from FastCompany.com addressed the misconceptions about what boomer women want:

Forth & Towne wasn't exactly subtle; their website proclaims that they were created for "a new generation of women, determined to find current, wearable fashions in fits that flatter. Women who have grown-up, grown into themselves, and want to look as fabulous as they feel."

That kind of ill-disguised, in-your-face-appeal to the older crowd is bound to backfire...

The Times also pointed out that department stores have experienced something of a resurgence, and that their growth "has overtaken that of specialty clothing chains." That's not a surprise. A 42-year old woman who walks into a department store isn't making a public branding statement about her being 42, as she does when she walks into Forth & Towne. Hence the plug-pulling.

The Gap's flop with female boomers mirrors a larger challenge. Marketers are salivating over the buying power of this market, but don't quite know how to target them without turning their brands into Centrum Silver. Even more progressive marketers, like Fideliity, who are trotting out boomer icons, are running a risk. Because the more obvious your messaging becomes, the more obvious your failures will be.

Not only was Forth & Towne obvious, it was overly-ambitious; the brand strategy consultants who blog for Whisper speculated that by targeting the entire boomer demographic with clothes categories for different "types" of women, The Gap failed to create a clear point of differentiation from its department store competitors.

There's no formula for extending your brand to appeal to baby boomers, but knowing the demographic can inform your strategy. Brandweek offers some suggestions for connecting with baby boomers, a few of which are listed below:

  1. Focus on their lives, not their ages. Boomers don't need to be reminded how old they are getting.
  2. Don't assume that all boomers are the same. Aside from geographical and ethnic distinctions, a 60-year-old has very different life experiences (not to mention aches and pains) than his 42-year-old generational cohort.
  3. Know that boomers are jaded students of ads. Boomers are idealists, but they grew up with TV ads, and are skeptical of empty promises.
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