Start Selling to Fully-Formed Adults — Stop Trying to “Be Like the Cool Kids”

March 30, 2021

By Sean Cunningham

Vikky Mir/Shutterstock.com

The most compelling case for putting age and sex demographics happily in our rearview mirror is the lukewarm sales and profit results from hundreds of U.S. marketers over the last ten years that fully flung their brands at any and every consumer under 36 years of age, you know — the cool kids.

A funny thing happened during that decade to brands aching to be so legit, organic and authentic to magic-makers between 18 and 34; those marketers barely noticed one of the biggest surges of high-quality customers in the history of American consumerism: the explosion of decades of “older” audiences — scads of (missed) customers, who spend scads of money.

If we say the average CMO is fortyish, then it has been during that CMO’s lifespan that the population of consumers aged fifty or over has doubled — resulting in 42 million more (fully-formed-adult) customers than all the coveted millennials. It should be no surprise that audiences 55 and over account for more than double the total U.S. annual expenditures (41 percent 55 and over vs. less than 20 percent by 18–34), resulting in $3.4 trillion dollars spent by these “older” (less coveted) consumers.

The marketers that have “found” and activated these better (older) customers in scale certainly used audience-based buying techniques — that data-driven marriage of specific buying habits joined with viewing behaviors that cares little about demographics and all about the mobilization of best-bet customer profiles.

We need to look no further than the colossal wave of DTC advertisers (over 260 brands) that have rocketed their TV ad spend for evidence how well audience-based buying performs. With no age or generational bias prejudicing their video media deployment, it’s no surprise that some of the newest, most “disruptive” and most performance-driven brands (DTCs/e-commerce) found that their best customers were closer to sixty years old than thirty.

While the U.S. median age progressively increased to 38.5, the wave of new customers surging into the transactional hubs of America’s great upstart brands have median ages far north of that: Carvana at 45.3, SimpliSafe at 58.2, Wayfair at 52.2, Chewy at 48.9, and Warby Parker at 53.8, to list just a few.

For a full reveal of the facts/stats of this ongoing tectonic shift in U.S. buying power, download Audience Migration in Context — it’s the marketer’s guide that will help solve for a decade’s worth of “attention imbalance.” We predict most won’t miss the obsession with younger consumers once more sales and profits are the reward of “going where all the fully-formed adults went,” bravely north of fifty years old.

Sean Cunningham is president and CEO of the VAB.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


You must be logged in to submit a comment.