Professional Jeweler Archive: Reassessing a Generation's Reputation

May 2005

Cover Focus | Older Boomers: Psychgraphics

Reassessing a Generation's Reputation

Older boomers are often characterized negatively – avoid this and you'll win their loyalty

By Peggy Jo Donahue

Selfish. Spoiled. Un-American. Disloyal. Self-destructive. No respect for authority. They still think the world revolves around them.

If you’re older than 60 or younger than 50, these words may well come to mind when describing the leading edge of the massive Baby Boom generation. Born from 1946 to 1955, these Boomers came of age during the 1960s and early ’70s, when American society underwent massive change. Vietnam War and civil rights protests made headlines, as did this group’s experimentation with sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.

Because it was such a large group at such a divisive time, its impact on those who came of age before or after that period was also significant. Today, when the media describe older Boomers, they tend to focus on the radical fringe of the cohort, forgetting the majority of older Boomers didn’t act like radicals then – and don’t now.

This backlash against older Boomers is a bad idea for marketers, says Brent Green, author of Marketing to Leading Edge Baby Boomers (iUniverse, 2003). They increasingly resent being characterized negatively. And because of the number and buying power of Boomers, marketers who trash them – even in jest – do so at their peril.

Instead, says Green, there are smart ways to engage older Boomers’ emotions and celebrate the more positive characteristics many of them cultivated at a crossroads in our nation’s history.

Appeal to Activist Roots

This generation kicked off or participated in many social movements. You can pique their curiosity by emphasizing you deal only with diamond suppliers who work within the rules of the Kimberley Process Certification program, for example. Tell them you don’t buy rubies or other gems from Myanmar because of the repressive government there. “A company that holds ethical principles in high esteem and demonstrates its ideology through good behavior could be the one differentiating factor leading to market dominance [with older Boomers], especially in a world where any product category fills quickly with parity products and services,” says Green.

Portray Aging in a Positive Way

Don’t risk making fun of older Boomers as decrepit and out-of-it in ads. Show them as active, relevant, working members of society. “Use age-appropriate spokespeople who may appear middle-aged but who exude a zest for living and an engagement in what’s hip today,” advises Green. They won’t be happy if all you show them is what’s often referred to as “old-lady jewelry.” Older Boomers want to project a youthful, carefree attitude in their clothes and accessories.


Play up their continuing interest in experimentation and unconventional thinking. This group may be less interested in branded uniformity. Instead, show them one-of-a-kind or custom jewels, or display more esoteric designers who haven’t been marketed to death in the media.

Keep the Music Relevant

Many older Boomers still listen to rock – and not necessarily only the classics. Keep your in-store music up-to-date, even if you tone it down a notch out of respect for impaired hearing.

Link to Experiences

Link jewelry to experiences such as travel, cultural events and lifelong learning. The affluent members of this generation are often avid travelers, they still take classes and they are passionate about culture. Travelogues of your journeys to exotic jewelry locales, lectures on jewelry’s colorful history or link-ups with museum exhibits and performing arts events will have particular resonance with older Boomers.

Charitable Giving

Publicize your connections to charitable causes. As older Boomers begin to have more time on their hands because of empty nests or reduced work schedules, they are reconnecting with the volunteer activities many did in their youth. So, involve them in your charitable events. Give them reasons to give while buying jewelry.

Legacy Planning

Help this generation leave a legacy. Older Boomers always like to feel a sense of mission, says Green. They want to know that even their purchases make a difference and will leave something behind for the next generation. Remind them of the inheritability of fine jewelry and watches and the sentimental value they will have to subsequent generations.

Celebrate Diversity

This is the first generation to participate widely in demonstrations against racism and sexism and for gay rights. The majority of older Boomers still tend to be more liberal on these issues, even if they have become fiscal conservatives. Be sensitive and inclusive in your communications.

Play to Memories

Invoke nostalgia for the late 1950s and early ’60s. You’ll tap into the most innocent and heartfelt remembrances of older Boomers, says Green.

Despite its fun-loving image, the period of the late 1960s and early ’70s was a time of bitterness for many of its youthful participants, beginning with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and ending with the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. Use earlier reminders of vintage TV shows and other cultural markers, such as classic toys and books. “This is when Boomers worried the least and expected the most,” says Green.

Individualize It

Use sincere, one-on-one selling techniques. Older Boomers practically invented the term “interpersonal communication.” They also respond well to keeping it real and avoiding phoniness.

Make it Meaningful

Imbue jewelry with meaning. Spirituality, symbols and stories were a big part of older Boomers’ coming of age. Jewelry that conveys meaning or an affinity with causes will attract this group. The environmentalist will appreciate jewelry that celebrates nature or animals, the peace builder will still react well to peace symbols. The earth mother will want jewelry that recognizes her family. The gay rights activist will respond to pink triangles and other symbols of the struggle.

This Patek Philippe ad appeals to the older Boomers' needs to imbue their possessions with meaning and leave legacies.

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications